WASHINGTON -- Jim Lachey was asked if the Washington Redskins had shut up the critics who have been pronouncing them old.
The National Football League's second most aged team had just run and passed the young Miami Dolphins silly, 42-20. The eldest team, the San Francisco 49ers, continues to pursue its third straight championship tonight.
"If I were starting a team," said Lachey, a 27-year-old offensive tackle, "I'd want these old guys right here."
Right there were Jeff Bostic, 32, and Russ Grimm and Joe lTC Jacoby, both 31. All aboriginal Hogs, all surgically stitched around their knees, they brought the Redskins' running game into existence again.
Mark Rypien completed 21 of 28 passes -- two of them caught spectacularly by Art Monk and another outrageously by Gary Clark -- for 245 yards and three touchdowns.
But Rypien handed off 42 times, 32 of them to Earnest Byner, who slashed and struggled to 157 yards and three touchdowns. And the run, as any child with a television set knows, sets up the pass.
Coach Joe Gibbs had promised his team not to abandon the running game as he had in what he called "that awful experience" in Dallas. Washington ran the ball only 14 times on Thanksgiving Day, none of them in the fourth quarter, and netted 36 yards.
Gibbs kept his promise and that was the difference, center Bostic said. "We had the attempts today," he said. "It takes a while to find out what they [the opponents] do. It's each half at Dallas. Yesterday they had eight, and Byner's first touchdown, in the first 11 minutes.
"We hit our blocks and kept riding," said Jacoby, the tackle who played the second half at guard after Grimm's shoulder was injured. "That gave him [Byner] a chance to see where the holes were."
"They told me the cutback would be there all day," Byner said, "but I didn't think it would be like that. They were making holes out there."
"We stuck with the basics," said left tackle Lachey. The basics became more difficult after the 6-foot-7 Jacoby replaced the 6-3 Grimm at left guard and they kept pulling out on "counter" plays to the right for Byner.
"I can see over Russ," explained the 6-6 Lachey. John Riggins used to say, "When Jake goes down, all of a sudden you see four of the other guys."
But the plays kept working. "It was like the old Miami-Washington games," Bostic said. "Remember that one in California?"
That one in California was Super Bowl XVII, in the Rose Bowl in 1983. The Skins trailed at halftime, 17-10, but won on a rally that featured Riggins' 43-yard run.
After Gibbs vowed that the run was back in style, he emphasized it in practice. "Practice?" Bostic said. "We had three games: Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Now it worked so well we'll probably have to do it again this week."
"It worked great," said Grimm solemnly. "Everything clicked. But I'm not going to brag, the way we're up one week and down the next."
"Sometimes," Gibbs said, as if the thought had just occurred to him, "we're just not good enough to do it."
"Doing it" now is to gain the home-field advantage for the wild-card round of the playoffs. "We'd like to have that," Gibbs said. "The crowd here means a lot."
Yesterday's crowd noise had something to do with Gibbs' upward revision of the Skins' now-modest goals. He listens to the noise. "In the New Orleans game [a 31-17 victory after the embarrassment in Philadelphia] they sounded like, 'Well, we don't know,' " Gibbs said. "Today they were really with us."
The 53,599 present set up sympathetic vibrations when the score reached 21-0 on Byner's 7-yard burst. They were stirred by the body language of special teamer John Brandes, who appears to have succeeded Dexter Manley as crowd- stirrer.
The victory and the Eagles' defeat by Buffalo gave the Redskins a tie for the lead of seven also-rans vying for the three NFC wild cards.
If the season ended today, the Skins would play the Eagles at Philadelphia. They are both .500 in the Eastern Division, but the Eagles are 6-3 in the NFC and Washington is 6-5.
The other wild card would go to Green Bay over Minnesota. Both teams are 6-6 overall and 3-4 in the division, but Green Bay is 5-5 in the conference and Minnesota 4-5.
Green Bay would be the guest of tonight's New York-San Francisco loser. Chicago has a better NFC record (8-1) than the loser will have.