CARLISLE, PA., AUG. 12 -- Having had time to examine both the thrilling beginning and the dizzying end of their first preseason game, the Washington Redskins today broke apart game films to begin assessing the state of their team four weeks before the start of the regular season.

What they learned from watching that 31-27 loss to the Atlanta Falcons Saturday night in Chapel Hill, N.C., is pretty much what they might have expected for a team that blew a 17-point lead, allowed 406 yards (173 in the fourth quarter) and gained 36 on the ground.

"We weren't very good," Coach Joe Gibbs said after a long film session this afternoon. "We had some individuals that played good, some that helped themselves make the team. But we've got a lot of work to do and we've got to make great strides."

Preseason openers almost always carry an asterisk, and this one certainly did. The Redskins scored the first 17 points of the game and took a 20-10 lead into the fourth quarter.

But before they could get to the locker room with a victory, new Falcons coach Jerry Glanville had handed the game to Gilbert Renfroe, a scrambling free agent quarterback from the Canadian Football League.

He led the Falcons on two long touchdown drives (78 and 80 yards) and threw three touchdown passes, the last one with 2:56 remaining for the victory. James Wilder's fumble set up the other score.

If the Redskins could excuse a guy coming off the bench and turning in a terrific performance, what they had more trouble swallowing was what their own performances.

They had wondered how their patchwork defensive line would perform. With starter Darryl Grant holding out and starters Tracy Rocker and Fred Stokes hurt, the Redskins were left with defensive ends Charles Mann and Markus Koch and a lot of new faces, including rookie Kent Wells and Plan B signees Milford Hodge and Pat Swoopes.

The Falcons rushed for only 87 yards, but their 319 passing yards are an indication of how little pressure the Atlanta quarterbacks felt. The Redskins didn't get a sack and got decent pressure only a couple of times.

"Not good," line coach Torgy Torgeson said. "Not as good as I'd hoped. The first group {Hodge, Wells, Mann and Koch} did all right. It's just a learning process and they're going to have to play to get better."

There was so little pressure on the quarterbacks that it apparently was hard to grade the secondary, although Gibbs shrugged and summed it up by saying: "It played about as well as the defense."

However, he did compliment two players -- Mark Rypien, his starting quarterback, and rookie Brian Mitchell, the converted quarterback who is trying to make the team as a running back/special teams player. He began the evening by returning the opening kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown and has at least earned himself another couple of chances.

"Any time a guy shows you that kind of ability, you have to be excited," Gibbs said. "You look for a guy that can make plays for you and he did that. He wasn't alone. There were some other individuals that played well."

Mitchell came here as a long shot to make the team, especially in a backfield that already had three experienced players. He was told early on that special teams might be his outlet and he tackled the job with gusto.

"If that's what it takes, I'll do it," he said. "All I'm trying to do is whatever it takes to stick here. I know there's competition, but special teams is a matter of busting your tail. I can do that."

Rypien also won his coach's praise. Although his numbers were nothing special -- eight of 19 for 111 yards and a touchdown -- he had at least four dropped passes and appeared about a tick away from several other plays.

"He played very well," Gibbs said. "He was one of the bright spots."

Rypien missed five of his first six passes, but on the Redskins' second possession, led them on a 12-play, 76-yard drive in which he hit four of five, including a 22-yard touchdown throw to Gary Clark.

"I started off not throwing too well, but it got better," Rypien said. "They were throwing a lot of different looks at us and it messed us up a couple of times. But it's the kind of thing where after you break it down and look at it, you'll be better for it."

Television cameras caught him throwing his helmet to the ground after missing a wide-open Kelvin Bryant with a pass that could have resulted in a 21-0 lead.

Rypien said he was mad at himself and at the situation. "I come off the field and the first thing they ask is, 'Why couldn't you get it to him?' " he said. "I was mad about the play, and when I was asked, I got even madder. It's a communication deal. He's supposed to cut his route off when he sees the blitz {which was coming}, but I should have gotten him the ball."

The offensive game plan was conservative, an apparent answer to a Falcons defense expected to show many looks and start the game in midseason blitzing form, which it did. That may be a reason the Redskins never got a rushing game going. They finished with 243 yards offense and only 36 of those were on the ground -- 18 on one Earnest Byner carry. They called 21 rushing plays, with 1.7 yards per snap.

"Awful," Gibbs said. "It was awful. Their defense did give us some different looks, but it wasn't that. It was not blocking the guy you were supposed to block."

It's likely there'll be at least a few lineup changes for Friday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at RFK Stadium. The Redskins hope cornerback Brian Davis will be able to return to practice this week and it's possible Stokes and Rocker could return.

"We've got a lot to do," Gibbs said. "We've worked hard here but the Falcons were better prepared than we were. We're going to have to work hard and get better. That's all you can do."