Jeff Rutledge remembers that toward the end of his eight-season career with the New York Giants, a mind-set had developed about games against the Washington Redskins.

Specifically, Rutledge believes the Giants had come to think of themselves as virtually bulletproof where the Redskins were concerned. And why not? All the Giants have done is win eight of the last nine nonstrike games, sweep the Redskins in 1988-89 and grind out a 17-0 victory in the 1986 NFC championship game.

The Redskins' only nonstrike victory the last five seasons was Nov. 29, 1987, when they overcame a 16-0 halftime deficit to win, 23-19, during a stretch run that didn't end until after Super Bowl XXII.

"The Giants felt good things were going to happen against the Redskins," Rutledge said. "They had the confidence that comes with having had success."

Yet this week as the Giants (6-0) and Redskins (4-2) prepare to play for the second time in three weeks, a more important question may be: Never mind what the Giants think about the Redskins, have the Redskins developed a negative mind-set about the Giants?

Having lost five in a row, including a 24-20 decision at RFK Stadium two weeks ago, do the Redskins doubt their ability to beat the Giants?

How could they possibly believe anything else? They watched the Giants hit three big plays and intercept three passes in the last meeting. They watched fourth-quarter leads disappear twice last season. And they watched the Giants win in 1988 on fourth-quarter touchdowns off a blocked punt and a fumble recovery. The Giants won the rematch five weeks later, 24-23.

The Redskins say, no, it isn't so. They say the games have been tough and close. But at the crucial points in the game, the Giants have made the big plays.

"Every game we've played against them, especially the last five, have been tough, hard-hitting games," Redskins tackle Jim Lachey said. "We just need to eliminate some of our mistakes. You eliminate the three big plays and the turnovers, and it's a different ballgame. But you have to give them credit. They got the job done and we didn't."

Lachey and other Redskins say there has never been a feeling that something bad was going to happen. "Are we waiting for it to happen? No. We're going to go play our game," Lachey said. "I don't think there's any mindset. This would be a big step for us at this point to go out and get these guys. We've got a real good shot."

From one end of the locker room to the other, the Redskins agree. In fact, they say they enjoy playing the Giants and again look forward to the challenge.

"We love playing those guys," tackle Darryl Grant said. "People say they've beaten us lately, but the games have been great games. You go out and know you're going to be in a battle. You know it's going to go into the fourth quarter and that it's going to be decided by a play here or a play there. They've made the plays later, but we're going to have our turn again. We've had it before."

There may also be a bit less pressure because, though they probably can't win the NFC East without beating the Giants, the Redskins are in a comfortable position to return to the playoffs for the first time since 1987.

Only five NFC teams have winning records, and if the season ended today, even the Dallas Cowboys (3-4) would get one of the NFC's three wild-card slots.

Still, the Redskins know they probably can't get to Super Bowl XXV without beating the Giants at least once.

"We've had a lot of hard luck against them," Redskins safety Todd Bowles said. "As far as having any doubt, no. But knowing we can beat them and not doing it is kind of frustrating.

"We've just got to make one more play than they do. It has to come sooner or later. We can't make the mistakes we've been making. We're equal in talent, two good teams. They've just had the upper hand the past couple of years. Hopefully, we can win this one."

Two weeks ago, the Redskins controlled the ball for 35 1/2 minutes and still lost. They closed to 21-20 after Gerald Riggs scored with 5:59 remaining, but turned the ball over twice in the final minutes.

"We don't feel jinxed," Bowles said. "We were mad because we lost it. We really wanted that game, but we realize it was only one game. You don't base your season on one game. We've got another chance this week. We don't really care what they think. It's more what we think of ourselves and what we have to do to win the game. That's what we're going to concentrate on."

Afterward, the Redskins credited the Giants, saying they'd again made the big plays. That's what they said last season when Raul Allegre kicked a 52-yard field goal -- the longest of his career -- on the final play to win. And five weeks later when they had taken a 10-6 lead into the fourth quarter.

"No way we think they've got anything over us, more than just making some plays," guard Raleigh McKenzie said. "It's no more than that. The games have been great. We've gotten out on top of them and they've gotten out on top of us. The only thing is they've made some plays here lately to beat us. They've been fortunate to make it happen toward the end of the games.

"If we don't win, it won't be the end of the season. We love these games. They come after us and we come after them. We know they're coming and they know we're coming. It's whoever comes up with the play at the end."

Redskins Notes: Defensive end Markus Koch (sprained right knee) will miss this afternoon's practice. He took therapy and exercised the knee again yesterday, and though he remains questionable for Sunday's game, it appears he won't miss extended time. . . .

The Redskins will play on artificial turf this week for the first time this season. Since Coach Joe Gibbs came to the Redskins, his teams are 32-17 (.653) on turf. They were 4-1 on turf last season, their only loss coming against the Giants. . . . In their three Super Bowl seasons -- 1982, 1983 and 1987 -- the Redskins went 14-1 on artificial turf. . . .

Lachey believes that Humphries' ability to scramble may make a big difference in Sunday's game. "His ability to pick up a few first downs rushing has really added something to the offense," Lachey said. "Not taking anything away from {Mark Rypien}, but Stan can move a little better inside the pocket. He's a little more mobile, and it's one more thing teams have to prepare for."

Year....Home team.....Result

1986....New York......Giants, 27-20

1986....Washington....Giants, 24-14

1986 ...New York......Giants, 17-0

1987 ...Washington....Redskins, 23-19

1988....New York......Giants, 27-20

1988....Washington....Giants, 24-23

1989....Washington....Giants, 27-24

1989....New York......Giants, 20-17

1990....Washington....Giants, 24-20

-- NFC Championship.

-- 1987 strike game (won by Washington, 38-12) not included.