"Fantastic timing," said Dave Butz.

"When November starts, so do the Steelers," said John Riggins.

"I'll be back," said Lemar Parrish.

So the victims could at least describe the mugging here today. Or most of them could.

"Do you have a pad?" the Redskin dentist inquired of an equipment man. "I need it for Buddy Hardeman to write down what he wants to say. I don't want him talking."

As the Redskins realize, the most depressing numbers of severe flogging by the best team in football at moment do not always appear on the scoreboard. It is bad enough to lose by 31 points to the Steelers; it is worse to lose players who can help fight another day, against the mortal teams in the NFL.

Buddy Hardeman could have helped, more than casual fans realize, beat the teams the Redskins must whip to make the playoffs. With him sidelined possibly for the remainder of the year, Washington loses its best kick-return threat as well as nearly all its outside speed and two fine hands for third-down plays.

"We got a dose of the world champs out there," said Riggins, and then he decided the only way to look was ahead. He began talking about the Redskins' fate the next several weeks, quietly, to himself as much as to anyone who cared to listen:

"All of a sudden St. Louis looms as an important game." He looked up and smiled. "Of course, if we lose that one, I'll be sitting and saying: 'Well, there's five games left and a lot of things can happen.'

"It's early in the week, but it looks like we're going to have to beat St. Louis. We got to come up with one big game. We're not catching anybody coming down. Dallas, the Giants. What we got to do is beat the Giants and Green Bay and Cincinnati and St. Louis.

"That'll give us 10. Four more'll get us in. Three might do it, but four will get us over the hump."

The first hump is the Cardinals -- and the Redskins beat them earlier the same way they tried to stop the Steelers today -- by sending safeties and linebackers toward the line of scrimmage quite often.

That sent a message to Steeler quarterback Terry Bradshaw.

"Obviously," he said later, "they don't have a pass rush."

So that has been the biggest cover-up in Washington for much of the season.

The Steelers, because they are exceptional, turned it against the Redskins. Pittsburgh's slowest receiver is faster than the Redskins' swiftest.

"I noticed some differences between their receivers and ours," said Butz. "I didn't get to watch all that much, but those guys get off the line and downfield, looking and cutting for the ball, a lot quicker than I've seen from most teams.

"And that (offensive) line is quite good. It creates a wall. It's hard to penetrate. They threw a lot more than I think we expected today. But when you have exquisite timing and a quarterback with Bradshaw's touch, why run?

"Why the hell run it when you can go 35 and 40 yards at a clip?"

But the Redskins scarcely were in the same county as Bradshaw.

"For one thing," said Butz, "we only ran about four or five stunts. I don't know whether we were holding back because of their run or what. But we didn't have a lot of chances to deal.

"And that really helps us."

The rib injury to cornerback Lemar Parrish magnified the problem severalfold.

"We were planning on Lemar picking off a few," Butz explained. "We noticed that Bradshaw hangs the ball up a lot of the time. Lemar is a very, very good defensive back. But when a quarterback and receivers have such great timing (he stopped talking clearly in awe), well, we just got through playing the Super Bowl champs."

It will not be the Super Bowl champs next week in RFK Stadium, although the Cards did gain an acre of yardage against Washington's safety blitzes during that St. Louis loss six games ago. Clearly, the defense can hardly afford for Parrish to be a spectator again.

"I've had things like this (bruised ribs) before," he said. "Give me some pads and I'll suit up. Our game is man to man."

Today? Seriously?

"They didn't do anything to me," he insisted. "I don't respect them to the point where I can't cover them."

Timing is the essence of football. If somebody, a blitzer or a Butz, cannot pressure a quarterback, no great defender -- and Parrish just might be the best -- can shadow a great receiver long enough to spoil a pattern.

As was immediately obvious very early today, it is bad timing to be playing the Steelers after mid-October.