But it hardly had to be, so devoted were the Rams to dying by their own hand on the occasions when their mistakes weren't compounded by Lady Luck or the officiating crew.
At game's end, the Rams had lost the ball on four fumbles and a pair of interceptions, nullifying the impact of 158 yards rushing by Eric Dickerson.
Lusty yardage aside, the NFL rushing champion was guilty of three of the Rams' lost fumbles, one coming on his third carry and another on his eighth. And on his most devastating run - a 65-yard bolt on which he had a 10-yard lead on the nearest defender - he was caught from behind by Darrell Green, the cornerback who proved he is, indeed, the fastest man in the NFL.
"I knew Darrell was going to catch him," said Curtis Jordan, the Skins' free safety. "I was so confident, I went out and got a hot dog while he was running him down."
What hurt the Rams even more was that Dickerson was stopped short of a first down and charged with his final fumble midway through the fourth quarter on fourth and 1 at the Washington 39.
It should be noted that the Redskins recovered only nine fumbles during the 16-game regular season - the lowest total in the NFC - and that, before yesterday, the Rams had averaged a shade more than five penalties for little more than 37 yards a game. Moreover, the Redskins were there to be beaten, hardly dominating the way they used to.
But to the delight of 54,108 fans who accounted for the Skins' 158th consecutive RFK Stadium sellout, the Rams were flagged eight times for 78 yards, with two of the penalties helping Washington to its lone touchdown.
The TD came on a 14-yard pass from quarterback Jay Schroeder, making his first playoff start, to running back Kelvin Bryant, the former Philadelphia Star.
But the 60-yard scoring drive had gotten its impetus five plays earlier, when a back judge curiously named Al Jury found Rams cornerback LeRoy Irvin guilty of pass interference on Schroeder's toss to tight end Clint Didier.
It appeared that Irvin merely had gone after the ball and that, while the shortest path to the ball was through Didier, Irvin's effort was no cause for a penalty.
Strangely enough, Irvin felt that way - and protested so loudly that he was hit with an additional 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct, a certain gesture having found its way into his impassioned argument.
The Rams also were losers on a call made from the press box after a 4- minute, 43-second instant-replay review that prompted Jordan to say: "I thought they were trying to get in touch with Oliver North."
The review by Joe Gardi, no stranger to controversial calls this season,
somehow found conclusive evidence that David Hill, the Rams' tight end, had indeed fumbled the ball late in the second quarter after catching a pass from rookie quarterback Jim Everett.
It had appeared that the ball was dead before Skins linebacker Neal Olkewicz picked it up and returned it 19 yards.
Were all that not enough, the Redskins got four field goals from the foot of Jess Atkinson, the placekicker they signed only two weeks ago, in time for their regular-season finale against the Eagles. The well-traveled Atkinson had been cut by New England, St. Louis and the New York Giants in 1985 and by the Skins themselves earlier this year.
While the Rams' Mike Lansford was wide right on a 50-yard field-goal attempt - his only try of the day - Atkinson was given three shots from a distance that Peg Leg Bates might have negotiated, and he succeeded on his longest attempt, a 38-yarder, even though it was partially blocked.
The Rams' lone touchdown came on a 12-yard pass from Everett to Kevin House, the wide receiver acquired earlier this year from Tampa Bay. It finished off a 96-yard drive in which Dickerson's 65-yard run was the biggest play.
But the Redskins' game plan of hammering between the tackles with George
Rogers, who gained over 1,200 yards during the regular season, and throwing under the coverage in the middle to Didier and Art Monk proved effective enough to win. It gave the Skins, who committed no turnovers, a 12-minute, 12- second advantage in time of possession.
But afterward, Jordan was talking about his unit - the defense.
"We were flying today and cooking," he said. "Dickerson's so great. Those fumbles really hurt, because they were about to get points. What's so good about playing in D.C. is that Ronnie (Reagan) can veto and overrule some calls. The law of averages finally caught up with us. We haven't received a fumble in eight or nine weeks. Sooner or later, some had to bounce our way.
"Obviously, the (lack of) efficiency was what did us in," said Rams coach John Robinson, who would have avoided the trip to the nation's capital had his club won either of its last two games.
"I think there were four (turnovers) that were decisive. And I guess, in the end, which (ones) didn't matter. They were too much for us to overcome.
"We could not overcome the first quarter," Robinson said. "We made the mistakes that gave them the chance to get a 10-point lead."
Dickerson, who rushed for 1,821 yards during the regular season, said: "On the (65-yard) run, it was a power play. I cut it back over the center. Green is a faster player than I am.
"I'm not going to sulk over this loss. I can't say the blame's on my shoulders. We lose as a team. The media looks at me as a savior, and when I make a mistake, you blow it up out of proportion. We have nothing to be ashamed of."
If luck failed the Redskins in any department, it was the injury department. At the end of the day, offensive tackle Joe Jacoby (broken hand) guard Russ Grimm (bruised ribs), Rogers ("I hurt everywhere"), tight end Don Warren (Achilles' problem), tight end Terry Orr (dislocated shoulder) and cornerback Tim Morrison (knee) all had been hurt. But it was was too early to know if any of them would be out of action against Chicago.