WASHINGTON -- Watching the New York Giants play the Washington Redskins is pro football's equivalent of watching the movie "Casablanca" one more time. Even though you know the script and how it always ends, the dramatic ending still brings a lump to your throat.
The Giants and Redskins played it again yesterday before 54,737 roaring fans at RFK Stadium in what coach Bill Parcells of the Giants called a "typical Giants-Redskins game."
The Giants managed to edge the Redskins, 24-20, for the fifth straight time and the eighth time in the past nine non-strike games.
"It was very exciting, even for the coaches and the players," Parcells said.
For the Redskins, it was another heartbreaker.
These games always seem to be tense and exciting, but the Giants find a way to win them.
"They're all tough [losses]," Redskins coach Joe Gibbs said. "This is the toughest [one] right now because it happened right now."
The Redskins have lost the past four games to the Giants by a total of 11 points.
For the past three years at RFK Stadium, the outcome has come down to one critical fourth-quarter play when the cheering fans suddenly go silent, as if somebody turned off the sound.
In 1988, it came when Chip Lohmiller of the Redskins shanked a field-goal try in the last three minutes of a 24-23 loss. Last year, it came when Raul Allegre's 52-yard field goal on the final play gave the Giants a 27-24 victory.
Yesterday, it came with 1 minute, 34 seconds left in the game when safety Greg Jackson stepped in front of Ricky Sanders to intercept a pass on the Giants 42. The Giants then ran out the clock.
That interception capped a frantic finish in the last six minutes of the game ater the Giants took a 21-13 lead into the fourth quarter.
Facing a fourth down inches from the goal line with six minutes left, Gibbs spurned the field-goal attempt and went for the touchdown. Gerald Riggs banged into the left side of the line to cut the deficit to 21-20.
The Redskins then forced the Giants to punt from the Washington 35 as Parcells decided not to let Matt Bahr try a 52-yard field goal.
Landeta's punt bounced off the leg of Johnny Thomas, and Reyna Thompson recovered for the Giants at the Washington 1.
Thomas took all the blame for being close to the ball near the goal line.
"It was just inexcusable," Thomas said. "I should have known better. I shouldn't have been there."
But the Washington defense refused to cave in. Three O.J. Anderson runs left the ball on the 1. Parcells wasn't going to gamble. He let Bahr kick a 19-yard field goal to make it 24-20.
Brian Mitchell returned the kickoff 37 yards to the Washington 45.
That left it up to Humphries. The young quarterback had 2:24 to move his team 55 yards for the winning touchdown.
He wasn't quite up to it. Four plays later, he threw the pass that Jackson picked off.
"The guy played Ricky really well and came underneath Ricky's hip and took it away from him," Humphries said.
It was Jackson's second interception and the Giants' third.
In the end, the difference was that veteran Phil Simms was making his 126th start and didn't have any passes intercepted. Humphries was starting only his second game and was the victim of his inexperience.
"You can't throw three interceptions and make mistakes like that and expect to win," Humphries said.
The Redskins had a 22-13 edge in first downs and 35:28 to 24:32 edge in time of possession, but the Giants had a 332-328 margin in yardage because Simms made three key plays.
The Redskins even managed to run on the Giants defense;Riggs and Earnest Byner each gained 61 yards.
But Simms made the big plays when he needed them. He threw a short pass to Stephen Baker, who ran a crossing pattern and broke it 80 yards for a second-quarter touchdown. He threw a pass that went 61 yards to Mark Bavaro in the third quarter to set up a 5-yard touchdown run by Anderson. Later in the third quarter, he threw a pass that Maurice Carthon turned into a 63-yard gain to set the stage for Simms' 2-yard touchdown pass to Bavaro.
It amounted to a seven-play game: Simms' three passes accounted for 204 of Giants' 332 yards (they got only 128 yards on their other 45 plays); the three passes that Humphries threw that were intercepted and the punt that hit Thomas.
Take away any of those plays and the Redskins could have won.
But the Giants find a way to win these games, even though the Redskins were busy denying after the game that they're hexed by the Giants.
"There's no rubber chickens or anything like that in here," said Jim Lachey, who stopped Lawrence Taylor without a sack. He had help at times.
Gibbs also didn't want to say the Giants are simply better than the Redskins.
"You all can analyze that," Gibbs said. "I can't help you with that. Nobody else can beat them."
The Giants are off to a 5-0 start for the first time since 1941 and have a two-game division lead on the 3-2 Redskins and a 3 1/2 -game lead on the 1-3 Philadelphia Eagles, who play the Minnesota Vikings tonight.
When the Giants won their only Super Bowl in 1986, they started 4-1.
"I think this might be their best team," Gibbs said.
They appear to be better than the Redskins.