Just like that, the Washington Redskins are in a heap of trouble.

Today, they were hammered by the New York Giants, 37-13, before 76,192 in Giants Stadium who didn't know whether to merely cheer or to do cartwheels over the Redskins' most inept performance since the Super Bowl and the Giants' finest performance since who remembers when.

As the Redskins fell from first place in the NFC Eastern Division, a question rose to the forefront: have all of those injuries at last caught up with the Redskins, or is it the rest of the league that has caught them?

Today, creative strategies by the Giants brought rewards. They broke from their usual offensive alignment and deployed a three-receiver formation for the entire game, and quarterback Phil Simms responded by completing 18 of 29 passes for 339 yards and two touchdowns, overcoming the fact that his young line allowed him to be sacked seven times.

In between, Giants running back Joe Morris tied a team record by rushing for three touchdowns, all from a short distance, while gaining 68 yards on 15 carries.

And the Giants' 3-4 defense planted its two inside linebackers close to the line of scrimmage and let outside linebacker Lawrence Taylor play rover to the tough tune of 12 tackles. That stopped the Redskins' running game cold; it gained just 79 yards on 23 carries, getting only 11 yards more than Morris.

Now the Redskins have lost consecutive games for the second time this season. They are tied with the Giants at 5-4 and, most depressing for them, are as close to last-place Philadelphia (4-5) as they are to the first-place coleaders, St. Louis and Dallas. Those teams are 6-3 after winning today.

The Washington quotes went like this:

Running back John Riggins (16 carries for 51 yards): "We're pretty far out on a ledge right now . . . We didn't look like a pro team out there for a while. They took us out of our game plan early."

Cornerback Darrell Green, part of the pass defense that allowed Simms to complete 11 passes that gained 11 yards or more: "It was one of the worst losses I've ever seen. Nothing good about it."

Coach Joe Gibbs, who all but repeated his words from the third week of September, after the Redskins' 0-2 start and before their five-game winning streak: "The Redskins are struggling right now. We've been here before. It's one of the low points."

By any measurement, this performance by the Giants was superior to their 28-7 victory over Dallas in the second week of the season. Giants, indeed.

The saving grace for the Redskins was that they still have what seems to be a soft schedule in November: Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia, Buffalo and Minnesota.

"I thought our defense was magnificent," said Giants Coach Bill Parcells. "As I've said before, I do not have any illusions about this team. There are some things that we lack, but I don't think character is one of them."

The Redskins' offense made good on a season-low four of 17 third-down plays (24 percent) and quarterback Joe Theismann completed just 21 of 41 passes for 255 yards. His four-yard scoring pass to running back Jeff Moore -- who had nine catches for 75 yards but a costly first-quarter fumble -- came late in the game and merely camouflaged the depth of the rout.

Of course, injury had sapped strength from the Redskins' offense even before the game. Wide receiver Calvin Muhammad did not play because he sprained an ankle in Friday's practice. Both Gibbs and Theismann said they had planned to throw deep often today.

Muhammad, the team's fastest receiver, was replaced by Virgil Seay, who had three catches for 44 yards. Muhammad said afterward, "Of course I knew what our game plan was. I felt so helpless on the sideline." It was not until pregame warmups that he discovered his ankle was too painful to play on.

Furthermore, the Redskins had two of their starting five down linemen out of the lineup for the first time since the Hogs became a verifiable unit during the 1981 season: center Rick Donnalley replaced Jeff Bostic (out for the year with a knee injury) and veteran right tackle George Starke (fluid drained from knee) stood on the sideline and watched right guard Mark May move to his spot and veteran Ken Huff inserted at guard.

Worse, when tight end Don Warren badly bruised a thigh while trying to keep Taylor from tackling Riggins late in the first half, he was out for the rest of the game and was replaced by rookie Anthony Jones. By the second half, four of the Redskins' six blocking positions were manned by players not normally there.

"It's got to affect things a lot because the people just haven't played together," said Warren. Although all-pro left guard Russ Grimm felt the line was mostly unaffected by the changes, he said, "We stunk up the joint. We couldn't run the ball . . . We always seemed a step off here or there. If we can't run the ball, we get ourselves in trouble."

The Redskins had a chance to score early in the first quarter when New York safety Terry Kinard bumped into punt returner Phil McConkey, causing a fair catch to become a fumble. The Redskins' Greg Williams recovered at the New York 17.

Several plays later, though, Theismann dumped a short pass to Moore, who ran toward the sideline and fumbled -- without anyone having touched him. Cornerback Perry Williams recovered at the 18. It was a portent of things to come for the Redskins' passing game.

The Giants' passing, on the other hand, seemed unstoppable at times. "We tried to spread things out to make their defense cover the whole field," said Simms, explaining the change to three wide receivers. "The wide receivers could be the strength of our whole team."

Time after time, Simms would complete passes to Earnest Gray (seven for 128 yards), Byron Williams (three for 51) and Lionel Manuel (three for 45). Simms ended a 10-play drive that included eight passes with a 22-yard scoring throw to Gray for a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter. Cornerback Green, who said he was in man-to-man coverage on the play, unsuccessfully dove for the ball near the Washington six.

Several minutes later, Simms found Gray in the middle of a zone defense for 29 yards, to the Redskins' 33. Gray beat linebacker Monte Coleman by two steps and caught a pass for 31 yards, to the two. From there, Morris scored his first touchdown and the Giants led, 14-0.

By and by, the success of the Giants' passing opened up their running, too. Before today, the Giants averaged just 83 rushing yards per game, a league-low 2.8 yards per carry. Today, they gained 130 yards on 34 carries.

"They brought one receiver deep and I have to take any post (pattern) and so does the cornerback on that side," said free safety Curtis Jordan. "Then there is a seam created about 15 or 20 yards (downfield) between us and the linebackers. It's a vulnerable spot . . . I really don't think they beat us like a drum. We were there on a lot of plays. It was just missed tackles and misjudgments."

Later in the half, Morris ran for another touchdown and, after Williams intercepted Theismann's pass at the Washington 34 and returned it to the 17, the Giants accepted Ali Haji-Sheikh's 19-yard field goal. They led, 23-0, Haji-Sheikh having missed an extra point earlier.

Although the Redskins were able to respond with two field goals by Mark Moseley, from 23 and 33 yards, near the end of the half, it was a field goal Moseley missed midway in the third quarter that ended all Redskin hopes.

After driving from their 23 to the New York 23 in nine plays in their first drive of the third quarter, the Redskins had Moseley attempt a 40-yard kick that could have closed them within 14 points at 23-9.

But Moseley, who had made all 14 previous attempts inside 42 yards this season, was wide left.

A minute later, McConkey put the Redskins to rest. The former Naval Academy wide receiver caught a four-yard pass near Washington's 40, was hit and fumbled. The ball bounced back into his arms, though, and he put on several nifty moves for a 39-yard gain to the five. On the next play, Morris ran for his third touchdown and it was 30-6.

The rest was mostly unimportant. "We need more of our big play people back," Jordan said. "You don't want to cry on any shoulders, but we need them back."