Buddy Ryan's old friend, Wilber Marshall, is suddenly back in the picture. And just in time, as far as the Washington Redskins are concerned.

"I know I've still got it," said Marshall, a wild man of a free-lancing, blitzing linebacker in his Chicago days when Ryan was the genius defensive coordinator behind the Bears' 46 defense. "I showed that today."

When the Redskins meet Philadelphia next weekend in Veterans Stadium in a wild- card game, Marshall hopes Ryan feels like he's been taken back five years in a time machine to the days when Marshall was turning the NFL playoffs into his personal showcase. If he wasn't returning a fumble half the length of the field for a score against the Rams, then he was making a sack or causing a fumble in the Super Bowl.

With the Redskins reduced to five fit defensive linemen Sunday, Marshall was finally forced back into the position that made him famous: standup defensive end.

Of course, that's the spot that has helped make sack-and-mayhem kings of Lawrence Taylor, Kevin Greene, Derrick Thomas and others. It's the "just go crazy, big guy," position in the NFL. It's also the spot Marshall adores -- and has seldom been allowed to play in his three generally quiet years as a Redskin.

On Sunday, with the Redskins often in a 3-4 with Marshall blitzing or a 4-3 with him lined up on the Bills weakside end, he went crazy all over Buffalo's battered heads.

On the game's first series, the Redskins $6 million man (for five years) forced the AFC's best team to punt with a 10-yard sack of Frank Reich. Of the Bill who tried to detain him, Marshall said: "Oh, I just ran through him."

On the second series, Marshall hit the NFL stat bonanza: solo tackle, forced fumble, recovered fumble and fumble return. All accomplished in the open field. By the time Marshall finished with him, 245-pound tight end Keith McKeller felt like Lady Godiva.

"He didn't see me," said Marshall. "I could tell the ball was tucked away light, rocking in that outside arm. If you hook your fist around the man hard just as you hit him, it's gonna pop."

On the third series, the AFC's leading rusher, Thurman Thomas, met Mr. Marshall. "He tried to juke me in the hole," said Marshall, who blew Thomas's legs from under him and caused another fumble for the Redskins to cover. Thomas entered the game with 1,297 yards. And ended it with 1,297.

By now, you could say that a tone had been set. On the fourth series, Marshall blitzed again and spun Reich around like a gyroscope. Tracy Rocker got the sack, but Marshall caused it and the Bills punted. Four possessions. No first downs. Two fumbles. Two punts. All the work of Marshall, almost alone.

That's why the Bills never crossed midfield by halftime, trailing 9-0. And, after seeing his offense pretty much wrecked, Bills Coach Marv Levey cleared much of his bench in the second half as the Redskins built a 29-7 lead on the way to a 29-14 victory. True, Chip Lohmiller kicked five field goals, Mark Rypien had a tolerable day and the firm of Byner, Riggs, Mitchell and Dupard rushed 115 yards on 31 carries.

Still, it was Marshall, pumping his fist and, once, heaving a ball deep into the crowd, who brought the Redskins to life after their disgracefully placid defeat in Indianapolis.

A dose of Marshall is one of the things the talented, veteran, oh-let-me-help-you-up Redskins desperately need. This is a team that is frequently much too nice -- a vice of which Marshall has never been accused.

Now the Eagles are on deck. This is the team that reduced the Redskins to a pathetic laughable parody of a pro club on national TV seven weeks ago. "You guys got enough body bags?" That's a sample of what Buddy's Boys yelled at them as nine Redskins were carted off, one unconscious and three disabled for a month. By the end, the Redskins had a halfback at quarterback.

That's why the Marshall Factor matters for the Redskins. This team does wonderfully at home. With 55,000 people helping their gumption quotient, they've beaten Miami (12-4), Chicago (11-5) and Buffalo (13-3) this month. But, on the road, the Redskins haven't shown enough -- what is the precise football term? -- guts.

Wildness starts on defense. And, in the Redskins' case, now that Dexter Manley has departed, that means it starts with Marshall or it probably doesn't get started at all. Charles Mann, Alvin Walton and others will come to a hitting party. But Marshall can be a one-man dustup.

"Today I got to do a little more, get back into the swing of things," said Marshall, who will not publicly say it, but prays that the Redskins would let him be the old Wilber again. "I got a little winded in the second half. I need to get in a little better shape if I'm gonna keep doing this. Hopefully, I'll get a chance.

"When we get Charles Mann back {next week} on the other side {of the line}, we can give some people a hard time."

To a degree, the Redskins resemble Marshall. They have a distinguished pedigree. They have been Super Bowl tested and passed superbly. But, as far as the rest of the league is concerned, they haven't done anything the last three years.

At the moment, no team is more mysterious, more vulnerable, or more dangerous. The Redskins have played a difficult schedule, including 11 games against teams that could still win the Super Bowl. Washington has stood toe-to-toe and either beaten, or come close to beating, every logical Super Bowl contender. The Redskins still think they should have beaten the 49ers in San Francisco and the Giants in RFK. They have beaten the Eagles, Bears, Dolphins, Bills, Cowboys and Saints.

And all of that was before Phil Simms, Jim Harbaugh, Troy Aikman, Jim Kelly, Warren Moon and the rest started getting injured. Washington is one of the few teams with its best quarterback healthy. Yes, that's the man everybody loves to boo -- Mark Rypien, who's 12-3 in his last 15 starts (7-3 in '90) and who has fumbled less frequently than any NFL quarterback (twice in 306 passes).

One side of the Redskins is Joe Gibbs genial pat-on-the-head style of leadership. "I'm proud of 'em. They fought hard. I like this team," he said yesterday. "They're not the most talented, but they have character."

That's all very well. But this team often plays best when its baser metals are tested. Anger, insult and job insecurity seem to inspire it. The other Redskins may or may not be ready for what awaits them in Veterans Stadium. However, they can count on Marshall -- a Buddy guy in a Buddy game.

"We've played all the top teams all year and we were 10-6," Marshall said. "We feel good about ourselves right now. We've been battle tested. Now, it's time to rise to the occasion."