EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., OCT. 11 -- If this had happened at any other time, the Washington Redskins would have celebrated the night away. This afternoon, they beat the New York Giants, 38-12, at Giants Stadium. They now are 3-1. The defending Super Bowl champions are 0-4. Just one month into the season, the Redskins already are three games up on the team they once thought would be their toughest competition in the NFC East.

It should have been a game to remember. Instead, because it was a replacement game played during the NFL players' strike, the Redskins will look back at it this way: They easily defeated a bad football team on a miserable, gray day that perfectly fit the mood of the Giants and their disgruntled fans.

On a day of ironies, one of the biggest was the way sports fans in the New York area shunned the replacement Giants and a game that once was so full of meaning. A meager gathering of 9,123 assembled at Giants Stadium, the second-smallest crowd of the day in the NFL.

Before the strike, this game would have been sold out, with a crowd of about 77,000. In spite of the strike, about 25,000 still were expected, but a cold rain put the finishing touches on whatever was left of the allure of this game and kept fans away by the thousands.

What they missed was another solid performance by the nonunion Redskins, who clearly are one of the best replacement teams in the league. Last week, Washington beat St. Louis with its passing game. This week, the Redskins beat New York with their running game, led by Lionel Vital and Wayne Wilson.

Vital ran 27 times for 128 yards, a 4.7-yard average. He scored on a 22-yard touchdown run through an opening nearly as wide as the field in the second quarter. Wilson, the former New Orleans running back who joined the team Wednesday, gained 56 yards on 15 carries and scored touchdowns on runs of one and three yards.

Quarterback Ed Rubbert, who threw three touchdown passes to Anthony Allen last week, found a new man to throw to this afternoon. Ted Wilson, the Redskins' 10th-round draft choice who left the replacement team's practice for a week before returning, caught a 64-yard touchdown pass on a post pattern in the third quarter. It was Rubbert's flashiest pass on an 11-for-23, 176-yard day.

Ted Wilson, filling in for the injured Derrick Shepard, also returned seven punts for 142 yards, including consecutive returns of 40 and 38 yards late in the first half. Punter Dana Moore had to make touchdown-saving tackles both times, prompting Wilson to lament, "I was able to avoid everyone else. I just was not able to avoid him. I don't know why."

The Redskins gained an even 200 yards on the ground, the Giants only 47. Joe Morris, phone home.

In the first half, when the Redskins overcame a quick, 3-0 lead by the Giants to take a 24-3 halftime advantage, Washington gained 217 total yards and New York had only 38. The Giants' quarterback, a fellow named Mike Busch from South Dakota State, completed only 14 of 41 passes, threw one interception and was sacked six times. Washington defensive linemen Dan Benish and Steve Martin each had two.

If the Giants offense was pitiful, the Giants defense was worse.

"Our defense just can't make any plays at all," said Coach Bill Parcells. "They can't pressure the quarterback. They can't stop the run. They can't defend."

Parcells can blame the strike for putting him in this position, but he must remember that his union team was 0-2 when it walked out. Someone asked him about the playoff picture now, with 11 games left and no prospect of an immediate strike settlement. Parcells laughed.

Washington Coach Joe Gibbs, diplomatic as ever, said he was once again pleased with the way his new team played in its second consecutive win.

The striking Redskins were 1-1. The new ones are 2-0. One of them will play the 3-1 Dallas Cowboys next Monday night at Texas Stadium.

"We seem to be more closely knit than I expected," Gibbs said. "We've got a real conscientious group. We'll just keep going until something changes."

After George Benyola's 45-yard field goal gave the Giants the lead three minutes into the game, the Redskins roared to 24 unanswered points.

Obed Ariri made a 22-yard field goal to tie the game midway through the first quarter.

Replacement football being what it is, a strange moment accounted for one Washington point that very well may live forever in Redskins trivia.

It happened with 9:58 remaining in the first half. After Wayne Wilson tumbled one yard into the end zone for a 9-3 Washington lead, Ariri kicked the extra point. But a Redskin along the line was called for holding, so the Redskins moved back 10 yards and kicked again. That one was good, too, but, again, someone was called for holding. So, again, Ariri moved back 10 yards, and from the 30, made a 40-yard extra point for the Redskins' 10th point.

It may have been the longest extra point in NFL history.

"It's the longest I've ever had," said Ariri, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneer.

Not long afterward, a ferocious defensive series led by Benish and Martin left the Giants with fourth and 34 at their 1. This was not a good place to be if you were a Giant. It got worse when Moore's 40-yard punt and Wilson's 13-yard return moved the ballto the Giants 28.

After a reception by Allen for six yards, Vital, who gained 109 yards on 17 rushes in the first half, broke through the New York defense as it blitzed for his 22-yard touchdown and a 17-3 Washington lead with 5:05 left in the half.

Ted Wilson's first long return set up the Redskins' final touchdown of the half, Wayne Wilson's three-yard run.

In the second half, former Redskins training camp member Edwin Lovelady caught a 23-yard touchdown pass to bring the Giants to within 24-9, and Benyola kicked a 20-yard field goal.

But touchdowns by Ted Wilson and running back Tim Jessie, on a 14-yard run, kept the Redskins far ahead.

When the game was over, Gibbs said, "Being in this stadium, with no crowd noise, was a lot different."

After three consecutive losses to the Giants, beating them -- with any team -- was a lot different for him, too.