Fate played a cruel trick on Washington free safety Mark Murphy in the final nine minutes of the fourth quarter tonight at Mile High Stadium.

"That's the break we had been searching for all season," Murphy said of the quick exchange of fumbles inside the Denver 10-yard line. Murphy induced Lawrence McCutcheon to fumble and the Redskins subsequently scored the go-ahead touchdown.

"Then all we had to do was hold them, and we (the Redskin defense) let the game get away. Instead, it's doubly frustrating because our offense came to life, too."

At the finish, it was Murphy looking into the eyes of Rick Upchurch as the Broncos' best deep threat craddled the game-winning touchdown pass from Craig Morton with 3:08 left to cap a 79-yard drive.

"Sure, maybe Morton had more time but I should have covered the play," Murphy said. "I bit on a short pattern and just didn't have time to get back."

"It was a crossing pattern and they were in the man-to-man defense we wanted them in," Morton, who was rescuing the Broncos the second straight week in relief of Matt Robinson. "So Rick came and saw the defender, and all I had to do was bribe time until he got behind him. He did."

"The safety came up and clamped on me," Upchurch explained, "and when I saw Craig move over I just turned it upfield. Craig rifled a perfect pass." s

Murphy gave Jeris White a good deal of credit for forcing the Denver fumble at the 10 that Neal Olkewicz eventually recovered five yards closer to the goal. "We were covering on the weak side. Jeris made the play by coming up and string McCutcheon out laterally. I just cut under and popped the ball out."

Three plays late Joe Theismann lofted an alley-oop pass in the left corner of the end zone to rooke wide receiver Art Monk for the touchdown that looked like the game winner.

"It was called all they way to Art," Theismann said. "I told Art in the huddle it was his. I was confident he could go up and get the ball (over Denver cornerback Steve Foley). But that wasn't his only big play. I think you saw tonight that he's going to be some kind of receiver of us. He has worlds of ability and great hands.

"I hate to be talking about things we did well when we lose the game, but we had a better running game, better ball control and better third-down conversions.

"But we've had too many close ones. Last year, these were the kinds of games we would win."

Theismann held his fingers not more than an inch apart when he talked about Mark Moseley missing a 52-yard field goal attempt with 13 seconds left. The kick could have tied the game.

The Redskins didn't have any time to mull over the last-second strategy. And Theismann wasn't happy with being charged with his team's last timeout when running back Clarence Harmon was injured on the final drive.

"That's not right; we're supposed to get an injury time out," Theismann said. "But we didn't and that was it."

That and two successive major penalties cost the Redskins 24 yards in field position after the final drive had reached the Denver 31. ("What can I say?" asked George Stark, who was accused of holding. "I didn't think I held.")

"That's been happening to us the last three to four games, too damn many penalties, Theismann said. "But I guess that's the losing syndrome."