CINCINNATI -- The Washington Redskins are like Dial-a-Prayer. They have an offense to fit any occasion.
Want to drop back into zone coverage to cut off the Redskins' fleet trio of receivers known as The Posse? Fine. The Redskins will simply cut you to ribbons with their famed "counter trey" running play.
Want to throw a barricade up at the line of scrimmage and fill the running lanes with eight defenders? No sweat. The Redskins will strafe your man-to-man coverage in the secondary with big-play passes to Art Monk, Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders.
For 55 minutes yesterday, the winless Cincinnati Bengals were able to hang with Washington by throwing up that eight-man barricade. They were nicked for pass plays of 30 and 54 yards to Monk, but managed to put a tourniquet on running back Earnest Byner and the counter trey.
And when quarterback Boomer Esiason brought the Bengals back from a 17-point precipice to a 27-27 tie in the fourth quarter, it looked like the Redskins' unbeaten gig was up.
But in the final five minutes, Washington found still one more way to trash a defense and escaped Riverfront Stadium with a 34-27 victory.
In the end, the Redskins incinerated the Bengals' best-laid plans with a running game that grew out of a four-wide receiver offense -- a passing offense. File the Skins' fourth straight victory of 1991 under the category, "Take what they give you."
"They gave us the opportunity to run it," said offensive tackle Jim Lachey, who had a tough day trying to keep rookie linebacker Alfred Williams off quarterback Mark Rypien.
The Redskins finally were able to overcome the barricade defense by spreading the Bengals across the field in the four-wide receiver alignment. Cincinnati's chess move was to counter with a six-back secondary, leaving five men up front to rush the passer. The Redskins wasted little time going down the field at a gallop.
Starting from his own 47, Byner went up the middle for gains of 5, 12 and 7 yards. At the Cincinnati 29, Gerald Riggs took over. Riggs went 20 yards around right end to the 9 on his first play, then pounded inside for 2 more.
With 2:02 to play, Riggs slashed through the right side behind wide-bodies Lachey, guard Raleigh McKenzie and tight end Ron Middleton for a game-winning 7-yard touchdown run. It was his third touchdown of the day and fittingly came on the old standby, the counter trey.
"We just wanted to get some big people on their big people and get matched up in there," Riggs said after rushing for 61 yards on 10 carries in what was his busiest afternoon of the young season. "We felt we were able to run inside."
The Redskins actually had gone to the four wide-out attack one series earlier. But that possession ended with Rypien misreading a route by Sanders and his mistake ended up as an interception by cornerback Richard Fain at the Cincinnati 2.
After some conservative play-calling by Bengals coach Sam Wyche (inside runs on second and third down), the Redskins wound up with good field position to launch the winning drive.
Rypien, who passed for 217 yards, audibled to six straight runs at the line of scrimmage from the passing formation.
"That was a different look they hadn't seen before," he said. "We were able to do some things with the running game.
"I call it a check-with-me type thing at the line. If they're in a five-man front, that's our sign to hit the run. I have to make the right call and [the linemen] have to block it. Earnest and Gerald hit a few cutbacks on them."
The Redskins had to pull out all their weapons to overcome six penalties worth 100 yards and two turnovers by Rypien (fumble and interception). Once again, they got a big lift from punt returner Brian Mitchell, who went 66 yards untouched with a 50-yard punt by Lee Johnson in the second quarter.
It was Mitchell's second punt return touchdown this season, tying Mike Nelms' club record.
It also fueled the fast-growing notion the Redskins are the team to beat in the NFC.
Said Wyche, "They're one of the best teams we've played in years."
And Monk said it all when he assessed the team's 4-0 start.
"I think we can be as good as we want to be," he decided. "We seem to be on a roll. Everyone is confident. There's a feeling we can't be stopped."