The conditions, naturally, made playing catchup very difficult," Cardinal coach Don Coryell said after today's 26-20 loss to the Washington Redskins.

On a carpet that one Cardinal player said resembled an oil slick more than a football field, Coryell's assessment was no more evident than on Eddie Brown's interception of a Jim Hart pass that aborted St. Louis last chance of victory with 1:08 to play.

The intended receiver was Terry Metcalf, whose earlier fumble of Redskin kickoff had enabled Washington to drive for its second touchdown of the game and a 26-13 lead early in the fourth quarter.

"I was only two or three feet from catching the ball." said Metcalf of his footrace with Brown. "I didn't see it (the ball) until it was too late, I broke to his inside and I saw it, and I couldn't turn back to get it.

"I should have stayed where I was, I guess. I don't care who you are. You couldn't cut back on that stuff today."

The interception was Hart's third of the game. He completed just seven passes in 26 attempts. Until the Cardinals fell behind by 13 points, Coryell's strategy was to use two tight ends and strive for ball control. That went out the window after the Redskins scored off the Metcalf fumble.

"Jim had an awful time getting a grip on the ball." said Coryell in defense of Hart. "The ball was very slick and he couldn't grip the ball . . . And it was tough to catch the ball."

"It wasn't insurmountable," said Hart. "I really don't feel like talking to anybody. I three three interceptions and that was the game.I don't have anything else to say. It (the freezing weather) was the same for both sides."

But Metcalf had a lot to say about the fumble on kickoff; about the St. Louis fans, and about his future, which, he reiterated, would not be in St. Louis.

On the ill-fated kickoff return, Metcalf made a running catch of a short Mark Moseley kickoff and Redskin Joe Harris popped the ball loose.

"It just didn't come out, somebody knocked it out," said Metcalf. "The guy threw his arm in. I had to run up and catch the ball. When I caught it, there were people in front of me. I had to think about moving out of the way and I didn't have a handle on the ball."

Metcalf was angry after the game, saying, "I don't think I'll be here next season." He renegotiated his contract downward this season so he could play out his option.

"The fans don't want me here. Some fans. Let them be out there in 6-degree weather and hold onto anything. The fans don't want me here. So I'll leave, just for them.

"I can't help it if I'm not perfect. God didn't make me that way. Everybody has flaws. It's tough to play catch-up football, no matter what the weather is . . . It's tough to catch the ball when your hands get wet and it freezes up.

"If your hands are frozen, you can't hold nothing. No matter who you are . . . The fans are the football experts. Jim threw three interceptions, but nobody booed him."

The St. Louis defense, which had yielded 55 points to Miami and 27 to New York in the past two weeks while being on th field almost two-thirds of each game, improved today.

Coryell said the Cardinals had prepared to race Redskin quarterback Joe Theismann early in the week. The coach said George Allen's change to Billy Kilmer did not make "that much difference," although he said one of the major reasons for the Cardinals' going to the 3-4 defense this week was Theismann's ability to scramble.

"We thought it would be a good idea." he said. "Why? As a surprise.To get a little more blitzing in, perhaps. And to contain Theismann's running by having more mobile line-backers in there."

Except for Hart, most of the Cardinals did not seem to take the defeat hard. What upset them most was the chemical used to melt the ice on that field. It resulted in treacherous footing and many of the Cardinals had rashes from contact with the mixture.

"It's supposed to take the ice off the field," said linebacker Tim Kearney. "Instead it's taking our skin off."

Kearney also was upset about the personal-foul penalty inflicted on him when he tackled the sliding Kilmer near the sideline as the Redskin quarterback scrambled for a first down and kept alive Washington's last scoring drive.

"They protect the quarterbacks in this league like you wouldn't believe." he said. "If he doesn't want to get hit, he should run out of bounds." Brundige May Be Lost

Defensive tackle Bill Brundige injured his sprained left foot again and also twisted his left knee. He may not play any more this season . . . He left the locker room on crutches, with his foot wrapped and his knee in a temporary cast . . . Thomas (hamstring) and Brown (knee and hamstring) were the only other serious injuries . . . Hill, Kilmer and Harris received game balls . . . Jake Scott and Brad Dusek had the other two Redskin interceptions, and both led to Moseley field goals.