When the Washington Redskins walked out of the Kingdome at the end of last season, they talked about This Game. They referred to It after the college draft and mentioned It throughout a summer when four or five weeks were devoted, in part, to devising, then fine-tuning a game plan.

So after a final week of work, a week when New York Giants Coach Bill Parcells turned up stereos to simulate the noise at RFK Stadium and Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs had extra security patrolling the fences at Redskin Park, there's finally the matter of playing This Game at 4 o'clock this afternoon.

The Redskins finished their week with a brief practice at Redskin Park yesterday morning and afterward, as expected, announced that ex-Giant quarterback Jeff Rutledge had been activated.

After spending four weeks on injured reserve, Rutledge will be the Washington backup this afternoon as Stan Humphries makes the second start of his career. Gary Hogeboom, who was signed when Mark Rypien was injured, now is third string and will be on the two-man inactive list today.

The Redskins made room for Rutledge by cutting veteran tight end Terry Orr for the second time in six weeks. Orr was waived, then re-signed in the final training-camp cutdown. He was let go again this time because Gibbs wants three quarterbacks instead of two on the 47-man roster.

But he wouldn't rule out another return by Orr if the Redskins have an injury or a problem at tight end. In the meantime, he'll be a free agent and free to negotiate with any team.

"It's a tough thing," Gibbs said, "and I'll do everything I can to get Terry back here."

The Redskins also were optimistic that running back Gerald Riggs would play. He missed Friday's practice because of back spasms, but was on the field for yesterday's non-contact work.

Riggs said his back was "much better," and Gibbs was encouraged that Riggs would play. "It's so much better today that I feel it'll be okay by {game time}," Gibbs said.

Regardless, Earnest Byner, who has started the first four games, will do so again.

The Redskins also were considering a change in the offensive line, possibly moving Raleigh McKenzie in at right guard for Mark Schlereth. McKenzie has backed up at guard and center the first four games, and Redskins coaches have been looking for a way to get him more playing time.

Schlereth started the final six games last season and has received generally high marks for pass blocking and lower marks for run blocking. Coaches consider McKenzie perhaps their second-best lineman -- to Jim Lachey -- and only his lack of versatility has kept him out of the lineup.

Today's game is the second important one in the NFC East, where matters may again be settled early this season. The Giants and Redskins have a rematch in New Jersey in two weeks, and the Redskins are beginning a five-week stretch that they will finish with the Giants and Philadelphia.

In fact, the final important division game may be Nov. 25 when the Giants play the Eagles in Veterans Stadium. After that, the Redskins, Giants and Eagles may have their playoff hopes decided by not losing to the Patriots, Bills, Cardinals or Cowboys.

"We don't like it, and we've talked to the league office about it three years in a row," Gibbs said.

Parcells said the Redskins-Giants rivalry had become so good that the teams ought to play each other "once early in the season and once late. But I'm not the one to ask. I don't know all the logistical problems and other considerations the league office and television have."

This afternoon's game is important for both teams, especially for the Redskins (3-1), who've lost seven of their last eight nonstrike games to the Giants (4-0) and would like to take this opportunity to re-establish themselves as a playoff-caliber team.

Gibbs said the Giants may be the NFL's best team -- the San Francisco 49ers notwithstanding -- and they've certainly looked that way in four straight victories. They beat the Eagles, 27-20, in Week 1, and have rolled to three lopsided victories in a row.

They have the NFL's No. 1-ranked defense and a low-risk offense that is ranked No. 1 at controlling the ball (36 minutes per game). Quarterback Phil Simms (six touchdown passes, one interception) is the NFC's second-ranked passer and is completing 63 percent of his passes.

The Redskins say there's nothing fancy about the Giants, that in this age of whiz-bang offenses, the Giants still like to line up and run the ball. Ottis Anderson has 195 yards, but it's flashy rookie Rodney Hampton who has opened eyes.

"I think you have to use the ability of the people you have," Parcells said. "We've had a big transition on the offensive line the last three or four years. The guys we have now are a little better at man-on-man blocking. The other group was a little more efficient at scheme blocking. You take the group you have and do what they can do best. I don't think our philosophy {is} any different than when the Redskins had John Riggins. I'm not interested in what's in vogue. This a very cyclical game. Things go and come back. It's what we feel our team does best."

Hampton has been slowed by an ankle injury, though, and is questionable for today's game. The Giants say that if they weren't coming off a bye, he definitely wouldn't play.

Defensively, the Giants are led by superstar Lawrence Taylor, who will start at various places along the line of scrimmage. Gibbs said that Taylor probably is the best defensive player he has coached against and perhaps (along with Simms) the biggest reason the Redskins have missed the playoffs the last two seasons.

Taylor surely will test Humphries, at least early, and Humphries' ability to see past the blitz and get the ball to a receiver may decide the game.

But beyond all the strategy, it's a matchup of two of pro football's best teams in the '80s beginning the '90s with a big game.

"This is some of the best the NFL has to offer," Parcells said. " . . . I'm not under any illusions about the differences between the teams. I don't think there's any appreciable difference."

Having been eliminated by Flipper Anderson and the Rams in last year's playoffs, the Giants again look like the team most capable of keeping the 49ers from a third straight Super Bowl.

But Parcells said: "We haven't been in any particularly uncomfortable situations so far. . . . You don't really know how your team is going to respond until you go through that."

The Redskins have spent a lot of the week talking about why they haven't beaten the Giants in three years and how they still believe they can play with them.

They point out that the last three games have been decided by a total of seven points and that the Redskins have had either a lead or a tie in all of the fourth quarters. A blocked punt and a fumble beat them in the first meeting of 1988, a fourth-quarter fumble the second.

Last season Raul Allegre's 52-yard field goal as time expired won one of the games. Simms threw a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes in the other.

"Look at the way we came out last year," tackle Joe Jacoby said. "We're moving the ball, but the thing that hurt us was turnovers. That kept them in the game, and they made the big plays and we didn't. Now it's time for us. We've got to make the plays when we have a chance. You don't get psyched out. You get mad. They'd feel that way if they'd lost four in a row. They're going to get our best shot and we expect to get theirs."

1986: Giants, 27-20

1986: Giants, 24-14

1986: Giants, 17-0

1987: Redskins, 23-19

1988: Giants, 27-20

1988: Giants, 24-23

1989: Giants, 27-24

1989: Giants, 20-17

1987 strike game not included