The St. Louis Cardinals came into RFK Stadium yesterday looking for their third straight victory and momentum for their first NFL playoff game since 1975.

They left disappointed and confused.

"We never got our act together," said Cardinals Coach Jim Hanifan. "We weren't doing a thing on the ground."

"We didn't come here to play like that," said quarterback Neil Lomax. "We played very poorly. I'm disappointed for myself and the team."

"There are many possible reasons for our play," said 11-year center Dan Dierdorf. "But to say we're a young team isn't an excuse, especially when the oldest guy on the field (Dierdorf) plays awful, too.

"It was the worst game I've played. There's no excuses."

The Cardinals were held to 196 yards and 10 first downs, only 18 yards and one first down in the first two quarters. Lomax and Dierdorf were part of the problems on offense.

Twice, St. Louis snaps by center ended in Redskins fumble recoveries. Lomax added to the problems by throwing three interceptions, equaling his total in the eight previous games this season.

"I'm taking this loss very personally," said Lomax. "I didn't improve. I'm upset with myself. Every game I play is a growing experience. I hope I can learn from this."

Despite Lomax's performance (18 for 34 for 155 yards), Hanifan said he did not consider bringing in veteran Jim Hart, as he did three weeks ago when the Cardinals lost to the Redskins, 12-7. In that game, Hart relieved Lomax in the fourth quarter and led the Cardinals to their only touchdown.

"I never thought about bringing Jim in at halftime," said Hanifan. "We weren't doing a damn thing. It wasn't Neil's fault."

Lomax was helpless on the Cardinals' first turnover, which led to the Redskins' initial touchdown. On third and six from St. Louis' 38 midway through the first quarter, the Cardinals went to a shotgun formation.

Dierdorf's snap was high and wide, the ball landing without Lomax touching it. Dexter Manley recovered for Washington and one play later the Redskins scored on Rick Walker's 25-yard pass reception from Joe Theismann.

"It happened so quick," said Lomax. "All I could do was watch it. It surprised me. It was the first bad exchange all year."

"You have to hike the ball differently when you're in a shotgun," said Dierdorf. "If you hike the ball too quickly it will go into the ground, and if you hold it too long it will go up in the air. Obviously, I held the ball too long.

"I just hiked it over his head. How's that for an excuse?"

The same combination produced another turnover in the third quarter and ended St. Louis' last chance to come back. The Cardinals moved 86 yards to the Redskins' one before Lomax fumbled the snap and Dave Butz recovered. The Redskins then drove 98 yards for their final touchdown.

"There's a problem somewhere," said Dierdorf. "I snapped it, he dropped it."

Even when Lomax got the ball, the Cardinals had little success, especially running. Ottis Anderson, who entered the game with 100-yard performances in three of his last four games, carried 10 times for 31 yards, a career full-game low.

Anderson needed 111 yards to break the 5,000-yard career mark in his fourth NFL season; and in seven games versus the Redskins, he had gained at least broken 100 four times. His 64-yard run three weeks ago against Washington was the longest allowed by the Redskins in 155 games.

"I don't know what they were doing," said Anderson. "They didn't give me a chance. We never did come off the ball well all day."

"Let's just say we got a kicking up and down the field. Now we have to go home and go back to work," Dierdorf said.