Even after Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end A.J. Jenkins had nearly beaten the Redskins singlehandedly last night, Washington quarterback Mark Rypien wasn't sure who the guy was.

"What is he, a rookie or something?" Rypien said.

"Obviously he's doing some things nicely."

Namely, it was the second-year player's late second-quarter interception and subsequent 31-yard return that set up Pittsburgh's first score, and his fumble recovery and 11-yard runback in the fourth quarter for his first pro touchdown -- albeit in an exhibition game -- that caused Rypien's wonderment.

The plays made Jenkins, a little-known linebacker-defensive end from California State University at Fullerton, the Steelers' defensive star of the game. His efforts were not enough, however, to prevent Pittsburgh from losing to the Redskins, 27-24, at RFK Stadium.

"This is the best game I've played so far," said Jenkins, 24, the 229th overall pick in the 1989 NFL draft. "But we didn't win the game. Maybe next time both can happen."

The Steelers might have won, were it not for a pair of critical offensive mistakes -- both in the third quarter.

Pittsburgh still is trying to implement a new offense, which possibly explains the problems it had executing. With the game tied, 10-10, midway through the third quarter, reserve quarterback Randy Wright was intercepted by Washington linebacker Monte Coleman, who returned the ball 50 yards for a touchdown.

"I'm not overly concerned about it," said Wright, a former Green Bay Packer who completed four of nine passes for 63 yards in relief of Pittsburgh starter Bubby Brister. "It was the same way in Green Bay. {Coach} Lindy {Infante} came in and his offense was new, and it takes a while for everyone to have total knowledge of what they are doing."

On the first play of the Steelers' next series, with Pittsburgh at its 1-yard line, rookie running back Barry Foster fumbled into the end zone, where Redskins safety Clarence Vaughn recovered the ball for another score.

The turnovers, and touchdowns, came within 40 seconds of each other and gave the Redskins a 24-10 lead.

" . . . The most disappointing thing was our mistakes," Pittsburgh Coach Chuck Noll said. "We didn't play very well. We didn't know what we were doing, that's what it came down to.

"It's a problem if you make mistakes, whether it's a new offense or an old one."

Brister, who last season emerged as one of the NFL's most promising quarterbacks, struggled as well. Facing a heavy Washington pass rush, Brister completed five of 11 passes for 63 yards, leading the Steelers to five first downs in the first two quarters.

"We have a long way to go," Brister said. "We made a lot of mistakes, but that happens. We played pretty good if we didn't give them 14 points."

Noll was slightly more critical of his No. 1 quarterback.

"Bubby hasn't played very well," Noll said. "We have to get that thing going. He needs more playing time. We'll have to go to three quarters if we have to. He has to get it in gear."

Jenkins did his best to keep the Steelers in the game. His interception of Rypien in the second quarter, with Pittsburgh trailing by 10-0, set up a two-yard touchdown dive by former Nebraska running back Richard Bell to cut the Redskins' lead to three points.

"Kelvin Bryant was making the same drop all night," Jenkins said of the interception. "I just read Bryant, and broke on the ball."

With the Steelers trailing by two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, Jenkins scooped up a Brian Mitchell fumble at the Washington 11 and ran into the end zone untouched.