TEMPE, ARIZ. — TEMPE, Ariz. -- It happened so fast, the Washington Redskins almost couldn't believe it.
One minute, they were cruising along with an 18-point fourth-quarter lead over the Phoenix Cardinals.
The next thing they knew, they were walking out of Sun Devil Stadium yesterday after a stunning, 27-24 loss to the Cardinals.
Yes, the Cardinals. The team that was 0-3 this year, had lost 11 straight games the last two years, seven straight to the Redskins, nine straight to the NFC East teams and five straight home games.
All it took was a pair of ill-timed Mark Rypien passes that cornerback Robert Massey intercepted and ran back for touchdowns, an 85-yard touchdown drive engineered by Chris Chandler, who had lost his last nine starts, and a field-goal attempt by Chip Lohmiller in the closing seconds that went wide right.
"It happened so quick I don't think it's really registered," defensive lineman Charles Mann said. "One minute, I'm sitting on the bench sipping some water, relaxing, things are going well. The next thing you know we're in a dogfight. It happened too quick. These are the kinds of games you don't want to lose. I'd rather get outright beaten. For three quarters, you're dominating a team and the next thing you know, you lose."
Linebacker Wilber Marshall said, "We just made mistakes. We had it won, eased back and we beat ourselves. The Cardinals played well enough to win, but we beat ourselves."
In the process, they wound up with eight players on the injury list and may have lost guard Ray Brown for the season with a sprained knee and cornerback A. J. Johnson for a game or two with a compound dislocation of the middle finger of his left hand.
For the Redskins, it was a nightmare revisited.
They had won 14 of the last 15 games against the Cardinals, but the lone loss in that streak came in the fourth game of the 1988 season, the last time they were defending champions.
They were 2-1 coming into that game after losing their opener to a division rival on Monday night. Rypien made his first start in that game after Doug Williams underwent an appendectomy and the Redskins lost, 30-21.
They lost again the next week to the New York Giants, 24-23, when Lohmiller, then a rookie, shanked a field goal late in the game.
That started the long slide to 7-9, the only losing season coach Joe Gibbs has had in his 12 seasons as Redskins coach.
They're now 2-2 and they'll be two games behind the winner of tonight's game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys and they don't have much time to get it together with home games coming up against the Denver Broncos and the Eagles.
"We've just got to go to work. I don't think there's any real magic to it," Gibbs said.
The first thing they have to get is better quarterbacking from Rypien.
"No one person lost this game," said Gibbs.
Rypien came close and he admitted it. "They won't blame any one person, but I know deep down inside, I didn't get it done."
Rypien sat slumped in front of his locker after the game as quarterback coach Rod Dowhower tried to keep his spirits up.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Rypien, facing a third-and-four at the Washington 26, tried to hit Art Monk, but Massey stepped in front and returned it 31 yards for a touchdown.
If Rypien had thrown it away or taken a sack, he said they would have punted with a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter.
Instead, the lead was down to 24-13 and on the next series, he faced a third-and-four play at the Washington 38.
This time, he tried to throw to Ricky Sanders. Again, Massey intercepted it and ran it back 41 yards for a touchdown to make it 24-20.
Rypien said both throws were simply "bad decisions" and he said he "can't pinpoint" what the problem is.
The puzzling thing is Rypien completed seven of 13 in the first half for 150 yards, including a 47-yarder to Clark, his longest of the season. But he lost his touch in the second half.
The Redskins can only hope he gets it back because Gibbs has no alternative but to stick with him. His backup, Cary Conklin, has yet to throw a pass in a regular-season game. When Gibbs was asked if he was sticking with Rypien all year "regardless," he called it a "ridiculous question."
In the end, the defense let the Cardinals drive the length of the field for the winning score with the help of a 15-yard penalty against Mann for pulling Chandler's face mask. Mann said it should have been a 5-yard penalty because he only brushed it.
In any case, the defense seemed to wilt in the heat as Chandler threw a 9-yard pass to Larry Centers for the winning touchdown.
"I think the heat played a factor," Mann said. "I was tired."
Rypien dumped off two passes to Earnest Byner that got the Redskins down to the Phoenix 22 with five seconds left, but Lohmiller then missed the field-goal try.
Making the victory even more improbable was the fact that the Cardinals kicker, Greg Davis, pulled a hamstring in warm-ups, although he came back to kick two extra points after punter Rich Camarillo missed one.
"If you would have told me we were going to win the game without a place-kicker, I would have said, 'Hey, you're drinking the wrong stuff,' " Cardinals coach Joe Bugel said.
Bugel saluted the small but vocal crowd of 34,488 for sticking with the team.
"When it was 17-0, they could have gone home and started their charcoals up," he said.
Afterward, there was much crying and hugging in the Phoenix locker room and Bugel was ready to celebrate.
"I don't know if there's a word in the dictionary to describe this one," Bugel said.