WASHINGTON -- For six weeks, it was enough that the Washington Redskins were either very good or very lucky, or a combination of both.
Yesterday, though, their unbeaten season took on a different glow. Not the Redskins are living out their fantasies.
When they pummeled the Cleveland Browns, 42-17, at RFK Stadium, the season turned dream-like for All-Pro receiver Art Monk, for cagey coach Joe Gibbs and for raw rookie Ricky Ervins.
For Monk, a diving, 14-yard touchdown catch made him the NFL's No. 2 all-time receiver behind Steve Largent, a milestone that apparently left the 12-year veteran speechless since he departed the locker room before reporters could enter. Monk's 751st career catch passed Charlie Joiner for second
For Gibbs, the Redskins' 7-0 start going into next week's bye had him pinching himself. "What you do as a coach is dream you'll be 7-0," said Gibbs. "We all have dreams."
Does he dream about 16-0?
"That's more like a fantasy," he said.
Which brings us to Ervins, the muscular, 5-foot-7, 200-pound running back who had scarcely been used by the Redskins. He arrived with a bang yesterday, scampering for 133 yards and two touchdowns.
"I fantasize every game day that I'll break a long touchdown, high-five the crowd and give the glory to God," said Ervins.
Ervins got his long touchdown and then some, proving that reality sometimes can outdistance fantasy. Averaging better than 10 yards a carry, he got his chance when Earnest Byner suffered a bruised hand and Gerald Riggs lost another fumble.
Byner and Riggs both scored touchdowns in the first half to help the Redskins build a 21-7 lead. But midway through the third quarter, the Browns made their move.
They got a 26-yard field goal from Matt Stover to make it 21-10. Less than 20 seconds later, linebacker Clay Matthews pried the ball loose from Riggs' grip. Cleveland safety Vince Newsome swooped in for the recovery and went 22 yards for a touchdown that cut Washington's lead to 21-17.
In the next few minutes, RFK became Ervins' personal field of fantasies.
He took the ensuing kickoff, veered right, broke a tackle and was brought down 46 yards later by the kicker, Stover. "It's embarrassing to be brought down by the kicker," he would admit afterward.
Riggs returned to the field for one play (no gain) and a chorus of boos before Gibbs turned Ervins loose.
"I said when [Ervins] started playing he'd make big plays and I'd have to take the heat for not playing him earlier," Gibbs said.
On second down, Ervins bolted 15 yards to the Cleveland 31. After Mark Rypien passed 15 yards to Gary Clark, Ervins went up the middle for 4. From the 12, he swept left end, make a hard cut and followed a key block by Terry Orr into the end zone, giving the Redskins a 28-17 cushion.
Including his kickoff return, Ervins accounted for 77 yards on the drive.
"That was pretty much his drive," said Redskins tackle Jim Lachey. "It was a big shot in the arm for us. We needed somebody to give us a spark.
"A lot of guys were saying on the sideline it was hard to see him coming through there."
On the Redskins' next possession, Ervins carried five straight times for 28 yards in gains and 15 more on a face mask penalty. A pass interference call set up Riggs' second TD of the day, although it took three carries to get it over from the 1.
When the Redskins got the ball with 3:10 left, they were ready to run out the clock. But just after the two-minute mark, Ervins broke outside for a 65-yard scoring play that sent the crowd of 54,715 into a frenzy.
"He was going through small holes," said Rypien, who was flawless with a 16-for-22 passing game that netted 190 yards and the Monk TD. "He hit them and made big plays. He's still learning the system. He's a little green."
Byner, who rushed for 65 yards before coming out, said he wasn't surprised at Ervins' play.
"He's the future running back of this team," Byner said. "I don't know how soon the future is, but my abilities haven't dwindled."
Ervins, 23, a third-round pick out of Southern Cal last spring, was a humble hero after making his big splash.
"When you've got great tailbacks such as Earnest and Gerald, you've got to be thankful for the time you get," he said.
Nevertheless, expect to see much more of him in the Redskins' dream season.