When a football team knows with five minutes left on the clock that it has been soundly beaten, it has time to think about what went wrong.

Last night, moments after they trudged from the field of RFK Stadium 17-3 losers to the Dallas Cowboys, the Redskins already had answers prepared for the inevitable questions that awaited.

"They beat us on the line of scrimmage," said Coach Jack Pardee, pouring sweat after three interminable hours in Washington's late summer humidity. "Their defensive and offensive lines did a job on us. We couldn't run on them and that was the only way to keep them going crazy on the pass rush.

"On the other side, they ran on us well. A team that controls both lines of scrimmage is going to win football games."

And a team that rushes for a total of 58 yards and makes its quarterback feel like Abbie Hoffman -- always on the run -- is going to lose most football games."

"The line did okay," insisted the oft-pursued Joe Theismann. "How many times did they sack me, once? When you only get sacked once, you have to say you line did okay."

The one sack statistic was deceiving. Only the nimble feet of Theismann, who turned 31 at midnight, prevented the quarterback from spending most of the night on his back. Time and again he was forced to rush passes or scramble out of trouble as Ed (Too Tall) Jones, Harvey Martin and Randy White took up residence of spots of turf directly in front, behind and next to Theismann.

"They just handled us up front," said center Bob Kuziel, limping from a kick to his right ankle. "I don't know why it happened. I'm not going to make excuses but they whipped us physically. We just got beat by their line all night.

"We didn't do what we were supposed to do, what we were trained to do. We were prepared for anything they threw at us. But we didn't handle it."

In fact, the one sack the Cowboys did get came on what may have been the key play of the game -- if there can be a key play in a game as one-sided as this one.

On their opening drive of the second half the Redskins, bolstered by a 53-yard Ike Forte kickoff return, drove to a first down at the Cowboy 14. On first down, Theismann had wide receiver Art Monk isolated on rookie Cowboy Steve Wilson. He dropped back, set up, cocked and saw Jones who slammed him to the turf.

"I had Art isolated, had the play I wanted but I just couldn't get the ball to him, couldn't get in a position to throw it," Theismann said. "I looked up and it had gotten a little crowded back there."

Which is a polite way of saying Theismann didn't get the time he needed.

I've always said that even though it's an old cliche, it's a true cliche, the best pass defense is a good pass rush," Theismann said."If you can't establish a running game that front four of theirs can just lay its ears back and come. When they do that you're in trouble because they're the best in the business."

Theismann may have only been sacked once but his linemen were called for four holding penalties trying to hold off the Dallas rush. That meant the Redskins faced third and long for virtually the entire evening.

"I got dealt a cold deck all night," Theismann said. "It's a sure thing you're going to have a hard time making a living looking at third and eighteen all night. I kept getting dealt cards with high numbers. Numbers like 72-(Jones) and 79-(Martin)."

The defensive line was not handled as easily as the offensive line but in the fourth quarter when the Redskins finally scored to close the gap to 10-3, Dallas put together a clock-eating 59 yard, 12 play drive the last 11 plays on the ground most of them against the left side of the Washington line.

"That was my side," said Dave Butz. "Most of that was my fault. I'm not sure what it was I was doing wrong, I'll have to look at the film and figure out where I went wrong and adjust. But they were doing something different and I just couldn't adapt to it."