The St. Louis Cardinals come fluttering into RFK Stadium with a three-game winning streak today at 1 p.m. (WDVM-TV-9), looking like birds of a far fiercer feather from the last time they faced the Redskins 10 weeks ago.
The Redskins scored 28 unanswered points in that affair for their easiest victory of the season. The memory of that game still lingers with many of the Cardinals, who also know they have lost five straight to Washington.
"I don't believe in a revenge kind of thing," said Cardinal safety Ken Stoner, who played three seasons for the Redskins. "But after five losses, it has been mentioned a few times this week that we owe them something.
"Last year, in fact the last two years, the Redskins have knocked us out of the playoffs. Now we've got a chance to hurt them. We're playing pretty well, and our goal is to win the rest of our games.
"Coach (Bud) Wilkinson told us in training camp he wanted us to be known as the Comfortable Cardinals instead of the Cardiac Cards. Well, he's changed that. Now he wants us to be known as the Comeback Cardinals."
The Redskins, 8-3, would prefer Comatose Cardinals. Washington has a one-game lead over the 7-4 Cowboyds in the NFC East, and plays Dallas on Thanksgiving Day.
"But nobody's thinking about Dallas," insisted quarterbck Joe Theismann. "This game Sunday is too important, and the Cardinals are playing too well for us to look ahead. That would be suicidal."
The Redskins, who are 5-1 at home, are not entirely health going into today's game, a major reason they are only rated 4 1/2-point favorites by the oddsmakers.
Fullback John Riggins missed another day of practice yesterday with a sprained right ankle and says he won't make a decision on whether to play until he tests his foot in the pre-game warmup.
Even if he does feel like playing, Coach Jack Pardee said yesterday, he would probably alternate Clarence Harmon at the position.
Tight end Jean Fugett also has been hobbled by a sore left knee and Pardeo said again he would start Reggie Haynes against the Cardinals. Fugett, he added, would see some action.
Center Ted Fritsch has been fitted with a special pad to protect his three broken ribs, and will snap on punts and placements. He also expects the Cardinals to test his tolerance for pain early on.
"I've been in the game long enough to know they'll try to give me a shot," Firtsch said, "but I'll protect myself. I'm no fool. Sure it hurts, but I'm not concerned. I've had a week to heal some, and the pad will help."
The Redskins also are hoping this is the week their running attack gets healthy against a Cardinal team that is ranked 14th among 14 NFC teams in total defense and defense against the run.
In the Redskins' 23-10 romp earlier in the year, Riggins gained 108 yards and averaged seven yards carry. Mike Thomas added 78 for five yards per pop and the Redskins had their best rushing statistics of the season, with 255 total yards.
"But they're a whole lot better team now than they were then," Pardee said. "Their defense has gotten together and played much stronger football. They've been using all 3-4, and they've been doing more things with it and getting better every week."
The Cardinals have allowed only 30 points in their last three games, and have yielded only two touchdowns in the last 10 quarters. Stone, who has started the last seven games at free safety, has had an interception in each of these games.
The Cardinal offense has been smoking lately, although fullback Jim Otis, St. Louis' leading scorer and rusher, has been listed as doubtful with a leg injury.
The Redskins are mainly concerned with defensing the Cardinals two wide receivers, Mel Gray and Pat Tilley. Both men have 40 catches, with Gray the deep threat and Tilley the man quarterback Jim Hart throws to in critical situations. Tilley had seven catches for 123 yards against the Redskins.
Hart is completing 51 percent of his passes after a slow start, with nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Pardee, meanwhile, says he is mostly looking for a consistent effort from his offense. "We can't afford to kill ourselves like we've been doing recently," he said.
"Last week, in our series we went from our own 35 back to the 12. I hope we don't have 12 or 13 penalties again. These are two evenly matched teams, and I sure don't look for any complete domination by either side."
The Cardinals are high on punter Mike Wood. Signed two weeks ago when No. 1 draft choice Steve Little hurt his knee, Wood kicked eight times for a 39-yard average in the Cardinal victory over the 49ers last week . . . Placekicker Jina Bakken needed seven points to tie former Viking Fred Cox for second place on the NFL's all-time scoring list. Bakken now has 1,358 points, but has struggled this year, with only eight field goals in 17 attempts and four misses inside the 40 . . . Cardinal quarterbacks have been sacked only 17 times this season.