WASHINGTON -- The Washington Redskins, December's Team, apparently took a swig from the fountain of youth yesterday.
"I took a Geritol overdose this week," 32-year-old center Jeff Bostic said yesterday after the Redskins tore a few pages off the calendar and played the way they did in their glory days.
Portrayed as a tired, aging team after losing two of three games in a 10-day span last month, the Redskins played as if they had young legs, crushing the Miami Dolphins, 42-20, at RFK Stadium.
Running back Earnest Byner, 28, who Saturday night asked coach Joe Gibbs to give him the ball more, carried 32 times for 157 yards and scored three touchdowns, and quarterback Mark Rypien passed for 245 yards and three touchdowns against the National Football League's top-rated defense going into the game.
Miami's 9-3 record may have been inflated by four games against the New England Patriots and the New York Jets, but the Redskins proved they can still respond late in the year after they've been all but written off.
They have the league's best December record (28-7) since 1980 and are 25-7 in December since Gibbs became the head coach in 1981.
"After we're old, we get young again," Bostic said after the game.
The victory tied the Redskins (7-5) with the Philadelphia Eagles, who lost to the Buffalo Bills, for the best National Football Conference wild-card record.
It looks as if a 9-7 record will get a team into the playoffs, so the Redskins probably can end their two-year playoff drought by beating the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts in back-to-back road games after next Sunday's home game against the Chicago Bears.
But the Redskins often lose their intensity when things seem too easy. "We've been very inconsistent," Gibbs said.
They don't want to relax now.
"Don't write any good things about us," Bostic said. "We're going to have to have a team meeting and not read any more newspapers except bad articles. Joe Bugel [the former assistant coach who's now the Phoenix Cardinals' head coach] used to say a long time ago, when people start patting you on the back in the newspapers, they're communists, so you're communists. I'm leaving communism right now."
Even the Redskins seem puzzled about why they play so poorly one week and so well the next.
Tight end Jimmie Johnson, who caught a 3-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter, said, "The question we've been asking is why we're so up and down and inconsistent."
"I really don't know," Johnson said.
The Redskins said they had a week of hard practices that might have had a positive effect.
"Those were some of the toughest practices I've ever been around," tackle Jim Lachey said.
They didn't practice in pads in the short week before the Thanksgiving Day loss to the Dallas Cowboys, but they were inconsistent long before that.
As usual, the key for the Redskins was that they ran and stopped the run. They had a 222-34 edge in rushing yardage and held Sammie Smith to 11 yards in seven carries.
They also kept in check quarterback Dan Marino, who had beaten the Redskins in both of his two regular-season performances against them in 1984 and 1987. He passed for 223 yards, but threw just one touchdown pass. He was intercepted once.
On his second, third and fourth possessions, he failed to get a first down.
Meanwhile, the Redskins marched 61, 63 and 72 yards for touchdowns on their second, third and fourth possessions to take a 21-0 lead.
Byner led the way, averaging 4.9 yards a carry with his 157 yards in 32 carries, and rookie Brian Mitchell averaged 5.1 yards a carry with 36 yards in seven carries.
During the week, Gibbs talked about giving Mitchell more of a shot and giving Byner a breather after he was held to 39 yards by the Cowboys.
Byner apparently feared he was being phased out because he came to Gibbs on Saturday night and told him he wanted more work.
"I think he was telling me he wanted to be the guy, and I told him he was," Gibbs said. "I talked about playing Brian some, but Brian is doing so many other things [on special teams]. Between the two of them, they're going to have to carry the load."
As long as Byner keeps running the way he did yesterday, the load will be his. Except for two carries in the second quarter when he took a shot to the chest, Byner did all the running until the fourth period.
Describing his talk with Gibbs, Byner said: "It's something that came to me that I felt like I needed to say. I needed to let them know what to expect from Earnest Byner. I [said] if it took 30 times to run the ball, let's do it. I wanted to handle the load."
Byner is handling the John Riggins role even though he's only 5 feet 10, 216 pounds.
Talking about what it takes he carry 30 times every week, he said jokingly: "They say you take [vitamin] B-12 shots. Maybe I ought to start doing that."