In the dressing room, there were as many theories about why the Redskins lost today as there were Redskins.

"Obviously, we were flat," said Bob Kuziel.

"Too high, maybe," said Pete Wysocki. "Maybe we were too up . . . too tense . . . too ready to go . . . it sure wasn't because we were flat."

Much of this presumes too much. For instance, that the Giants at home are not as good as the Redskins. They are. They have made the most remarkable two-month turnaround in memory, from chaos to competitive, the sporting equivalent of the prime rate dipping under 10 percent by February.

These were Giant killers out there today; they could be giant killers against Dallas next week. Still, the Redskins always seem to leave here a yard short or a foot wide -- and the best reason for why that happened today came from John Riggins.

Too cautious.

"We weren't aggressive enought," Riggins said. "We were waiting for the Giants to lose the game rather than going out there and winning.

"That's about it."

At first, Riggins was specifically blaming only himself. He fumbled to the Giants on the third play from scrimmage, recalled how similar bobbles had been so costly and then ran too defensively -- with both hands grasping tightly to the ball, the way a child carries a watermelon -- the rest of the game.

"You don't play with the same abandon. You don't want to drop anything, and that restricts you. You can't dwell on it. If you fumble again, that's the way it goes, I was playing that way.

"Cory, instead of going for the big gainer, five yards and leanin' into 'em.

After a while, you've got to forget about what happened and relax, do what you know how to do."

Cozy was as good as any word to describe the Redskin offense, the jackhammer sort of tool that pounded into harder rocks than usual today and took only two risks the entire game. Both failed.

The first smacked of the strange affictions that strike the Redskins here and lead even rational fans in wonder about a Jersey Jinx. Normally sure-handed receivers drop passes. Field-goal tries hit the upright.

On the second and six from the Giant 24, Riggins -- surrounded by nothing tougher than air -- dropped a soft throw from Joe Theismann.

On third down, Ricky Thompson was open by five yards in the middle of the end zone. Theismann has completed more complicated passes under more pressure all season. This time he threw high. But Thompson has the surest hands on the team -- and this pass was catchable it sailed away, uncaught.

The second risk was more depressing. Washington had pounded Riggins and Benny Malone inside so often the Giants surely had to be vulnerable to a flea-flicker midway through the fourth quarter.

But when Riggins stopped just short of another off-tackle lean and pitched back to Theismann, the sly Giant safety had Danny Buggs blanketed: Theismann could do nothing more than throw the ball over everyone.

Both plays were pivotal.

If Thompson had caught the touchdouwn pass, Washington would have had the lead in the fourth quarter and the Giants might not have wanted to run so much time off the clock by keeping the ball on the ground. The rookie quarterback, Phil Simms, might have been passing.

Instead, New York announced its intentions all along the Taylor-made touchdown drive: We will run until you stop us. In fact, we will run left on every important down.

Telegraphing their punches, the Giants still scored a knockout.

Having gotten that eight-point lead, they were in position to surrender everything but a length-of-the-field completion. They would allow Riggins all inside running he wanted. Which meant that what the Redskins had worked so long to set up was now doomed almost from the center snap.

The former dogs were flicking the fleas.

"We've got to stop being so erratic," Riggins said, "from scoring 34 points one week to six the next. We weren't getting any touchdowns today -- and that takes away from your confidence.

"I think three points is a sacrifice, just settling actually. It's like the ugly girl, better than nothing but not what you want.

"But jinx is a feeble attempt to justify what happened. We just never got anything going. We didn't block or tackle or play basic football the way we should have. And the Giants weren't superb or the score would have been more lopsided than it was.

"We've got to go back and start from scratch. We've got to go out and try to avoid playing safe, like they say in pool."

Although today seemed to be carrying it to extreme. The Redskins have won eight of 13 games by being conservative. Ironically, they lost to a team that ducked completely inside its shell in the final quarter.

And while the Giants were offering themselves as additional evidence of that blossoming NFL creation known as Pete's Parity, the Redskins were learning they had lost more than a game.

As they were bemoaning what might have been, Ken Houston, their most valuable defensive player, was walking toward an X-ray machine, his right arm in a wrist-to-armpit case and raised above his head in the fair-catch position.

He will miss the remainder of the season. And a two-game home stand once regarded as a time for celebration, of clinching the playoff position hardly anyone considered possible before the Redskin season began, all of a sudden looms quite tense.