It's been a duel all year and, like any good heavyweight fight, it went down to the final round.

Dexter Manley vs. Charles Mann.

The two had been in the NFC's top three in sacks most of the season, with Mann holding a slight edge for the last nine weeks. Until today.

"I took over," said Manley, wearing a big smile after the Washington Redskins defeated the St. Louis Cardinals, 27-16, at Busch Stadium. "It feels great knowing I can be the leader again."

But Manley and Mann were both perturbed by the results of this week's voting by players for the Pro Bowl.

"I finished with 15 (sacks), Charles finished with 14 1/2 and neither of us made the Pro Bowl," Manley said, the smile turning to a scowl. "Something is screwed up."

Indeed, neither of the Redskins' defensive ends is going to the Pro Bowl in Honolulu, Feb. 2. But each contributed to the victory over the Cardinals, which allowed the Redskins to remain in contention for a wild-card playoff spot. Washington will now have to hope that Dallas beats or ties San Francisco Sunday afternoon.

Manley twice put Cardinals quarterback Neil Lomax to the hard, cold turf; Mann did it once. Defensive tackle Dave Butz also had a sack.

The Redskins' offense -- as on so many other occasions this season -- had trouble getting started, so the defense again had to hold tight until things got straightened out.

"That's been happening all year," Manley said. "We just had to stay cool and hope the offense would come around. They did and helped us out a lot. But we wanted to keep the Cardinals off the field. I was nervous because they're a dangerous football team and can score at any time.

"It was scary, though. When they jumped out to that lead, we thought to ourselves, 'Hey, let's not fall on our faces.' "

Manley got his first sack in the second quarter to derail a St. Louis drive. The Cardinals were leading, 9-3, with more than eight minutes to go in the half, and had third and five at the Redskins' 17 when Manley downed Lomax for a five-yard loss. Novo Bojovic then missed a 39-yard field goal.

With about nine minutes left in the third quarter and the Redskins up, 13-9, the Cardinals started a drive on their 33. Mann swooped in to sack Lomax for a loss of five on first down. Lomax scrambled for his life on second down and gained two.

Knowing that Mann was ahead by half a sack -- "You know I was counting," Manley said -- Manley put Lomax down on third down to force a punt. On the Redskins' ensuing drive, George Rogers went over the 1,000-yard mark and scored on a one-yard touchdown run to make it 20-9 and provide a little breathing space.

"I held onto the ball in a few situations which led to sacks," said Lomax, who finished a subpar year by completing 18 of 28 passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns. "We've proven nothing to anybody. We've got a lot of work to do in every area, especially in my area as a quarterback . . . "

Mann, however, credited Lomax for hanging tough.

"I don't think we rattled him like we wanted to," Mann said. "I hit him a couple of times just as he was releasing the ball. Dexter hit him, Dave, Dean (Hamel), everybody. But he held his composure, and that's something he hasn't always done in the past.

"I think what was fun, though, was Dexter and I going at each other (for the sack lead). I had the sack lead and he was trying to surpass me, and we've been going at it all season long. And he ends up nipping me at the end.

"But we're just going to make it harder and harder on everybody each year."

Manley's 15 sacks tied the Redskins record set by Coy Bacon in 1979.

The two defensive ends -- both tall, talented and talkative -- competed all season with each other.

"It's really made both of us better," said Mann, who is completing his third year, second as a starter. "It's made Dexter better and I know it's helped me. Dexter never had anybody to really push him and compete with him. Now, with me here, he knows he'll be pushed."