WASHINGTON -- It's time to start jumping on the bandwagon.
There aren't many seats left.
The Washington Redskins, off to what could be the best start in the team's history, routed the Phoenix Cardinals, 34-0, before 54,662 fans at RFK Stadium yesterday to take over sole possession of first place in the NFC East with a 3-0 record.
Joe Bugel, the former Redskins assistant who's now the Phoenix coach, climbed aboard when he said, "I don't know if too many people can stop their offense this year."
The Cardinals couldn't, as Mark Rypien passed for 181 yards and a touchdown and Earnest Byner ran for 109 yards and a touchdown on his 29th birthday.
Bugel has coached three games against his old team the past two years and been outscored, 103-10.
The Redskins have two shutouts and have outscored their opponents, 112-31, in the first three games. The only other Washington team to score 100 points in the first three games was George Allen's in 1975, but that club started out 2-1. It was the first time since 1945 that the team has posted back-to-back home shutouts.
That doesn't mean cautious coach Joe Gibbs and the Redskins are ready to jump on the bandwagon.
"All I'm going to do is tell people the truth. Three games doesn't get you anything. I don't want anybody getting mad at me if we lose a ballgame. It's all your [media's] fault. You're doing the bragging. I'm not bragging," Gibbs said.
That means the Redskins are the odds-on favorite not only to win the division title, but also to get the home-field edge in the playoffs.
"You're putting me on the spot saying it's the greatest team the Redskins ever had," Rypien said. "I'll never say that. I'll let that maybe be decided in the last game of the year."
Offensive guard Russ Grimm said the 1983 team that went 14-2 in the regular season, but lost to the Los Angeles Raiders in the Super Bowl, was the Redskins' best team.
"This team has great potential. It's still too early to say we're playoff-bound or anything like that," Grimm said.
"It has potential. Just leave it at that. We've been on one end where we started off 0-5 and finished 8-8 , and we've been on the other end where we think we're going to win it all and we get slapped in the face in the Super Bowl ."
A fast start means a lot to the Redskins, because they've been known for fast finishes in the Gibbs era. The two previous times they started out 3-0 (1982 and 1986), they won the Super Bowl.
The one cautionary note that might be added was that the Redskins seem to own the Cardinals. They're 18-3 against them under Gibbs, 17-3 in non-strike games. The Cardinals haven't won in RFK since 1978.
After going 2-0 in their first two games and coming up with 11 turnovers, Bugel was saying the Cardinals were "pretty good."
It turned out they weren't good enough to play with the Redskins. Byner, who hadn't been giving interviews this year, decided to talk and said: "We came out and just wanted to establish control right away. We sort of let them know we were for real. We wanted to establish the running game. That's our formula, really."
They did it by putting together a pair of long drives -- 79 yards in 11 plays and 63 yards in nine plays -- the first two times they had the ball.
Their big offensive line -- which was nicknamed the Hogs by Bugel when he was the team's offensive line coach -- mauled the Cardinals.
Byner got the first touchdown on a 2-yard run and wide receiver Ricky Sanders the second one on a 10-yard reverse.
The Redskins misfired in the second quarter, when Byner and Brian Mitchell fumbled the ball.
But the Cardinals were forced to punt to bail out the Redskins the first time, and Wilber Marshall made the first of his two interceptions to kill the Cardinals' second opportunity.
"When it was 14-0, I felt we still had a good chance, then we shot ourselves with turnovers and penalties," Bugel said.
The Redskins then marched 58 yards in seven plays for a touchdown on their first possession of the third period, as Rypien threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to Gary Clark to make it 21-0.
Robert Massey was called for interference on the play, but it didn't make any difference, as Clark broke away from him and was wide open.
"Massey tried to grab him as he went by, so I could lay it up there," Rypien said.
He had overthrown Art Monk in the end zone earlier in the game, but he was on target this time.
"That was kind of in the back of my mind," Rypien said. "I kind of said, 'Put a little more air into it.' "
Marshall then intercepted a pass by Tom Tupa and ran it back 55 yards for a touchdown that made it 28-0. Marshall faked a lateral to Alvoid Mays and made some nifty moves to score.
Marshall then handed the ball to a little girl in the first row of the stands. It was a nice gesture, but got him a celebrating penalty. He had thrown the ball into the stands after his first interception, but he went behind the bench before doing it and the officials apparently didn't see it.
Chip Lohmiller, who had his streak of 17 straight field goals ended when he missed a 44-yarder in the second period, wound up the scoring by making a pair from 30 and 48 yards.
Bugel tried to put the best face on it, noting the team is off to a 2-1 start on the road.
"We are looking forward to playing Dallas next week," he said. "It doesn't make sense to dwell on this game and panic."
The Redskins, meanwhile, go to 0-3 Cincinnati next Sunday.
"I'm still scared every week," Gibbs said. "I know what it's going to be like. They haven't won a game. We're going in 3-0. You couldn't ask for a worse scenario, [playing] a good football team that hasn't won a game."
The scenario is likely to be even worse for the Bengals.