One of the NFL's best rivalries had another grit-and-guts day, as well as an ending that has become agonizingly familiar to the Washington Redskins. They lost their fifth straight game to the New York Giants, 24-20, yesterday in front of 54,737 at RFK Stadium.

Has there ever been a matchup of good teams with so many tense games and so many similar endings? Have there ever been so many games played at such a high level with so many twists and turns?

The Giants (5-0) and Redskins (3-2), now two games apart in the NFC East, never were more than eight points apart yesterday -- the last four games have been decided by a total of 11 points -- but the difference was that one team had a quarterback with 12 years experience and the other had one making his second NFL start.

New York's steady Phil Simms completed 13 of 22 passes for 283 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. His 80-yard second-quarter touchdown pass to Stephen Baker was the longest of his career and, incredibly, he picked up 204 yards on three of those completions.

He'd done enough to send the Washington coaches scrambling home for their VCRs to see how their secondary could be torched so bad.

Meanwhile, on the other sideline, Stan Humphries rested on one knee, his head buried in his right hand as the final seconds ticked away.

After his impressive debut two weeks ago against the Phoenix Cardinals, the Redskins warned that he was still young and would still face many tough days. He had one of those yesterday, throwing three interceptions, including the final one by Giants safety Greg Jackson with 1:34 left that ended the Redskins' chances to win the game.

"Stan laid it on the line but he made three bad decisions," Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs said. "There were a lot of great plays out there. I just wish there were one more.

"I'm really proud of our team. I thought we played our hearts out. We just couldn't come out on top."

Humphries suffered a bruised left knee the next-to-last play and was limping during the final play. But he said it played no part in the interception and he'd be ready for the Philadelphia Eagles in another key intradivision test Sunday at RFK.

The Redskins also had a fourth-quarter special-teams turnover that got the Giants a field goal and forced Washington to have to try for a touchdown on its final possession. Earlier, Chip Lohmiller was wide on a 30-yard field goal -- his second miss in as many weeks.

But after the game it was Humphries who stood under the hot glare of the television lights.

"Our offensive line fought its guts out," Humphries said. "It was a war down in those trenches and it took men to get down in there. They did a great job. Other than my interceptions, we played the way we wanted to. {The Giants' secondary} played soft and waited for me to make mistakes and, unfortunately for us, I made them."

Gibbs again played close to the vest, relying on a running game that was again very good. Earnest Byner and Gerald Riggs picked up 61 yards apiece and Humphries scrambled for 41. The Redskins controlled the ball 35 1/2 minutes.

Riggs and Byner ran behind an offensive line that had a terrific game, mask to mask with one of the NFL's most physical teams. It left them barely knowing whether to laugh or cry. They rolled up 22 first downs to 13 for the Giants. But what did it get them?

"I hope we can play like this every week," guard Russ Grimm said. "I'm ready to reload for Philly right now."

Tackle Jim Lachey, who at least gained a split in his day's work with perennial all-pro linebacker Lawrence Taylor, said: "I don't know what else we've got to do. We just didn't get it done when we needed to, but every guy in here knows we can beat the Giants. We thought right up until the end we were going to do it."

A lot of Redskins surely did think so, especially after Riggs gouged out a one-yard touchdown run on fourth down with 5:59 remaining.

That shaved the New York lead to 21-20, and though the Giants drove from their 35 to the Washington 35, the Redskins stopped their advance.

Giants punter Sean Landeta pooched a kick inside the 10. Return man Walter Stanley signaled fair catch, then let the ball roll, just as he's supposed to do.

But cornerback Johnny Thomas made a mistake. When the ball bounced behind Stanley, Thomas turned to block Giants special teams star Reyna Thompson, and the ball rolled into his right calf. That made it a free ball and Thompson -- ironically Thomas's college teammate at Baylor -- fell on it at the 1-yard line with 3:47 remaining.

"That's my fault," Thomas said. "I'm not supposed to be there. When a punt hits inside the 20, we're supposed to be clear of the ball. That's our first priority and I didn't do it."

Redskins special teams coach Wayne Sevier agreed, saying: "That's the one time we want our players to loaf. We want them to get off the field, whatever they can to get out of the way."

The Redskins' goal-line stand made the Giants settle for Matt Bahr's 19-yard field goal, but the turnover meant a field goal couldn't win for the Redskins and it ran the clock from 3:47 to 2:24.

Still, the home team had another shot. Brian Mitchell returned the kickoff 37 yards to the Washington 45. Humphries hit Gary Clark for six and scrambled for five just before the two-minute warning.

He hit Clark for two, then with 1:47 left he threw to Ricky Sanders on the right sideline. Jackson stepped in and had his second interception of the day.

"A bad throw," Humphries said. "You can't make that throw. I made three of 'em I wasn't supposed to make. I feel like I learned a lot out there today, but I can't be happy with a game like this."

A bad end to what had been an impressive start.

The Redskins opened the afternoon by holding the ball for 10 1/2 minutes and 18 plays. Despite all that, they drove 66 yards and settled for Lohmiller's 42-yard field goal.

The Giants punted back to the Redskins, who put another nice drive together, from their 20 to the New York 12. Humphries smartly passed to Art Monk on a 33-yarder between the seams, but on fourth and five Lohmiller missed from what for him is normally a gimmie.

"I just hit it badly," Lohmiller said. "That's the worst kick I've had in a long time. I can't believe it."

The Redskins paid for it about six seconds later when the Giants made the first of their three big plays. Baker lined up on the left side and sprinted across the middle. He brushed off cornerback Brian Davis, caught Simms's pass in stride and never was touched.

Baker's play gave the Giants a 7-3 lead. The Redskins drove to the New York 49, and on third and three, Humphries threw toward Kelvin Bryant on the right sideline.

Linebacker Pepper Johnson had his back turned to Humphries, but as the ball was thrown, he looked back to find the easiest of interceptions landing in his stomach.

But the Giants got nothing out of that one after a fake field goal from the 19, holder Jeff Hostetler running the ball, was broken up by Andre Collins.

The Redskins got a break on the second play of the second half when tackle Tim Johnson stripped running back Ottis Anderson of the ball. Markus Koch recovered at the New York 25, setting up Lohmiller's 35-yard field goal.

Another big play would follow. On second and 10 at the Giants 20, Simms caught the Redskins in a blitz that meant safety Alvin Walton and tight end Mark Bavaro were one-on-one. Bavaro raced past Walton, caught the ball in stride and had a 61-yard gain when he was dragged down at the 5 by Darrell Green. Three plays later, Anderson scored on a five-yard run: 14-6.

The Redskins made it 14-13 when Byner hit Sanders, wide open in the end zone, with a 31-yard halfback pass. But the Redskins could hardly finish celebrating when Simms burned them again.

On first down at the Giants 32, Maurice Carthon found a seam -- or a black hole -- in the secondary and turned a hitch pass into a 63-yard gain. Again Green saved the touchdown, but only until Simms tossed to Bavaro for two yards for a 21-13 lead.

"They caught us in some things," Green said. "I don't know what the mistakes were, but Simms didn't let us get away with anything."

"Typical Giants-Redskins game," Giants Coach Bill Parcells said. "Four or five big plays made the difference."