The Arizona Cardinals went to FedEx Field yesterday confident they could extend their four-game winning streak and return home tied for the NFC East lead with three games to play. But the Redskins had other intentions. Their defense completely shut down the Cardinals' mobile quarterback, Jake Plummer, and dealt a serious blow to Arizona's playoff hopes with a 28-3 victory

Plummer, who completed 15 of 32 passes for 147 yards with three interceptions, was confined to the pocket for much the game. He was sacked five times and was hurried on many of his pass attempts. The result was a disappointing performance by Plummer, who had helped the Cardinals get back into the playoff race.

"When you play as poorly as I did today, it's frustrating," said Plummer, 24. "I didn't do much to help my team, especially when I threw that interception down there in the red zone. This loss stings, and now we've got a five-hour plane ride home to think about it."

The interception Plummer was referring to occurred in the second quarter, when he tried to thread a pass to wide receiver Rob Moore on a slant pattern into the end zone. The pass was thrown behind Moore, who slipped to the ground as he spun trying to adjust, and the ball wound up in the hands of Redskins cornerback Champ Bailey, ending the Cardinals' best drive of the game.

"The turnovers hurt us," Plummer said. "You can't have [interceptions] like that. It put us in the tank and we stayed there. It's not like this team to stay in the tank. Whether it was a lack of protection, or just some bad reads on my part, we have to figure out a way to remedy it."

A victory yesterday would have moved the Cardinals into a first-place tie with the Redskins--and based on its better record in the division, Arizona would have had a tiebreaker advantage. But now the Cardinals return home to regroup before embarking on a tough stretch. They host the Buffalo Bills next Sunday before playing their final two games on the road--at Atlanta and Green Bay.

"It was not a very good game for us in any aspect," Arizona Coach Vince Tobin said. "We didn't get much going in the way of passing or running. When you've got a young team, sometimes the immediacy of the moment catches up with you.

"The Redskins played well; we didn't play well. They made plays; we didn't make plays. We didn't run well, we didn't protect well and we didn't pass well. In order to win in this league, you can't turn the ball over the way we did. We made two turnovers today that cost us points."

Despite the lopsided loss, the feeling in the Arizona locker room afterward was not hopeless. Instead, the players talked about their improbable charge into the playoffs last season. They pointed to the fact that they were an identical 6-7 after 13 games in 1998.

"I'm disappointed we didn't win," said running back Adrian Murrell, who gained 41 yards on eight carries. "But this season isn't over yet. We have three games left to play, and they're all going to be important."

Said Tobin: "We were in the same position last year. But the difference is that last year we were in control of our own destiny."