On Thursday, five Washington Redskins players met with team owner Daniel M. Snyder at Redskin Park. Late on Saturday at the club's hotel, guard Tre Johnson and defensive end Marco Coleman summoned their teammates for a players-only meeting.

Then, in the important part of the equation, the Redskins turned their now-or-never talk of last week into positive results yesterday at FedEx Field. They crafted perhaps their most complete performance of the season and beat the Arizona Cardinals, 28-3.

"Talk is cheap," Coleman said as he walked out of the Redskins' locker room late yesterday. "We can run our mouths. But if we don't do it on the field, it doesn't matter."

After practice on Thursday, Snyder had separate meetings in his office at Redskin Park with Coleman, Johnson, quarterback Brad Johnson, defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield and wide receiver Irving Fryar.

Snyder called untrue a Fox pregame report yesterday in which analyst Terry Bradshaw stated that Snyder told the players not to pay "any attention to what their coaches say." After the game, Snyder said of the conversations with the players: "I told the guys, 'Play for your teammates. Don't worry about the press, the coaches or me. Just play for yourselves. Know the importance of the game and step up.' "

Snyder said the meetings "weren't meant" to undercut Coach Norv Turner or the team's assistant coaches. They were designed, he said, to get the players to accept accountability for their team.

Meanwhile, the players-only meeting Saturday night was, according to Tre Johnson: "A wake-up call in terms of attitude. Everybody had a chance to speak. People had to realize this is important. We can't live off the first four or five games of the season. That's dead and gone. Nobody cares about that now."

Tight end Stephen Alexander called the meeting "beneficial."

"We knew time was running out," he said. "We couldn't continue to win one week and struggle the next week. The time is now. Our backs are against the wall, and we played like it. If we ever had a must-win situation, this was it."

Said Coleman: "So much is made about the coaches being the reason [for losing], the scapegoats. . . . It's about the players."

Cornerback Darrell Green, in his 17th season, said of the players-only meeting, "I've been to a million of those" and said the purpose was to refocus commitment. "It's like telling your wife you love her. . . . You can't do it enough."

Such was the ending to a strange week for the Redskins, who were in sole possession of first place in the NFC East, but still in a crisis mode. They knew that when they took the field yesterday, they would be playing for their season--again. Their 33-17 loss at Detroit the previous Sunday had left practically everyone in town once more questioning the Redskins' big-game mettle under Turner.

Turner felt the strain. Snyder has made it clear that Turner will retain his job beyond this season if the Redskins make the playoffs. And everyone at Redskin Park knew that a loss to the Cardinals would reduce considerably the Redskins' chances of making the playoffs. Turner spoke Sunday about a conversation he had with his running game coordinator, Bobby Jackson, as they broke down videotapes of the Lions game last Monday.

"After a game like we had last Sunday, you get as low as you can get from a standpoint of where you are as a coach [and] as a person," Turner said. ". . . [Jackson] said, 'You know, the one thing we've got going for us is this group is as resilient a group as we've had. Every time we've had a difficulty, they've responded, stepped up and really handled the adversity.' That's what our group did this week. We had good practices all week. I think the coaches put together a good plan. Our players were very determined about executing the plan. And we played awfully well."

Yesterday the Redskins played an important game in December as they had envisioned back in mid-October, when they were 4-1 and dreaming of big things. They were crisp on offense, riding the 37-carry, 189-yard performance of tailback Stephen Davis. They were aggressive and effective on defense, sacking Arizona quarterback Jake Plummer five times and limiting the Cardinals to 173 total yards. They yielded a long kickoff return on special teams. But, by this season's standards, only one gaffe on special teams is acceptable.

"We played a complete game," Alexander said. "We gave up a big return on special teams. But this was a big game and we played well on offense, defense and special teams."

This wasn't the first time this year the Redskins had won a game to save their season. Before the loss to the Lions, they beat the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles on consecutive weeks at home to improve their record from 5-4 to 7-4 and keep their season from unraveling. So the Redskins avoided the temptation of getting carried away with their performance Sunday.

"We can only tell where we are by next week's game, and then the week after that and the week after that," Johnson said. "We have to realize we have the talent, but potential is useless if we don't perform."

The Redskins maintained their one-game lead in the NFC East, with the Dallas Cowboys and Giants tied for second place. The Redskins' fourth-quarter collapse in their season-opening loss to the Cowboys at home continues to haunt them. Dallas holds the tie-breaker advantage over Washington by virtue of beating the Redskins twice this season.

The Redskins have a game as difficult as they come--at Indianapolis--next Sunday. They play at San Francisco on Dec. 26 and at home against the Miami Dolphins on Jan. 2. The one way for the Redskins to avoid doing some scoreboard-watching in the final three weeks of the regular season--and to ensure their first playoff appearance since January 1993--is to win the rest of their games.

"We can't count on someone else's help," Fryar said. "We're in first place. We're in the driver's seat. We need to take care of our business."