As the Washington Redskins returned to work yesterday and savored last Sunday's win over the New York Giants, their only real worry was the health of middle linebacker Derek Smith. He vowed to play in Sunday's game against the New York Jets, but acknowledged his effectiveness could be limited by the bruised right shoulder he suffered against the Giants.

An MRI exam taken yesterday showed no significant structural damage in Smith's shoulder, Redskins officials said. But trainer Bubba Tyer indicated that Smith appears to be suffering from a bruised nerve as well as a bruised muscle, and Smith said his shoulder and arm felt weak. Smith said he will avoid contact in practice this week.

"I'm going to play Sunday," Smith said. "Hopefully I'll get some strength back in my arm. I'll see how practice goes and see if I get any strength back."

Redskins defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said: "I don't think it's a major injury, but it's something we have to be concerned about this week."

Smith was injured in the third quarter when he tackled Giants rookie running back Sean Bennett for no gain on a third-and-one play. The Redskins have been remarkably injury-free during training camp and in the early stages of this season, and Tyer said he's hopeful Smith will play Sunday. Veteran Fred Strickland, a free agent signee during the offseason, likely would replace Smith if he's unable to play.

The spotlight Sunday was on the Redskins' offense, which amassed the highest point total in a road game in team history in pounding the Giants, 50-21. But when they returned to Redskin Park yesterday, the Redskins were also pleased about a defense that rebounded from its fourth-quarter collapse in the season-opening, 41-35 overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys the week before.

"I think we made a step in the right direction," Nolan said. "We learned some things from the Dallas game. In this game, when something did go wrong, someone stepped up and fixed it. You just want to keep maturing as a defense."

The Redskins allowed the Giants 373 yards--266 more than New York had in its opening-week triumph at Tampa Bay. But the Redskins' defense bottled up the Giants' offense on its first two possessions while Washington was building a 21-0 lead. And, according to Nolan, the Redskins' defense accomplished its three main objectives.

The Redskins wanted to stop the run, prevent the Giants from converting third downs and match the big-play capabilities of the New York defense, Nolan said. The Giants rushed for 83 yards (40 on one third-quarter carry by Bennett), and made first downs on only two of 10 third-down chances. And when the Giants were threatening to get back into the game in the second quarter, Redskins linebacker Shawn Barber intercepted a screen pass and ran 70 yards for a touchdown to increase the lead to 27-7.

It wasn't a dominating defensive performance, even against a less-than-overpowering Giants offense. But it was far better than what happened to the Redskins in the season opener, when the Cowboys piled up 541 yards and overcame a 35-14 deficit with 11 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

"We did improve defensively," Redskins Coach Norv Turner said. "We had a real sense of urgency. We played four good quarters."

The Redskins still have not seen the overwhelming defense they envisioned for this season when their starters permitted only six points in seven quarters of work during the preseason. But they hope they're getting there, and now they'll face a Jets offense that struggled after losing quarterback Vinny Testaverde in the season opener. The Jets lost, 17-3, at Buffalo last Sunday night with Rick Mirer filling in for Testaverde.

"We're making improvement," Smith said. "We wanted to eliminate the big plays. We took care of the run better."

Said linebacker Greg Jones: "I think we played well the first week for three quarters. This time, we just finished it off. That's improvement. We've got to keep building on that."

Redskins Notes: Rookie tackle Jon Jansen suffered a mild knee sprain against the Giants but should be able to play Sunday, Tyer said. Tyer said he also expects running back Stephen Davis (ankle) and reserve wide receiver Chris Thomas (hamstring) to be fine this week. . . .

Redskins officials plan to work out a player or two today at Redskin Park and likely will make a roster addition in an attempt to bolster their special teams, club officials said. . . .

The Redskins are growing increasingly skeptical about their chance of completing a trade for Seattle holdout wide receiver Joey Galloway, sources close to the situation said. Redskins officials believe the Seahawks, after losing their opener to the Detroit Lions and barely beating the Chicago Bears Sunday, have little choice but to resolve their contract dispute with Galloway. The Redskins are willing to deal first- and third-round draft choices for Galloway, according to sources.