Until yesterday, place kicker Brett Conway had been one of the Washington Redskins' most pleasant surprises of this season. He had connected on 12 of 16 field goal attempts, and all of his misses had been from 50 yards or beyond.

The Redskins beat the New York Giants, 23-13, yesterday at FedEx Field, but they had to overcome Conway's worst performance of the season. He made three field goal, but also missed three--from 38, 50 and 27 yards.

"He was horrible," Coach Norv Turner said.

Conway said the new sod in the middle of the field was soft, but "I'm not defending myself. I played bad. But we made a lot of mistakes as a team. We could have won by a lot more."

Conway did make a 37-yard field goal with 21 seconds remaining that put the game out of reach.

"It's tough," he said. "I'm thinking the game and my job are on the line. But there was never any doubt in my mind after I hit that last one."

And in Limited Action

Playing with a cast over the broken bone in his right wrist, wide receiver Michael Westbrook basically was a decoy. He had only one reception.

"I did a lot of blocking," he said. "We didn't have to throw the ball to me. We were running right over those dudes. . . . It wasn't by design. In practice, I was getting the ball. The ball hasn't been thrown to me a lot in very many games.". . .

Defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson, playing with a strained back, was used mostly on running downs. "It was sore, but it held up," he said.

A Tigerish Performance

As the Redskins' pass defense slipped to 30th in the NFL in recent weeks, Turner had said little about the effect of losing defensive end Ndukwe Kalu, who broke his left foot in Game 5. But Kalu made his presence felt upon his return yesterday, forcing a fumble by Kerry Collins on a sack early in the fourth quarter. Defensive end Marco Coleman caught the loose ball and ran it back 42 yards for a touchdown that gave the Redskins a 20-6 lead.

Kalu said he simply followed the advice of defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, who told him to swipe his arms in a downward motion as he rushed the quarterback. Nolan said that would increase his chances of forcing a fumble if the quarterback was cocking his arm to throw.

Kalu, who typically plays on third-down passing situations, said he was nervous before the game because his foot still hurt. And waiting for his chance to get back in the lineup was even worse.

"I felt like a tiger in a cage, with people dangling meat in front of me," Kalu said.

Said Collins, who took over after Kent Graham left the game because of a concussion: "I got excited and I tried to do some things out there, and I put it on the ground. You can't do those kind of things."

'A Character Game'

Guard Tre Johnson, who has suffered through more losses than he cares to recall as a Redskin, called the victory over the Giants "a character game."

After getting off to a 4-1 start, the Redskins lost three of four games. They were 5-4 after losing two straight entering yesterday's game. "Games like this we have to win," Johnson said. "We put ourselves in a bad position the last couple of weeks. We have to focus for the rest of the year. This has to be a starting point for a consistent display of ability for the rest of the season. . . . In the past, we may have been 5-5 or worse by now. We have to focus, be smart and do the things we are capable of doing."