WASHINGTON -- The Detroit Lions found out something last night that they never wanted to know.
They found out at RFK Stadium how bad they can be without star running back Barry Sanders.
With Sanders out with sore ribs, the Lions lost to the Washington Redskins, 45-0, at RFK Stadium before 52,958.
The Lions were so bad that they fell behind by 28-0 before quarterback Rodney Peete completed a pass.
They were so bad that Redskins running back Earnest Byner completed a pass -- for a touchdown -- before Peete did.
They were so bad that they committed turnovers on three of their first five possessions.
The Lions found out everything they wanted to know, but were afraid to ask about how inept they can be without Sanders.
"If we have games like this every week, we'll be in big trouble," Detroit coach Wayne Fontes said.
Redskins coach Joe Gibbs saw things a little differently. "We came out and played about as good as we can play," he said. "We had a lot of things going for us and they didn't."
It was the most lopsided victory in the Redskins' history. They had won two regular games by 42-0 and defeated the Los Angeles Rams, 51-7, in the 1983 playoffs.
Not that beating the Lions is anything new. Detroit is 3-21 against the Redskins since they moved to Washington, and the Lions are 0-15 in Washington. They haven't beaten the Redskins since 1965.
Washington quarterback Mark Rypien, starting a make-or-break year on a good note, completed 15 of 19 passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns. Byner ran 16 times for 83 yards, scored once and threw a touchdown pass. Gary Clark caught six passes for 107 yards, one for 38 yards and a touchdown. Brian Mitchell scored on a 69-yard punt return, and cornerback Darrell Green led the defense by intercepting two passes.
Clark even got one of those new celebration penalties after his touchdown, but the Redskins had a lot to celebrate about.
A year ago, when the Lions blew a 17-point, fourth-period lead and lost in overtime, 41-38, to the Redskins, Sanders ran 10 times for 100 yards and caught 11 passes for 132 yards. The Redskins seemed befuddled by Detroit's run-and-shoot offense.
It was a different story without Sanders.
"When we told the team he wouldn't play, all the guys seemed to get down," Fontes said.
Fontes said he didn't find out until the warm-ups that Sanders' ribs were too sore for him to go.
"We didn't want to take a chance on getting the young man hurt. He's an outstanding talent," Fontes said.
Green said: "Let's see, the guy led the league in rushing last year. He's probably one of the best ever to play. I'd say it hurt them pretty bad. I was glad to see him not in there."
The Redskins had a 14-0 lead before the Lions ran their fifth offensive play.
After Rypien directed a 62-yard touchdown drive on the Redskins' first possession, Green intercepted Peete's first pass to set up the second touchdown. Mitchell then ran back his punt for a touchdown on the next possession, and it was 21-0 in the first period.
Gibbs even seemed sympathetic to the Lions' plight. When they got to the Lions 1 with 3 minutes left, he had backup quarterback Jeff Rutledge kneel down four times, then turned the ball over to the Lions.
"No sense trying to get somebody hurt," Gibbs said.
Offensive lineman Jim Lachey said that Lomas Brown of the Lions told him after the game that it was "a classy thing to do" for the Redskins to pass up one more touchdown.
He noted that Peete hadn't played since the first exhibition game because of groin and rib injuries, so he probably wasn't in top form.
Peete agreed. "Not playing was a big factor in my poor performance," he said. I've had little experience, and the lost playing time really hurt."
Peete completed only eight of 21 passes for 75 yards, and was intercepted three times.
Throwing the ball in Green's area instead of testing Martin Mayhew, who struggled during the exhibition season, wasn't a good idea, either.
Gibbs had been upset when the Redskins struggled to a 1-3 exhibition record. "I was concerned. I was very concerned," he said.
He said the Redskins were so concerned about Detroit that they worked much of the off-season on ways to stop the run-and-shoot and Sanders' running.
A year ago, they started off with a 4-1-6 alignment, with four cornerbacks. That's what they call a "five-in-a-box" look, with only five players up front, and Sanders had good results running against it.
This year, they started with their conventional 4-3-4 on first down, except that they played Monte Coleman at middle linebacker instead of Matt Millen to stop the run. On second down, they switched to four cornerbacks. On passing downs, they used a three-man defensive front with Jumpy Geathers, Charles Mann and rookie Bobby Wilson.
Nobody will know whether the defensive schemes would have worked if Sanders had played. It's easier to play defense with a big lead.
Green, though, said he thought the Redskins handcuffed the Lions.
"I think the defensive line played a major role. I don't think he got the type of run-and-shoot passes off that he liked. I think we took away a lot of the 'right now' stuff," he said.
Green said the Lions weren't throwing at him.
"I don't really think they came right at me," he said. "I think they called a play and a quarterback went for guy he wanted to go for. I don't think he was thinking about me in the huddle. I just happened to be the guy over there." Maybe the Lions should have been thinking about him.
Green also said the Lions are better than they looked. "We were very fortunate. I don't want to play them tomorrow."
NOTES: The Redskins came out of the game without any major injuries. . . . Joe Jacoby overcame his back spasms and started at left guard, although Raleigh McKenzie had worked with the first unit most of the week.