Okay, all you Redskins fans, the moment of truth has arrived. It's gut-check time. So tighten your chin straps, suck it up and get ready to bite the bullet. It's a dirty job, but somebody has to do it. You all know what you've got to do now, don't you?

(You have to stop me before I use another cliche.)

(It's worse than that. Worse than sucking lemons. Worse than a wisdom tooth extraction. Worse than a cocktail party with Mr. Goodwrench. Worse even than a two-hour Merv Griffin.)

You have to root for Dallas today. Big D. The Cowboys. America's Team.

Agggghhhh! Gag me with a fedora! Anything but that! I'd rather kiss toads!

Joe Gibbs was so upset at the prospect, he said he'd "probably throw up two or three times."

Sorry, you know the rules. The only way the Redskins make the playoffs as a wild card team is if Dallas beats or ties San Francisco. It's Catch-22. (The IRS agents close to the Cowboys call it Catch-33. But that's another story.) As the man in that oil filter commercial says: You can pay me now, or you can pay me later.

The Redskins and Giants gave us this happy task by winning on Saturday. The Giants, behind 12 touchdowns by Joe Morris, beat Pittsburgh; the Redskins, with another surgical second half, beat St. Louis in St. Louis.

If ever a team was poised to lie down and roll over it was St. Louis, a.k.a. "Rover" after losing 10 of its last 12. Not only were the Cardinals a pillowy team to begin with, but their internal management-labor relations got rancorous last week after management ordered the players to take drug tests. Not even Joe Gibbs, who would find some obscure rationale to explain why the Redskins should be considered the underdogs against Bazooka State, could deny that the Redskins were the favorites against the Cardinals.

So what happens? First play from scrimmage George Rogers fumbles. (Watching him week after week it seems each time he carries the ball he either fumbles or goes 35 yards for a touchdown. Rogers ended up gaining 206 yards yesterday, the most ever by a Redskin.) Not surprisingly, the Cardinals didn't do much with it and settled for a field goal by someone named Novo or Bojo -- something like that. The Cardinals made it 9-0 late in the first quarter, and the way Stump Mitchell was running I thought something was wrong with my TV, that the color was warped and I was actually watching replays of Joe Morris.

St. Louis had a chance to go up by 12-3 in the second period when the Redskins declined a holding call, preferring to let Bozo take his shot from 39 yards out rather than give Neil Lomax another passing attempt. Good scouting. Bozo's kick plowed into an upright and fell dead -- a tough trick, but not a smart one. (There wasn't necessarily just one Bozo. Mark Moseley, who has now missed eight of his last 15, missed three yesterday.) After that the Redskins grabbed the game like a handkerchief, folded it up and put it away.

This was the third straight game the Redskins absolutely, positively had to win. This was the third straight game they spotted their opponents the lead and the third straight game they closed their opponents' eyes in the second half. It was 0-9 yesterday, 7-24 against Cincinnati, 3-12 against Philadelphia. They are now 5-1 with Jay Schroeder at quarterback, losing only to the 49ers. One can legitimately argue that the Redskins are no longer on the league's elite shelf and that they have not beaten anyone of ivory. But they have done what they had to do to give themselves a chance at the playoffs. When they were asked to stand up, tell me, was anyone taller?

And now the delicious irony of them having to root for Dallas.

"I have to bite my tongue to keep from thinking about it," Mark May said.

"I didn't think I'd ever do it," said a disbelieving Gibbs. "But I'm afraid I'll have to."

So it's another long day on the recliner, though not quite like yesterday's double shift. The true fan, of course, sat down at the TV set early in the afternoon, hoping the Giants would do what they do so well -- get enmeshed in a close one, and lose it. The true fan, of course, knew that the kickoff would be at 12:30. I did not. I assumed it would be at the civil hour of 1, and before I had a chance to put on my Official Hog Snout I'd missed the first of Joe Morris' 15 touchdown runs.

Figuring that the Steelers would be able to hold onto the ball for at least one minute, I left the room to get something to eat. I returned just in time to hear Merlin Olsen pointing out the exact spot where Morris had thrown a shoe on the second of his 23 touchdown runs. Steel Curtain, oh yeah? It wasn't too long after that when Rob Carpenter, who I'm sure can run the 100 in less time than a Zamboni, was going 46 yards to set up the third of Morris' 37 touchdown runs. I heard a lot of talk of how Steelers would play this game for pride. Never bet a team playing for pride against a team playing for cash.

This game was over early, and even NBC knew it. In the middle of the second quarter my TV set went dark. The audio continued, but it seemed somebody pulled the plug on the video. I wondered if Jack Kent Cooke owned enough shares of NBC to scramble the game. Much to my surprise when the video resumed the Giants had only scored once more, for a 28-3 lead. I remember Dick Enberg saying, "This is beginning to have 'rout' written all over it," and I thought of 45 Redskins in their clubhouse in St. Louis all reaching for the aspirin at once.

What will they reach for now? How many spoonfuls of sugar will they need to make this medicine go down?