The Chicago Bears came away from a 10-9 loss to the Washington Redskins yesterday at RFK Stadium thinking two things: That they are a better team than the Redskins are, and that they should have won yesterday's game.

"We gave it away," defensive end Trace Armstrong said, his anger seeming to heighten with each word. "That's the bottom line. We gave the damn game away. Am I upset? We had it. It was our football game, and we let them walk off with it. Yeah, I'm upset."

"The disheartening thing is that we got beat by a team that is not as good as us," kicker Kevin Butler said. "That's clearly what happened today."

Butler's involvement in the game told most of the story, although Redskins running back Earnest Byner did rush for 121 yards on 28 carries and Brian Mitchell added 30 more yards on just three carries.

After each of Redskins quarterback Mark Rypien's three first-half interceptions, Butler kicked a field goal. The distances were 29 yards, 23 yards and 46 yards. The 29-yarder came after the Bears had a second down and three at the 13. The 23-yarder came after they had a first and 10 from the 15 and on a fourth and one from the 6.

"We have to get touchdowns in the first half," quarterback Jim Harbaugh said.

Then, on the first play of the fourth quarter with the Bears up 9-7, Butler tried another 46-yarder. It hit the left upright and bounced away.

"A kick from 46 yards is one I should make," Butler said. "I've made four from 50 or more this year. I could have given us 12 points and they couldn't beat 12 points today. The hard reality is that the burden {for the loss} is on my shoulders."

Not so fast there. Running back Brad Muster was ready to shoulder his share of the burden. One play after Redskins kicker Chip Lohmiller was just short on a 54-yard field goal with 4:16 left in the game and the score still 9-7, Muster fumbled for the first time this season. The Redskins recovered at the Bears 25, setting up what proved to be a game-winning field goal.

"What can I say, I let it get away," said Muster, who had 118 carries and 40 receptions without a fumble before defensive tackle Darryl Grant slapped the ball from his grasp on a trap play up the middle. "It would have been a big play for us because I was just about through the line. He just swatted down on the ball and it went down my leg."

But the Bears still had chances. The first of those chances ended with Harbaugh rolling to his left and attempting to lob a pass across his body to wide receiver Wendell Davis. The ball died short of the target and A.J. Johnson intercepted at the Bears 38.

"I thought I could loop it up over {Johnson's} head and get Wendell and he could make a run out of it," Harbaugh said. "I just didn't throw it high enough. I threw it right to him. It was a bad throw."

Finally, a desperation drive reached a first down at the Redskins 46 with 25 seconds left. Needing about 10 yards to give Butler another chance, the Bears lost five and ended the game with an interception.

Now, let's summarize. A 100-yard running performance by an opposing running back. Three field goals, two of which probably should have been touchdowns. A missed 46-yard field goal. Turnovers on each of their last three possessions. It was just enough to offset five interceptions, including a club-record-tying three by rookie free safety Mark Carrier.

Said Harbaugh: "It seemed like we were getting outguessed a little bit in some situations. They just happened to be in the right defense or maybe a call here or a call there."

It all added up to one thing.

"It was a giveaway," said defensive end Richard Dent. "It's close to Christmas. They got their present."

It's the type of present the Bears are not accustomed to handing out. Since 1982 they have lost just twice when allowing 17 points or fewer. But in regulation play of their last four games (two have gone into overtime), they have averaged just 13 points.

"I don't know if it's the plays we're calling or the execution," running back Neal Anderson said. "It could be a combination of things. But we have to find out what's going on and correct it."

Having already clinched the NFC Central Division title, the Bears (10-3) have time to iron out those problems, although they would like very much to beat out the 49ers (12-1) and Giants (11-2) for one of the two first-round playoff byes as well as home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

"In the playoffs, if we have to travel, we travel," Coach Mike Ditka said. "We know how to catch our plane. We know how to pack our bags. But it's not over. We're disappointed about this game. Its not the end of the world. We've come a long way with this team and I think we'll go further."