EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., OCT. 28 -- A game that began in a light rain and was finished in a cold, swirling wind ended this afternoon with Stan Humphries standing rubber-legged on the sideline, Earnest Byner with head buried in hands and the Washington Redskins wrapped around another loss to the New York Giants.
The Redskins flirted with what would have been an emotional victory before again suffering a painful defeat, this one, 21-10, before 75,321 at Giants Stadium.
"It's tough to take," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "Our football team played its heart out and came up short again. Sometimes, you're not sure why things happen in life. You can't understand it. But we just have to go on from here."
This was like none of the others, yet the bottom line was like all the rest. The Giants (7-0) defeated the Redskins (4-3) for the sixth straight time and the ninth time in 10 non-strike games. The Redskins haven't won here since 1983, with the exception of the 1987 strike game.
This one slipped away in the final minutes, just as one did at RFK Stadium two weeks ago. After being dominated and seemingly on the verge of a blowout most of the first half, the Redskins rallied from a 14-0 deficit to get within 14-10 in the second half.
They had driven to the New York 3-yard line, and on second and goal Humphries threw to an open Byner in the end zone.
The Redskins could taste the lead for an instant. But as with everything else recently in this series, it was only a tease. The ball bounced off his hands and chest and over his right shoulder, where it hung for a moment before settling into the arms of safety Greg Jackson.
If the Redskins were emotionally beaten after that play, they were physically finished four minutes later when cornerback Everson Walls stepped in front of Art Monk at the Redskins 28, intercepted a Humphries pass and returned it for a touchdown and 21-10 lead with 4:34 remaining.
Humphries was knocked down and, for a moment, out when his head caught a helmet and the turf while going down. He also suffered a severely bruised left shoulder on the third play of the game and a mild concussion on his final one.
He was so sore after the game that he had trouble putting on a sport coat without assistance. He also had trouble standing without help almost an hour after the game.
But the Redskins don't believe his injuries are serious, and while backup Jeff Rutledge finished today's game, Humphries is expected back at practice on Wednesday.
"Our team played its guts out and I made some mistakes," Humphries said. "That ball bounced off Earnest's hands and sometimes that happens. Who knows? Maybe I threw the ball too hard. It goes both ways. It wasn't just one thing."
Humphries certainly wasn't to blame for the pass to Byner, but he did not have a good day, 19 of 28 for 141 yards and three interceptions -- two by Walls. The Giants also intercepted him three times two weeks ago.
The Redskins said when Humphries became a starter four games ago that it could be a slow and sometimes painful growing experience. He has proven that a little bit more each week, making a play that reminds the Redskins of Joe Theismann, then making one that reminds them of a rookie.
Gibbs attempted to compliment him, saying, "He played hard and gave us a chance." But the unspoken was that when Mark Rypien got hurt in Week 3, the Redskins were committed to on-the-job training.
Since a near-perfect debut against the Cardinals, Humphries has six interceptions (all against the Giants) and no touchdown passes. Rypien may return to limited practice in about a week but probably won't play before Thanksgiving.
Byner declined to speak about his mistake, but his pose at the end of the game spoke volumes.
Meanwhile, Phil Simms completed 15 of 24 passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns. He threw to Stephen Baker for a four-yard touchdown and to Mark Bavaro for a 16-yard score.
Both came in the second quarter when the Giants ran up a two-touchdown lead and seemed on the verge of extending it. The Redskins got back in the game with an offense that was redesigned later in the first half. Tight end Don Warren caught 10 passes -- twice his previous career best -- for 66 yards and Byner caught six.
The Redskins must have thought they never would have a day where Warren would catch 10 passes and The Posse -- Monk, Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders -- would catch only four.
This loss virtually takes the Redskins out of contention for the NFC East title, though they remain in good shape for one of the NFC's three wild-card slots.
"The division is totally up to us," Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor said. "We have a three-game lead on everybody, so there's no reason for us not to win the division unless we do something stupid and mess it up ourselves."
The day began with the Redskins fighting just to stay in the game. The Redskins gained 4, 3, 22 and minus-14 yards on their first four possessions.
Dave Meggett's eight-yard punt return started the Giants at the Redskins 41 with 5:39 left in the first quarter, and they took nine plays and 5:42 for a 7-0 lead.
Simms's first big play came on third and 13 from the 44, when he found Mark Ingram, who beat Darrell Green and caught a 14-yard pass for a first down.
Ottis Anderson gained 13 and four, then after a holding penalty, Meggett burst up the middle for 17 to the 6. Anderson gained two, then Baker cut in front of Brian Davis and caught the four-yard touchdown pass from Simms with 14:50 left.
After Walls made his first interception at the Giants 49 and returned it to the Redskins 47, the Giants needed five plays to get it in the end zone, with Simms throwing to Bavaro with 9:12 left in the half.
At that point, the Redskins had netted three yards of offense. It was then that Gibbs flipped to the back of the game plan and got the things he'd planned to use inside the 20-yard line.
Namely, going to Warren and spreading the field.
The Redskins drove 42 yards in nine plays and Chip Lohmiller kicked a 45-yard field goal to make it 14-3 with 1:06 left in the half. Humphries went four for four on the drive, with Warren catching three for 14 yards.
The Redskins closed to 14-10, taking the second-half kickoff and driving 54 yards in 10 plays, Humphries running in from the 5.
The Redskins were averaging 124.3 rushing yards per game, third in the NFC, and picked up 64 on 21 carries today, with Humphries gaining 22 on four runs. Washington had 162 rushing two weeks ago against the Giants.
The next big moment came early in the fourth quarter after the Giants drove from their 1 to the Redskins 45. On fourth and inches, Anderson was stuffed by Alvin Walton and Kurt Gouveia.
That gave the Redskins a chance to take the lead and the drive began with the Giants being caught with 12 men on the field.
Byner gained four and 11, then Humphries threw to Jimmie Johnson for four, to Warren for four and to Sanders for 11, his first pass of the half to a wide receiver.
Gerald Riggs gained three, and Humphries threw to Monk for 10 -- his 11th completion in a row. That gave the Redskins first and goal at the 3, and Eric Dorsey stopped Riggs on first down.
That was when Humphries threw to Byner. And that essentially was where the game ended. Jackson cradled the ball in the end zone with 6:51 remaining.
The Giants had one big play left, and Walls made it, stepping in front of Monk and scoring the first touchdown of his career -- on his 48th interception.
"I don't have an answer for it other than the best team won," Redskins defensive tackle Darryl Grant said. "They did the things you have to do and we didn't. There's no use making excuses."