Charles Mann remembers showing up at the '88 Pro Bowl with 5 1/2 sacks to his name. "I'd see Reggie White and Keith Millard and those guys with 15, 16, 17 sacks, and here I was walking around with my 5 1/2," he said. "I was almost embarrassed to be around them."

Mann said he eventually realized that statistics aren't the only measure of a player, and that lesson has been driven home again this season. The Washington Redskins say Mann may be playing the best and most consistent football of an eight-year career that has sent him to three straight Pro Bowls.

But for all his good work, he has but one sack -- that against Dallas' Troy Aikman in Week 3.

Oddly enough, while their best pass rusher has only one sack, the Redskins have done a terrific job of applying pressure. In four games, San Francisco's Joe Montana was the only quarterback they didn't sack and their team total of 13 trails only the Raiders (17) and Chargers (14).

Mann said he has personal goals and does care about himself, but that he's focusing on the fact that the pieces are fitting together. The Redskins rank only seventh in the NFC in total defense but they're allowing just 12.8 points per game and have virtually shut down teams in the second half.

"I kind of prepared myself for this kind of thing late last season when Dexter {Manley} went out and I knew he might be gone this year," Mann said. "I realized then that teams would see me as THE pass rusher and that they'd prepare accordingly."

Mann said he prepared for being double-teamed more often. He hasn't been disappointed about that, but offenses have had to pay for it too because linebacker Wilber Marshall has been given the green light to blitz when an extra tight end stays in the backfield to block Mann.

Partly as a result, Marshall is sixth in the NFC in sacks with 3 1/2.

"I may get fewer, but if the team gets more it doesn't matter," Mann said. "I'm like anyone else in that I like recognition and attention, but I'm not obsessed by it. My personal goal for this year was to play at a more consistent level. I think there have been times in the past when I've played great one week and not so great the next. I wanted to reach one level and stay there. I do think I'm beginning to play at a certain level and I'm happy about that."

General Manager Charley Casserly and defensive line coach Torgy Torgeson agree with that assessment.

"The one thing about Charles is that he could get in a streak and get a bunch of them in a couple of weeks," Torgeson said. "He's seen quite a few double-teams, but he's doing a good job. Quarterbacks have also gotten rid of the ball. Charles is going to get some."

Mann said he never thought he'd be recognized as a franchise player "because we don't have a defense that makes stars. We don't have an L.T. {Lawrence Taylor}, a Reggie White or a Keith Millard. It's just the Redskins. That's the way our coaching staff approaches things. We stress that it's a team sport, not one man."

Mann played in the broad public shadow of Manley for most of their years together. But with Manley serving a suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, Mann has become perhaps his team's most recognizable player.

That attention got him a national ad with Diet Coke, but it also drew some unwanted attention during a 26-13 loss to the 49ers three weeks ago. Mann was teamed against tackle Steve Wallace that day and when Wallace beat him on a couple of plays, CBS commentator John Madden pointed it out again and again.

Mann complained that Wallace was getting a hand inside his facemask and punching him in the mask. The two squared off in the third quarter and Mann said a referee apologized for letting the incidents happen.

"I may not agree with what Madden said," Mann said. "He was once a head coach, but he's not there on the field anymore. He doesn't know everything that's going on. I will say this. I can say I'm playing at a certain level, but we were supposed to win three of our four games. If you're going to be considered a great player, you've got to rise to another level in those games that are tougher. The truth is, I didn't get it done against the 49ers for whatever reason. That was the one game out of four that was really important to this team. That's the one we lost and I take some of the blame for that."

Mann and his teammates now are in the middle of something they probably never thought they'd have -- a week off. When the NFL changed to a 16-game, 17-week schedule format, it meant that each team would have a bye one week a year.

Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs, saying he wanted to find a middle ground between burning players out and letting them get out of shape, worked his team only briefly yesterday afternoon. They'll have a full contact practice today and Friday, take the weekend off, then begin regular preparations for the Oct. 14th game with the New York Giants at RFK Stadium.