It's official. By beating the Jets and Giants here on successive weeks the Washington Redskins have been declared champions of northern New Jersey. Now, they're going to work their way south down the state. Next week they're going to play at Seton Hall; the week after that, at Rutgers. Bada-bip.

Hey, I've got a million of them.

New Jersey is so proud of the Redskins, they're planning to take Joyce Kilmer's name down from one of the rest stops on the New Jersey Turnpike, and replace it with Norv Turner's. Bada-bing.

You wanna know how good the Redskins are in Jersey? They're so good they'll be opening for Bruce Springsteen in Cherry Hill and Trenton. Bada-boom.

But seriously, folks.

Here we are after three weeks of the season, and the Redskins have gone the strangest route to get to 2-1. Raise your hands if before this season started you thought the Redskins would win back-to-back games in New Jersey. I know I didn't. Now how many of you still thought the Redskins would win back-to-back games in New Jersey after that fourth quarter against Dallas?

You, sir, with the silver Redskins belt buckle, put your hand down.

Now here's a dose of "Home Team Slurpola" you might expect from Wilbon, not me. I concede that every team the Redskins have played so far has been hurt. The Cowboys were missing both starting cornerbacks and Leon Lett; the Giants were missing cornerback Jason Sehorn; the Jets should play in hospital gowns--they were missing four starters, including Vinny Testaverde and Wayne Chrebet.

But tell me who's better than the Redskins right now in the NFC? Certainly not last year's champion Atlanta, at 0-3. The 49ers? I hardly think so. They have no running game, and their quarterback has been hit harder than Hurricane Floyd hit the North Carolina coastline. Dallas, at 2-0? Come on, the Redskins had them down by 21 points in the fourth quarter. Tampa Bay, at 2-1? They lost to the Giants! St. Louis, at 2-0? St. Louis? Oh, please. Minnesota? The Vikings have already lost more games than they did last season. Green Bay? Brett Favre is either overcome with emotion or needs oxygen every game.

The truth is, the NFC doesn't have any great teams right now. And right now the Redskins are as good as any. They've scored 112 points in three games, and as long as Brad Johnson stays upright they've got a chance to score some more.

Twice on Sunday, Johnson took the Redskins on the kind of drives good teams make--big time touchdown drives when you're losing and time is running out.

Johnson did it at the end of the first half, going deep, bang-bang, on successive plays--29 yards to Michael Westbrook and 34 yards to Albert Connell--then handing the ball three times to Stephen Davis for 11 yards and a touchdown that gave Washington the lead, 10-7. Later, in the fourth quarter, after the Jets had gained control of the game by scoring on two possessions in a row to lead 17-13, Johnson hit 5 of 5 passes (and got interference calls on two others) and took the Redskins 80 yards to reclaim the lead, 20-17.

Here is Johnson's season so far: He has completed 57 of 89 passes for 854 yards and five touchdowns. Oh, he has zero interceptions. Somebody should ask Your Friendly Neighborhood Columnist if he still thinks it was a bad trade.

After the game, Turner was asked if he thought two road wins in a row proved that the Redskins were maturing. "We're growing up," Turner said. "But No. 14 [Johnson] has been grown up a long time." Turner loves Johnson. "If he hadn't been injured, he'd be one of the top four to eight quarterbacks in the league," Turner said.

Johnson's the best quarterback Turner has had in Washington--and it's worth noting he came in a trade, not the draft. Heath Shuler was a dry hole; he was simply a terrible pick. But Turner coached Gus Frerotte to one Pro Bowl year, and he got Trent Green a $16.5 million contract off 14 games. It's tantalizing to think what Turner might do with the ready-made Johnson. If Johnson remains upright.

"I understand why people say that," Johnson said after the Jets game. "But I'm not injury-prone, I've just had some hard blows." (Maybe some to the head, as he said of beating the Jets, "It's tough to beat a Parcells-type team." A Parcells-type team? Brad, sweetheart, it's Parcells's own team.) For his part, Johnson is thrilled to be with Turner: "Working for Norv, I feel like I got a second life."

Excuse me, Tony, but my teeth ache from all this sweetness. I haven't seen you get this carried away in years. You're not actually contemplating rolling out that hideous Bandwagon again, are you?

Not this week. Not after such a close call. But let's just say it's up on the lift, getting oiled and lubed. Remember, The Bandwagon is copyrighted and fully licensed to serve legal beverages.

(This George McPhee Update sponsored by Everlast: In The Post's continuing coverage of George "The MCI Mauler" McPhee's pugilistic career, I can reliably report that at no time Sunday was McPhee spotted across the street from Giants Stadium at Continental Airlines Arena beating up Robbie Ftorek, the New Jersey Devils' coach. Stay tuned for possible McPhee sightings across the river with the New York Rangers' coach, John Muckler.)

Clearly, this was a resume game for the Redskins. Given the fraying state of the Jets, the Redskins were supposed to win this game. But they won it on the road, coming from behind, without their 'A' game. This is exactly the kind of game that emerging teams win--and foolishly overconfident teams lose--and it tells the rest of the NFC that the Redskins may have something.

Enough, Tony. Have you no shame with this boosterism? Are you not going to even mention how lucky the Redskins got in the fourth quarter?

Oh, you mean the interference on Albert Connell by Ray Mickens, which gave Washington a 35-yard gain and a first down on the Jets 18--and then four plays later the Redskins scored to take the lead? Or the Keyshawn Johnson touchdown that was reversed via instant replay? Or the call in the last minute where the official ruled Davis down by contact, and Aaron Glenn lost what could have been a game-tying 70-yard touchdown with a fumble recovery? Those plays? Is that what you mean by lucky?


Hmmm. From up in the press box Bobby Mitchell said the interference call on Mickens was legitimate. "That's the third time he grabbed him," Mitchell said. "You only get one." (Mickens grabbed Connell twice more; he was called three times for interference on the same man in the last six minutes of the game!) The Keyshawn Johnson call was iffy. The Stephen Davis call was legit. But even if they were all legit, you don't expect to get all three--on the road!

"They must have been the right calls then," Brad Johnson said with a wide smile.

"I am biting my lip," Bill Parcells, The Tuna Himself, said, uncharacteristically restrained. "It'll be the first time in many years I have to bite my lip." Look on the bright side. In the past he'd be biting a sandwich.