During the first six minutes of their embarrassing 27-10 loss to the Washington Redskins at RFK Stadium last night, here is what happened to the St. Louis Cardinals:
Possession one -- quarterback Neil Lomax threw a lollipop incomplete pass toward Ottis Anderson. He threw a pass out of bounds. He overthrew wide receiver J.T. Smith.
Redskins possession -- two carries by John Riggins for seven yards. A Joe Theismann pass to Art Monk for 19. Three more Riggins carries, setting up fourth and inches at the St. Louis 14. A Theismann naked bootleg right that completely fooled the defense. Touchdown.
Possession two for St. Louis -- Lomax trips, loss of six. Anderson gains two. Lomax completes a pass to Smith -- hallelujah! -- for a first down. He completes another to Roy Green. Fumble. Mel Kaufman recovers. Six plays later, Mark Moseley kicks a 33-yard field goal.
Six minutes. Net result for St. Louis: Three incompletions, a fumble, a trip and two scores by the Redskins.
After that, it got worse.
When it finally was over, Cardinals Coach Jim Hanifan, looking slightly shell-shocked, took a long drag on a cigarette, stared at the locker room floor and shrugged his shoulders helplessly.
"We had opportunities," he said. "We got the ball inside the 20 three times in the first three quarters and only got three points out of it. The effort was there. Our guys wanted to win just as badly as the Redskins. But we got off to a bad start and never seemed to recover."
Hanifan pointed specifically to the Redskins' defensive line -- which produced four sacks and constant pressure on Lomax -- as the key. The key to that key was on the right side of the Cardinals' offensive line, where tackle Tootie Robbins simply could not handle Charles Mann all night.
"Don't talk to him. Leave him alone," center Randy Clark said, standing next to a forlorn Robbins, who sat staring at the back wall of his locker. "He doesn't have anything to say."
Robbins, in fact, did have little to say. "I made some errors," he said. "It wasn't him; it was me. It was my fault."
Most of the Cardinals didn't take that approach. They credited the Redskins with being a better team on this night. "I don't know why people were so down on them," Lomax said. "I've certainly never had an easy game against them. We just took ourselves out of the game early."
No one seemed sure exactly what took them out of the game. Hanifan said it was lack of protection for Lomax. Lomax said that wasn't it. Green, who was the intended receiver on three of Lomax's four interceptions, said it was all the zone Washington played. Lomax said no.
"There was no secret to our strategy," he said. "We were going to throw, and if that didn't work, throw some more. We were going to throw, throw, throw. That's worked for us in the past against them. Tonight, it just didn't work in the clutch. We moved the ball most of the night."
But they didn't move the ball consistently, and most of the night the Redskins were able to come full blast on their pass rush because the Cardinals made almost no attempt to rush the ball. Defensively for St. Louis, the opposite was true: the only thing that stopped Redskins running backs John Riggins and George Rogers was Riggins and Rogers dropping the football.
"They're capable of that (a good running game)," defensive end Al (Bubba) Baker said. "They've still got a good offensive line, and tonight they did the job. We didn't."
Overall, the Cardinals -- with the exception of the dejected Robbins -- did not seem too shocked by the loss or by how easily the Redskins handled them. Hanifan thought the early minutes -- the first two possessions for each team -- set up the entire night.
"If we had gotten off to a good start, they might have started thinking, 'Here we go again,' " he said. "But we didn't. Instead, they got sparked and played like we knew all week they were capable. That's football. We just have to regroup and come back, just like they regrouped and came back."
Perhaps the first series of the fourth quarter summed up the Cardinals' frustration best. After a Washington penalty gave them a first down at midfield, Lomax overthrew an open Doug Marsh. Then he tried a draw to Anderson, who ran smack into Robbins and lost two yards. Finally, Lomax tried to hit Stump Mitchell, but as he let go of the ball, Mitchell slipped and fell.
The pass fell harmlessly to the RFK turf, the fans were delirious with joy, and Lomax and Mitchell just looked at one another and shrugged.
For the Cardinals, there wasn't much more to say.