HERNDON, Va. -- The question has been posed about the Washington Redskins since last December.
Did the Redskins improve when they finished last season with five straight victories, or did they take advantage of a weak schedule?
Sunday's season-opening, 31-0 victory over the Phoenix Cardinals left the question unanswered.
They should get the answer Sunday when they visit the San Francisco 49ers.
It will be the first time they have faced a team that had a winning record in 1989 since last Nov. 20, when they played the Denver Broncos in a Monday night game.
They lost that game, 14-10. That happened to be their last loss.
The next week, they switched to a three-wide-receiver offense and swept their last five games to finish 10-6, narrowly missing the National Football League playoffs.
But they did it against the Chicago Bears, who would finish 6-10, the Phoenix Cardinals (5-11), San Diego Chargers (6-10), Atlanta Falcons (3-13) and Seattle Seahawks (7-9).
It will be a different story Sunday when the play the 49ers, the two-time defending champions who played the New Orleans Saints last night in their opener.
"Now we're facing the best team in football," Redskins coach Joe Gibbs said. "That's kind of where we are. We'll find out what we look like against the best."
Gibbs, of course, doesn't agree that the Redskins simply have been beating up weak teams.
"I feel some of those people we played last year are pretty good. You probably can make any case you want. We'll have to see who's right down the road," he said.
Although the Cardinals seemed hapless Sunday, Gibbs said they are better than they looked.
"I think you'll find the Cardinals, no matter what anybody says, they've got some darn good football players," he said. "They're going to run here. They're going through the first year thing with a new coach and everything."
In any case, the 49ers game will provide a better test, although Gibbs didn't want to give his view of where the team is now.
"I'm not going to step out today and say, 'Here's where we are or not where we are.' I think we played one game, and I felt it was a solid game, and that's it. No predictions. No guesses. Everybody else can make the comparisons," he said.
Gibbs wouldn't even take credit for six straight victories. "I think we've won one in a row, that's the way I look at it," he said.
It's the team's longest winning streak since the 1983 season, when it won 11 straight before losing the Super Bowl.
Gibbs always likes to praise the opposition, but when he says good things about the 49ers, nobody is going to argue with him.
"I don't think they have weaknesses," he said. "That's the reason they've been the dominant team. I think you've got to have a great effort [against them] and hope some things go your way."
Gibbs has painful memories of the team's last game in San Francisco, a 37-21 setback in the 12th game in 1988.
It was a pivotal game, because both teams were struggling at 6-5 at the time and went in different directions. San Francisco went on to win seven of its last eight, including the Super Bowl, and posted a 17-2 record last year in repeating as champion.
The Redskins, meanwhile, went 1-4 in their final five games in 1988 and started out 5-6 last year before sweeping the last five.
Talking about the previous game against the 49ers, Gibbs said: "I remember a punt being run back [John Taylor's 95-yarder]. They basically handled us pretty good."
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Gibbs paid the 49ers the compliment of saying he's copied some things from them.
"We have studied a lot of 49er film over the last two years," he said. "I think any time somebody does as good as they've done in this league, I think a lot of people look at it, and we're certainly one of those."
Asked for specifics, he said the Redskins have put a couple of the 49ers' pass patterns in his playbook.
The Redskins appear to be in good health. Defensive lineman Fred Stokes, who has a shoulder injury, is the only player they're worried about.
Although they expect Stokes to play, they may bring back a defensive lineman this week to give them more depth at the position. Alonzo Mitz, the last defensive lineman cut, is the logical choice.
General manager Charley Casserly said the team will make a decision today after Stokes gets another exam.
NOTES: Gibbs scoffed at a report Sunday on NBC that he will quit at the end of the year along with Bill Parcells of the New York Giants and Mike Ditka of the Chicago Bears. "I don't talk about my future other than to say I plan to be here forever," Gibbs said with a smile.... Gibbs said spreading out the tight ends in a passing formation Sunday was a new wrinkle. In the past, when the Redskins put in three tight ends, it usually was a running play. Now, they hope to confuse the opposition when they go to three tight ends because the defense won't know if they're thinking run or pass.