EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It's always something.

In 1986, Jay Schroeder threw behind Gary Clark on fourth down to stop a game-tying drive as the Giants beat the Redskins. In 1989 Raul Allegre kicked a 52-yard field goal on the last play of the game that cleared the crossbar by six inches as the Giants beat the Redskins. Two weeks ago, a punt bounced into the calf of a hustling Redskins special- teamer, causing a turnover on the 1-yard line as the Giants beat the Redskins.

So what would it be this time, here in the Meadowlands, where the Redskins haven't won a non-strike game since 1983? What kind of torturous ending would they suffer through this time?

Actually, there was every reason to believe the Redskins would break this death grip the Giants have on them. Young Stan Humphries had completed 11 straight passes in the second half.

The 10th connected with Ricky Sanders for an 11-yard gain to the 16. The 11th went to Art Monk for 13 yards to the 3. One more on-target pass and the Redskins would be leading the Giants in the fourth quarter.

Humphries was on target all right. What looked to be his 12th straight completion hit Earnest Byner in the chest and the hands. Where else would you want the football to hit a man? Byner was already in the end zone. It would be a touchdown. But Byner couldn't hold on. What looked like a 16-14 Redskins lead turned into an interception for the Giants' Greg Jackson.

You can say Humphries threw the ball too hard; you can say Byner should have caught it. Either way, it's always something.

Humphries, so woozy he was unable to stand after the game, said maybe he threw it too hard. Byner didn't say much of anything, other than, "You saw it." We did; it was catchable.

Byner has experienced such agony before. In January 1988 in Denver's Mile High Stadium, his Cleveland Browns were grinding down the field for the tying score in the AFC title game. On the key run of the game, Byner appeared headed for the end zone, but had the ball stripped from him. Cleveland lost. Byner stayed, faced the media and replayed it dozens of times.

Not this time. Byner bolted. No matter, that play -- just like most of the Redskins' 11 losses to the Giants in the last 13 games -- defies explanation. On the next series, with the score still 14-10, Humphries was picked off by Everson Walls, who took his interception 28 yards for a touchdown. It's always something.

Wilber Marshall, asked about the Walls interception and the Byner/Jackson interception, said, "You play so hard, you just have to get away from plays like that."

During the post-mortem, you could walk from locker to locker and hear pretty much the same thing: It was one game. Time to regroup. It's a long season. There's still the playoffs. The team played its heart out.

All are true. But Redskins defensive tackle Eric Williams, new to this rivalry, put it best: "The thing I'm learning about this rivalry is that great effort just isn't going to cut it. Yeah, we put out a lot of effort. But the check is in the 'L' Column."

That's L as in loss column. Six straight losses to the Giants. "Jinx? I don't think so," tight end Jimmie Johnson said. "Then again, it might be."

After every one of these affairs -- all well-played, evenly contested with many moments of individual brilliance -- you trudge into the locker room to ask players from both teams to explain the difference, if there is any, between the Giants and Redskins. There is no new way to ask the question and no new way to answer.

"I've been asked a million times," Darryl Grant of the Redskins said. "They find ways to win it and once we leave the field they've scored more points. Lately, the series has gone Giants, Giants, Giants. . . . You can always say, 'One more shot,' but we had two already {this season}. We have to move on."

Giants linebacker Carl Banks, who missed the game with an injury, thought through the last five or six years' worth of games, then said: "We were fortunate in some, we dictated the pace in some, and some were just tossups. I can't say what the key is because they're all nip-and-tuck."

Lawrence Taylor said the two teams are "almost identical. But the Redskins don't seem to score when they get the ball in the red zone -- inside the 20 -- and I think that's about the only difference between us."

That and turnovers. The Redskins had three of them this game. Two were legit interceptions, one was the ball that bounced off Byner's chest/hands. Humphries is young and after only three starts he's done far more good than bad. His five-yard rushing touchdown -- first to the right, then to the left, directing blockers all the way -- hasn't been seen from a Redskins quarterback since Joe Theismann retired.

But the two interceptions (of his three) that were his fault led to Giants touchdowns. Phil Simms, as usual, threw no interceptions.

The result is that the NFC East race is over unless Simms and/or LT get hurt. The Giants have a three-game lead over the Redskins, but have won both head-to-head meetings, which essentially makes it a four-game lead with nine to play. "It would be kind of hard to lose with a three-game lead," Taylor said. It would be because the Giants and 49ers are the best teams in the NFL right now.

The good news for the Redskins is that they're finished with the Giants for now. Did you see Humphries when he struggled to get up after that last interception? He was wobbly. His helmet was on crooked. It reminded some of Jay Schroeder, struggling to his knees in the 1986 NFC championship game, the wind and the Giants having blown through him bitterly. Or maybe it's just gotten to the point that all the Redskins' games against the Giants are the same.