TEMPE, ARIZ. -- Boy, the kid looked good didn't he? Okay, these were the sorry, awful, pathetic, forlorn Phoenix Cardinals playing what looked something like pass defense. But forget the Cardinals for a second. Ooooh Nelly, Stan Humphries was sweet as candy. It was worth missing "Twin Peaks" to see this.

It's tough deciding on Humphries' best moment. It might have been the the 42-yard hitch-and-go pass to Gary Clark that put the Redskins ahead, 17-10. Then again, it might have been the 42-yard skip-the-pump fake, let-it-rip bomb that hit Clark in stride for a 31-10 lead.

Including those two beauties, Humphries completed 10 for 11 passes for 176 yards during one stretch after halftime. For the game he hit 20 of 25 for 257. In only his fourth NFL game -- and his very first start -- Humphries overthrew perhaps one receiver and threw behind one other. In all, it might have been the most impressive performance by a Redskins quarterback since . . . well . . . Super Bowl XXII in San Diego when Doug Williams was voted the game's MVP.

What quarterback controversy? Memo to Wally Pipp . . . Uh, I mean Rip: Big fella, don't rush that rehab too fast. No hurry. Doin' fine, wish you were here.

This is what the Redskins offense ought to look like virtually every week. Sunday night, under a strangely cool and overcast desert sky, the Redskins offense sizzled. A good sign came on the first play of the game when the Redskins started bruising Jimmie Johnson at H-back, instead of third wideout Ricky Sanders. It was confirmation of what Coach Joe Gibbs had promised all week: The Redskins would run. Never mind all that sissy, AFC pass, pass, pass junk. Give Gerald Riggs some carries, let the Hogs drive some people into the ground, and keep the Cardinals guessing. Give the kid as much help as possible.

The result was that the Redskins played their best game of the season. By far. "When we play that way," running back Kelvin Bryant said, "we can beat anybody in this league."

"One game doesn't make a whole season," Riggs added, "but it shows you what we can do when we all pitch in."

Seven receivers caught passes, Earnest Byner carried 16 times, Riggs carried 19 for 95 yards. The personality of the offensive line is such that they need a large dose every week of straight-ahead, mash-mouth running the football. With Riggs blasting up the middle and off tackle the way he did, the Redskins were rarely in a must-pass situation and the Cardinals couldn't afford to blitz. The result was Humphries -- as he did on one play -- could look to a second receiver, then a third receiver, then go back to his primary target who had run free.

So, you ask, how was Humphries any different from Rypien, who also led a blowout victory over the Cardinals in the season-opener? For one, Humphries hit the easy ones, like the hitches, the Redskins' bread-and-butter pass play. A Redskins quarterback should almost never miss a hitch; Rypien did. The receiver is open 99.999 percent of the time because only a fool would crowd one of the "Posse." Humphries, at least Sunday, didn't miss. He didn't look for the tough play, he hit the man in front of him standing wide open.

Also, Humphries can move. Once in the first half, Freddie Joe Nunn blasted through and appeared to have Humphries sacked. But Humphries nimbly sidestepped him and fired to Byner for 16 yards. Rip would have been sacked for minus-10, and on the heels of a holding penalty the Redskins would have faced second and 25. Instead, Humphries' completion gave the Redskins a first down. It's the little stuff that allows for the big stuff.

Cardinals Coach Joe Bugel, who knows Humphries as well as anyone, said he didn't expect Humphries to blow his big chance with a case of stage fright. "He's a gamer, he wants to play," Bugel said. "When a guy like him gets the chance to be the starter, look out. And he wants to be the starter there. I think he got over the bad nerves last year."

Well, not to hear tackle Jim Lachey tell it. "Last week," he said, "Stan was stuttering. We had to almost hit him on the back to get the plays out of him. He was pretty nervous."

The Redskins found that funny because Humphries, if he isn't the cockiest guy on the team, isn't very far down the roll call. "Cocky at golf, cocky at everything," Johnson said. "But it's a real positive thing. No, it doesn't rub anybody the wrong way."

Lachey called it "funny cocky. You hear him and you just figure, 'Oh, that's just Stan talking.' "

Humphries didn't let on, but he wasn't exactly Mr. Serenity at the outset Sunday night either. "I was excited at the beginning," he said. "I had a case of nerves no doubt. But I felt we could control them, and when the offensive line started firing out in the second half, it made my job easier. Our offensive line had a super night."

Of course, you want to tone down all the excitement until after the next game. If Humphries goes 20 for 25 with no sacks or interceptions against LT and the Giants, then we'll order the Super Bowl tickets.

The most encouraging thing for the Redskins, regardless of the opponent, is that they went back to the basics. Pass happy teams don't win Super Bowls; ask anybody in the AFC the last five years. The Redskins ran 39 times Sunday and passed 25. They held the ball 37:06 to the Cardinals' 22:54. When you can do that, the quarterback doesn't walk into the huddle thinking that if he doesn't do it, it doesn't get done. The man at the control board of this offense doesn't have to be special, just efficient. Stan Humphries, in his first start, was both.