WASHINGTON -- It takes a lot of little things to lose a big game like the Washington Redskins' 24-20 defeat by the New York Giants yesterday.
The numbers say the Redskins shouldn't have lost to the Giants for the fifth straight time, by an average of 3.6 points, and eighth of nine.
The Redskins ran the ball for 162 yards, which is about how much the Giants yield in a month. "Nobody," living legend Lawrence Taylor said, "runs outside of us. But they did."
Washington controlled the ball for almost 36 minutes, which is the Giants' average. The Skins were third-down efficient, nine times out of 14, and even fourth-down efficient once.
They made 22 first downs to the Giants' 13 and they scored as many times. They scored a touchdown on a sucker play that worked ridiculously well.
The Redskins accomplished most of the things they had been planning for two weeks and now they're two games behind the unbeaten Giants, right where they finished last year.
"We were kind of controlling things," coach Joe Gibbs said. "But then those three big plays . . ."
Washington's sketchy secondary held the NFL's second most efficient quarterback to 13 completions in 22 throws, but three of Phil Simms' good ones added up to 204 yards.
"And every one of those," said cornerback Darrell Green, the elder statesman of defense, "was a breakdown in our coverage."
The first big gainer, with Simms in a shotgun, third-and-10 on his 20 and the Redskins' dime (six defensive backs) in place, was an 80-yard touchdown play to give the Giants a 7-3 lead in the second quarter. Wide receiver Stephen Baker caught the ball on a slant toward the middle, then outran Brian Davis and Brad Edwards.
One of the little things that happened was that Green, coming off man-to-man coverage of Mark Ingram on his side, appeared to be catching Baker on the 10 when Edwards got in the way.
"I don't think I could have caught him," Green said. "I was as far from the play as I could be." As a rookie Green ran such a hypotenuse and dragged Tony Dorsett from behind. "Well, this one made me tired for a long time," said Green, 30.
The nastiest little thing, which may or may not have affected the outcome, happened to Redskins corner Johnny Thomas with 3:50 to go. The Skins trailed only 21-20 because Gerald Riggs' fourth thrust -- after Stan Humphries' slant-in to Gary Clark made it first-and-goal at the 3 -- punctured the Giants' wall.
The Giants stalled at the Skins' 35 and Sean Landeta pooch-punted a pop fly to the 10, where returner Walter Stanley ran out from under the ball, waving to his teammates to do likewise.
Thomas, a blocker, remembered special teams coach Wayne Sevier's caveat to stay away from punts inside the 20. But he knew who was racing toward the ball. He knew Reyna Thompson very well.
"I used to hand him the stick," Thomas said an hour later, when he finally could smile a little. Those were the days when Thomas ran the second leg of the record-setting 400-meter relay team at Baylor.
Thomas is also aware that Thompson is being recognized as the premier special-teams performer in the league. "Extremely adroit at downing punts inside the 20," the Giants' media guide says.
"I knew, I knew," Thomas said. "And I heard Walter yell to get out of the way. I knew I wasn't supposed to be there, but I was just so keyed up, trying to get Reyna out of the way."
As the ball bounced toward the end zone it bounced off Thomas' foot, or leg. So when his old buddy dove onto it, it was Giants' ball on the half-yard line.
Ottis Anderson netted minus-1 in three cracks at the Washington line and the Giants had to settle for a field goal, but the sequence left only 1:12 on the clock.
Humphries went down fighting. After Brian Mitchell returned the kickoff to the 45, Humphries hit Clark for 6, then scrambled up the middle for 5.
"Stan scrambled when he had to," Gibbs would say later of his new quarterback's performance. "And he made some plays. But he made about three bad decisions."
One of them was coming up. Rushed, Humphries unloaded to Clark, who came back from his pattern to help. That was good for 2, to the Giants' 42, and there was 1:40 left.
But Humphries threw to Ricky Sanders, who was being tightly covered by strong safety Greg Jackson. The bigger man wrested he ball away and celebrated.
Lawrence Taylor admitted "confusion" by some of the unexpected things the Redskins did. The Giants' confusion peaked midway in the third period.
The Giants had just moved ahead, 14-6, on a touchdown set up by Simms' long pass in the middle to tight end Mark Bavaro for a 61-yard gain (Green, 170 pounds, did catch Bavaro, 245, from behind).
A few minutes later Earnest Byner, after carrying 9 yards for a first down at the Giants' 48, balked at an order to come out of the game. After Riggs carried for 8, Byner returned and Humphries handed off to him. The desired "look" was a sweep right, and it worked.
The corner and linebackers came up and Sanders proceeded down the right sideline until he was as solitary as The Ancient Mariner. Safety Myron Guyton watched disconsolately from about 15 yards away as Sanders gathered in Byner's pass.