EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The baton was passed to a new generation of football players at Giants Stadium last night.
The Washington Redskins exorcised the ghosts of five years of frustration by rallying from a 13-0 halftime deficit to edge the New York Giants, 17-13, last night before 76,627 fans.
This was a game in which the Redskins had Ricky Ervins, the Giants didn't have Phil Simms and didn't get much help from Lawrence Taylor in the second half.
"That was a long time coming," coach Joe Gibbs said after the game, which made the Redskins 8-0 for the first time in the history of the franchise.
After dropping a sure touchdown pass in the second quarter and missing another possible one in the third quarter, Gary Clark caught two touchdown passes from Mark Rypien to win the game.
Those catches enabled the Redskins to become the only unbeaten team in pro football after the New Orleans Saints were beaten by the Chicago Bears yesterday.
The Redskins have a three-game lead over the 5-3 Dallas Cowboys and a four-game lead over the 4-4 New York Giants at the halfway point in the season.
"They showed great character," Gibbs said. "I was really proud of them against a darn, good football team. They've had the upper hand for a long time, so this comes at a good time for us."
After Joe Theismann and John Riggins retired after the 1985 season, the Giants owned this series. They went 9-1 against the Redskins in non-strike games and had won the past six.
But times have changed.
In Ervins, an exciting rookie, the Redskins have their most dominant back since Riggins.
On top of that, the Giants no longer have the edge at quarterback now that Simms has been benched. Simms had scored 17 or more points in all 10 games he played against the Redskins the past five seasons. Jeff Hostetler put only 13 on the board and overthrew Rodney Hampton when he had him open for a touchdown at the end of the Giants' first drive.
They settled for a field goal, and those four lost points would come back to haunt them.
In Rypien, the Redskins have a quarterback who can at least match Hostetler. Rypien completed 12 of 25 for 159 yards and two touchdowns and had one pass intercepted at the end of the first half. Hostetler completed 14 of 21 passes for 137 yards, but he had no touchdowns and threw an interception at the end of the game.
In offensive lineman Jim Lachey, they also have the player to neutralize Taylor, who was a factor only in the first half. Ron Middleton got a penalty holding him, and Taylor had two tackles and two assists. But Lachey has held him without a sack for five straight games. He's no longer the player who terrorizes the Redskins.
The Giants also couldn't put the Redskins away in the first half. They had he ball on three long drives, but Hostetler's overthrow on third down on the first drive and Maurice Carthon's unnecessary-roughness penalty on a third-and-one play at the Washington 9 late in the second quarter forced them to settle for a pair of Raul Allegre field goals. Instead of being ahead 21-0, they were ahead 13-0.
"They made it tough on us. We couldn't get it done. Nothing was going our way," Gibbs said.
But in the second half, Gibbs inserted Ervins for Earnest Byner, and he gave the Redskins a running game.
While Byner had 9 yards in eight carries in the first half, Ervins got 82 yards in 22 carries in the second half.
Combined with Rypien's touchdown passes to Clark of 7 and 54 yards, that was the difference.
Center Jeff Bostic said: "That was a sweet feeling on the sidelines. We came up here and found ways to lose [in the past]. To come up here and spot them 13 in the first half and come back and win, it's a great tribute to our team. I don't know what team was on the field in the first half. It may have been the Washington Chiefs or something. I don't know."
Defensive lineman Eric Williams said of the first half: "I think we were just too fired up and making stupid mistakes not tackling. That sort of stuff. Our biggest thing coming in the locker room was just calm down and make the tackles. There's something about this team that just doesn't give up. I don't think there was anybody feeling we were going to lose. Gibbs said at halftime, 'Hey, 13 points is not going to win this thing.' He was right."
Ervins downplayed his role in the victory.
"They send me in there, and I go in there and just try to go in and do my best. Earnest goes in there and he'll do his best. It feels good to go in any game. The line started blocking in the second half," Ervins said.
Byner said: "The guy made something happen. You have to give him all the credit."
Gibbs said Byner will remain the starter, but Ervins appears to be is the back of the future.
It was a frustrating loss for the Giants, who have to start thinking about a wild-card berth.
Eric Moore, the offensive guard, said: "This was a real hard one to lose. We made a few errors, and it cost us on the field."
Cornerback Roger Brown said, "We made our plays, but not even to seal the win."
The Giants came close but just missed.
That's the way the Redskins used to lose these games.
NFL Week 9
Redskins 17 Giants 13
Bears 20 Saints 17
Oilers 35 Bengals 3
Packers 27 Buccaneers 0
Falcons 31 Rams 14
49ers 23 Eagles 7
Broncos 9 Patriots 6
Browns 17 Steelers 14
Lions 34 Cowboys 10
Vikings 28 Cardinals 0
Seahawks 20 Chargers 9
Redskins results, schedule
Sept. 1 Detroit, 45-0
Sept. 9 at Dallas, 33-31
Sept. 15 Phoenix, 34-0
Sept. 22 at Cincinnati, 34-27
Sept. 30 Philadelphia, 23-0
Oct. 6 at Chicago, 20-7
Oct. 13 Cleveland, 42-17
Yesterday at N.Y. Giants, 17-13
Nov. 3 Houston, 1 p.m.
Nov. 10 Atlanta, 1 p.m.
Nov. 17 at Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.
Nov. 24 Dallas, 1 p.m.
Dec. 1 at L.A. Rams, 4 p.m.
Dec. 8 at Phoenix, 4 p.m.
Dec. 15 New York Giants, 4 p.m.
Dec. 22 at Philadelphia, 4 p.m.