You could see how the Redskins' season crashed to a halt yesterday by looking at Joe Theismann's body. Not . . . a . . . pretty . . . sight.

There was a welt the size of a baseball behind his left shoulder, and at least 11 smaller ones scattered about his back. Dirt was all but stitched to his arms; redish-purple swelling testified how often Theismann's helmet had been driven against his forehead.

"I felt like it was rush hour on the freeway out there, with a convoy of trucks heading south to Richmond," he said. "There was little me, trying to get across the street. And I couldn't."

Of all that went wrong for the Redskins in RFK Stadium, nothing was quite so jarring as the licking the Bears put on Washington's once-invincible Hogs and piglet Theismann.

Both teams were wonderfully inventive, the Redskins running a reverse on the opening kickoff and using the shotgun formation Coach Joe Gibbs has detested for so long.

The Bears' Walter Payton was more productive with his arm than his record-setting legs, and Coach Mike Ditka risked flogging by opting for a safety with eight minutes left in the National Football Conference semifinal.

What Ditka surely sensed was that his defensive guys could claw their way to Theismann on command. It takes some mighty animals to destroy a Hog pen; eight Bears seemed about right.

The most damning stat is that the Bears' defensive line gained only one yard less than John Riggins. Chew on that a moment. The Redskins' fullback went the proper way 21 times for 50 yards; the Bears planted Theismann seven times for 49 yards.

"When you can't do one thing (run)," guard Russ Grimm said, "you gotta do something else (pass). We couldn't do the other thing, either."

Bear Rasslin' had been the week-long course at Redskin Park. But nobody had quite figured how much better the live Xs were than the blackboard doodles. Or that Ken Huff would incur a fractured fibula and sprained ligaments and the season-long deck of blockers would get one more shuffle.

"I bought Cathy Lee (Crosby) a baseball bat for Christmas," Theismann said, "and told her to hit me at least three times a day. It worked; I'm still alive."

If barely.

All quarterbacks are familiar with three-step drops; for Theismann yesterday, it was three steps and drop. His pocket was what you'd expect from a gang of angry Bears, ripped to shreds.

"Got my Evelyn Wood training," he said. "You know. Speed reading. I thought half those guys were lined up waitin' for me half the time."

So fiercely and frequently did the Bears hassle Theismann that he very likely was flustered into some bad decisions the times he did have more than a millisecond to think.

"Usually, we pick up (rushers) 75 percent of the time," said Joe Washington. "Today, it might have been 55 to 60 percent. That was the key."

Theismann did get the numbers on most of those trucks: 95 (Richard Dent); 55 (Otis Wilson); 99 (Dan Hampton); 90 (Al Harris); 45 (Gary Fencik), for he half-limped to each of them after the battle and offered his hand.

It's been an ugly progression lately for Theismann: eight sacks by Dallas, six sacks by St. Louis and seven by Chicago. Shortly, he may be the poster child for Ben Gay.

Dent was the meanest Bear, with three sacks and three other tackles. He will linger long in Theismann's mind for one two-play sequence early in the fourth quarter.

Needing seven points to take the lead, the Redskins had first down at the Chicago 40. Right away, Theismann was nailed by Steve McMichael, for a six-yard loss.

Then he got Dented.

Before Theismann could set himself on second and 16, Dent was in his face. There was time only for a life-saving duck to the ground, for an eight-yard setback.

On third and 24, Theismann decided to roll away from trouble before it developed -- and perhaps was relieved that Dent was not one of those in pursuit.

But when Theismann tried to slip an on-the-fly pass to Washington, Dent -- the rat -- intruded once more. At 6 feet 5 and 253 pounds, Dent is not supposed be able to shadow such as the shifty Washington even a few yards downfield.

He flicked Theismann's pass to earth a bit more deftly than he had Theismann.

"We could go 70 or 80 yards," Theismann said, "but when when we'd have to go 35 or so three times in the fourth quarter we couldn't."

How come?

"Wish I knew."

Frequently, the Redskins had seven blockers against eight Bears. This essentially rendered Riggins harmless, but it did present lots of pass opportunities, short and deep.

Only problem is Calvin Muhammad cannot run 40 yards in three-quarters of a second, that being about the time Theismann had before his alleged protection crumbled.

"Wish I had a little more time," he sighed.

All of a sudden, he has too much.

"We've been so used to playing in January," Grimm said. "Now we know how so many others feel. But you ought to end a season thinking positively -- and this team can be together for a long time and still be up there."

Theismann agreed.

"We're a young team," he said, choosing to forget fullback and offensive right tackle or guard, depending on where Mark May does not play. "I'm gonna grow with 'em."

Thirty-five going on 81 himself, Theismann paused and forced a smile.

"I'm not gonna grow old with 'em," he insisted. "I'm gonna grow with 'em."