ST. LOUIS, DEC. 6 -- In front of family and friends and a couple thousand others, the St. Louis Cardinals "self-destructed" again today.

"What else would you call it?" Coach Gene Stallings asked.

Actually, 31,324 people showed up, the largest crowd here since the season opener against Dallas. But, it rained, and it was cold, and the Cardinals (5-7) hardly made the fourth quarter worth sticking around for.

The first half was a sign of things not to come. The Cardinals built a 14-10 lead after 30 minutes, doing things like stopping the run and stopping the pass.

Redskins wide receiver Gary Clark outran cornerback Johnny Holloway for an 84-yard touchdown, but quarterback Jay Schroeder completed only four other passes for 15 yards in the half.

Meanwhile, George Rogers had 20 yards rushing on seven carries, thanks to the return of St. Louis defensive end David Galloway, who had been out all season with a broken arm.

Once, in the first half, the Cardinals scored a touchdown on what Stallings called a broken play. On third and goal at the Redskins' 3, quarterback Neil Lomax rolled right, rolled his eyes and looked back left. There, he saw Stump Mitchell wide open in the end zone. Lomax threw, but Cardinals tight end William Harris was near Mitchell and also tried catching the ball. Luckily for Lomax, Harris jumped and missed the ball, and Mitchell had a touchdown.

But all good things must come to an end, and the Cardinals' good ended in the third quarter.

The Redskins trailed, 17-10, and faced third and two at the Cardinals' 44. Wide receiver Art Monk dropped a pass, but defensive end Freddie Joe Nunn was called for a personal foul.

He had punched Redskins tackle Mark May.

A season ago, Nunn had stepped on May's back one time and received a personal foul, and it was like deja` vu today. Following the 15-yard penalty, the Redskins tied the game at 17-17 on Schroeder's seven-yard quarterback draw.

"We noticed on the film that every time Nunn got a sack, he did a little dance," said May of his personal war with Nunn.

"That, plus the fact that George Rogers was out with Freddie Joe last night for dinner and {George} told me that Freddie Joe was going to kick my rear. It really got me fired up. On the penalty, we were going at it, and he punched me right in the helmet. I thought about fighting back, but out of the corner of my eye, I saw the referee reach for his flag.

"I just walked away laughing. An easy 15. . . . I haven't gotten a game ball yet, but I better get one for getting swatted in the back of the helmet on TV."

Nunn made no excuse. "I just wasn't using my head," he said.

Stallings said that penalty might have been the single-most important play of the game, because it let the Redskins off the hook.

When Schroeder scored on his draw play, he wound up and spiked the ball at safety Leonard Smith's toes. Smith then buried his chest in Schroeder's chest and wagged a finger.

Yet, the ball didn't hit Smith, who said: "I guess it was intended for me. . . . Hey, he scored, and he spiked it. I didn't like it, but, hey, he scored."

If Nunn's penalty was St. Louis' biggest mistake, Stallings nominated Derrick McAdoo's fumble as a close second.

McAdoo fumbled on the kickoff that followed Schroeder's touchdown run, setting up another Redskins score, this time on a run by Rogers.

"I just fumbled it," said McAdoo, a rookie from Baylor. "It was a good hit {by Brian Davis and Vernon Dean}."

Later, wide receiver Ricky Sanders circled under a 54-yard pass from Schroeder and set up another Redskins' touchdown, which showed how vulnerable the Cardinals were in the secondary. With regular right cornerback Cedric Mack injured, the Cardinals were starting Carl Carter and Holloway, both in their second seasons.

"They weren't very good at times," Stallings said.

There were other blows, such as Stump Mitchell's touchdown that wasn't. Late in the game -- the score was 31-17 with 2:33 left -- Lomax lofted a pass for Mitchell in the end zone, and he apparently caught it. The field referee signalled touchdown, but the replay official overruled and said cornerback Davis had knocked it out of Mitchell's hands.

"The views that I looked at showed that {Mitchell} never did control the football," said instant replay official Dixon Holman. "I looked at both the sideline shot and the end zone view. We had about three different looks. We wanted to make sure we made the right decision. We have two machines, and we're recording on both. We go back and forth from one to the other and look and make sure we make the right decision."

Mitchell says a field referee told him it was definitely a touchdown.

"He told me, 'Don't worry, it's a score,' " Mitchell said.

And there was even another personal foul call, when linebacker Niko Noga slapped center Jeff Bostic upside the head.

But just for the record, owner Bill Bidwill stayed in his box until the bitter end.