EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Two weeks ago, Ricky Ervins was the novelty act in a Washington Redskins' rout, an intriguing diversion in their big-play offense.
Last night, though, the 5-foot-7 rookie running back became the man the Redskins looked to.
After Psyche-Out City dealt the Redskins a fresh 30 minutes of misery, Ervins inspired a 17-13, come-from-behind victory over the New York Giants with his fancy footwork.
Ervins rushed 20 times for 82 yards in the second half to set up two Mark Rypien-to-Gary Clark touchdown passes. That wiped out a 13-0 New York lead and ended the Giants' six-game domination.
"Every time the little guy comes in, he makes something happen," Clark said. "He's off to an incredible start. If he had been in there earlier in the year, he'd be off to a Rookie of the Year start."
Ervins will settle for an 8-0 start, the best ever in Redskins' history. Washington, the only unbeaten team in the NFL after New Orleans' loss to Chicago yesterday, has a three-
game lead over Dallas (5-3) in the NFC East and a four-game lead over the Giants (4-4).
"I'm just trying to help the team win," said Ervins, 23. "I'm not worrying about that rookie stuff."
Two weeks ago, in his most substantial role as a Redskin, Ervins shredded Cleveland's defense for 133 rushing yards and two touchdowns in a 42-17 victory. His opportunity arose when starting running back Earnest Byner reinjured the knuckle on his right ring finger.
Last night's opportunity was closer to desperation, however. The Giants had limited the Redskins to 1 net yard in the first quarter, 35 for the first half and only three first downs. The Giants, who had beaten the Redskins six straight times, had a 13-0 lead that easily could have been 21-0.
Ervins replaced Byner on the second play of the second half and rambled 14 yards off tackle. When he punched out a 9-yard gain on an inside run on the next series, it marked Washington's first penetration into Giants territory.
In a marathon 20-play, 84-yard scoring drive that got the Skins back in the game, Ervins accounted for 44 yards, 33 on the ground, in eight plays.
Byner, who finished with a season-low 11 yards rushing on 10 carries, could appreciate the difference in production.
"Ricky was hitting the holes a little quicker than I was hitting them," Byner said. "They say you can't see the man. He made things happen. That's what took the juice out of their defense."
Ervins had the Giants defense back on its heels in the second half, and there was a direct benefit to the passing game. Rypien, who misfired through a poor first half passing, helped the Redskins convert nine of 11 third downs in the second half.
Rypien hit Clark for a 7-yard score on third down in the third quarter to cap the 84-yard drive. It was a drive of maddening twists.
The Redskins lost a touchdown pass to Clark when Art Monk was flagged for illegal motion. Then they got new life when Giants cornerback Perry Williams drew a holding penalty in the end zone, nearly pulling Monk's jersey off his back.
Three plays later, Rypien drilled a pass to Clark in double-coverage, and the veteran receiver reached back to pull in the touchdown.
The Redskins needed just three plays to score the go-ahead touchdown the next time they got the ball. On third-and-12 from the Washington 46, Clark blew by cornerback Everson Walls on a post pattern and Rypien laid the ball in for a 54-yard touchdown.
Appropriately enough, on the night the Redskins ended their run of failure against the Giants, Clark made amends for some dark memories in Giants Stadium.
When Clark dropped a certain touchdown pass at the New York 23 in the second quarter, it was reminiscent of two passes he had dropped here in the mid-1980s. One was a would-be TD pass in the 1986 NFC championship game, a game the Redskins lost 17-0.
"This one, there was no reason to drop it," Clark said. "The other one, the wind was blowing bad and I was hurt. Tonight I just got too greedy trying to catch it."
At halftime, Clark said he apologized to his teammates "for what I did in the past" and then rededicated himself to getting the job done.
What put the Redskins over the top was the arrival of Ervins. This was his first Giants game, but he knew the history.
"It was like a ghost over us in past years," Ervins said. "And now we got it off our back."
How the Redskins offense compared in the first half vs. the second half against the Giants
.. .. .. .. .. .. .. First .. Second
First downs .. .. .. 3 .. .. ..13
Total yards .. .. .. 35 .. .. .219
Offensive plays .. ..16 .. .. .42
Rushing .. .. .. .. .9 .. .. . 86
Passing .. .. .. .. .26 .. .. .133
Time of .. .. .. .. .8:10 .. . 20:35