"Frankly," said a Redskin who demanded anonymity, "I think this team has been developing into a bunch of front-runners. You get them down early and you've got them.

"I said to one of the guys before the game that the worst thing that could happen to us was to be down 10-0. You get down 7-0 or 10-0 in this league and it's nothing. But our guys get down - and it's the sort of thing that's contagious. The offense mopes around, and pretty soon others are doing it, too."

But the offense did come back, from a 10-0 deficit to a 17-10 lead before a freakish pass play and a fumble led to Washington's annual stinker in the swamps against the Giants today, a 20-17 loss.

"Not the way we should have, or usually have in the past," the player said. "There were penalties involved, sort of lucky stuff. Hey, we've lost some classy guys on this team the last few years, and it's starting to take effect, especially on offense.

"Nobody seems to be helping out anybody else. There's some segregation between the offense and defense. It's not like it once was around here."

The way it was today made one wonder about the worth of training camp. It was Flag Day, with the Redskins guilty of 10 penalties and the Giants 13.

The Giants had 12 men on the field once. Terry Hermeling might have made the record books, if anyone bothered about such items, with back-to-back holding penalties. Billy Kilmer was pitching as slowly as Eddie Lopat - but with less control.

"I look at Billy and I see something is wrong," former Redskin Bill Malinchak said at halftime. "He's just not setting up quickly enough, and he's not throwing like he used to."

Did Allen consider bringing in Joe Theismann?

"No," Allen said.

When to replace Kilmer is the most difficult decision Allen might face, because so often the 38-year-old quarterback has thrown like Grandma Moses one half before recovering and passing for the winning touchdown. Last year in the season opener against the Giants, for instance

And the Redskins could have won despite Kilmer's problems if one of those odd plays that happens once every 30 games or so had not embarrassed Ken Houston.

He was in fine position to tip away an under-thrown pass. Instead he tipped the ball directly into Ed Marshall's arms and the Giants had a 47-yard gain and just eight more yards to go for the tying touchdown.

"When I tipped it," Houston said, "I knew he was going to catch it if he was still standing up. I just felt like I'd be able to palm it right to the ground, but I couldn't. It's just one of those crazy things, except it's happened to me in the last game last year and the first game this year."

Houston was referring to the tip in the playoff against the Vikings that Sammy White somehow managed to gather in not far from the goal line.

Marshall said Houston and he exchanged words about the catch.

"He told me, 'Great catch, great concentration and I'll see you in Washington'," Marshall said.

As Houston said, the Redskin defense played quite well for the most part, although the Giant offense hardly seems awesome and missed injured Doug Kotar for more than half the game. And injured George Martin, also.

Martin is the Giants' left defensive end who picked off a Kilmer swing pass and ran 30 yards untouched for the game's first touchdown.

As the Giants' team physician, Dr. Alan Levy, said after examining Martin at halftime, "It's really tough to lose George, because it's like losing our offense."

Two minutes before halftime, holding a 7-0 lead, the Giants showed a bit of arrogance that might well have proved critical. On fourth and one at the Redskin 24, they went for the first down, which seemed reasonable, but they went immediately for the touchdown which did not.

Gerard Williams batted down the pass in the end zone, and the Giants got no points.

"They did what we normally do," said Diron Talbert who, like Redskin coach George Allen, was experiencing opening-game defeat for the first time in his professional life.

"What's it like to win the opener? Well, it's like hitting two homers in the top of the first inning. It starts things off on a great note."

The middle linebacker, Harold McLinton remained positive.

"Naturally," he said, "our crisis doesn't come until the ninth or 10th game. Maybe this is a good omen. Maybe this'll bring us closer together - to playing the type of football we're capable of playing."

If this is far too soon for definitive judgments, it is not too early for the Get-Billy-out-of-there faction of Redskin fandom to become especially nasty. Soon they may yell loud enough for Allen to hear.