Lawrence Taylor, whose change of moods and level of play get about the same kind of media coverage here as the mayor of New York, again was a force of one for the Giants today.
Taylor collected a game-high 11 unassisted tackles, with two quarterback sacks of Joe Theismann for 23 yards, to lead the New York Giants' top-ranked defense in their 17-3 victory over the Redskins at the Meadowlands. Taylor had plenty of help from defensive end Leonard Marshall and linebackers Andy Headen and Jerome Sally as the Giants totaled seven sacks.
It was the most sacks against the Redskins since last year's playoff loss to the Chicago Bears, when Theismann also was brought down seven times. "They're (New York's defense) not No. 1 for nothing," Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs said.
Taylor's performance was perhaps his finest this season, which had thus far been subpar for one of the most feared linebackers in the NFL. This despite the fact that his 4 1/2 sacks going into today's game put him right on schedule to surpass the 11 1/2 he had last year, his fourth straight all-pro season.
Taylor admitted afterward that he had not been concentrating well the last couple of weeks as a result of some personal problems, which he declined to discuss. But he added that he had chosen today's meeting with the Redskins as the day of his rejuvenation.
"I decided to go back to my old self and prepare for the game," he said. "I had a lot of things on my mind, and football was not as important. There are a lot of pressures. I'm not going to spill my guts to the whole media. I decided to take care of those things on Tuesday (his day off) and devote the rest of the week to football."
Taylor had been subject to some criticism for listless performances lately. But he defended his sack totals.
"Sacks are how people judge a defense," he said. "I've got seven now, last year at this time I had eight or nine. So what's the big difference? The last couple of games I haven't played up to my ability. But they were just a couple of slow Sundays."
Part of the explanation for Taylor's lapse may lie in the double- and triple-teaming he has faced. The inordinate amount of attention paid to him has allowed Marshall some extra room, and the third-year defensive end has a surprising nine sacks.
"The standards for Lawrence are so high they don't apply to anyone else," was Coach Bill Parcells' only comment.
The Redskins converted on only seven of 16 third-down situations, and the pressure on Theismann was a key factor. The first sack of the day came from Marshall. On third and three at the Giants' 35 with 6:10 remaining in the third quarter, Marshall vaulted over Jeff Bostic and dropped Theismann for a loss of 11, hauling him up by his shoulder pads and flinging him down again.
Taylor, however, had the most sensational plays of the day on the Redskins' first possession of the second half. On first and 10 at the Washington 32, Taylor went right around John Riggins and pulled Theismann down by his jersey for a loss of 12, to give the Redskins second and 22 back at the 20.
A swing pass to tight end Don Warren gained 17 yards, but Taylor found another opening on the next play. With the Redskins facing third and five at the 37, Taylor went to the inside and blew past tackle Mark May and guard Ken Huff. Theismann had no time to react, Taylor dropping him for a loss of 11.
"Those worked pretty well," Taylor said. "But there were a lot of big plays. Those were just two big plays in a whole host of them."
Marshall's second sack was a joint effort with Sally and came one series later. On second and eight at the Giants' 34 with 3:19 left in the third quarter, Theismann was snowed under by the two of them for a loss of four. One play later, Theismann was chased out of the pocket again by wholesale pressure and underthrew a desperation pass for Calvin Muhammad in the end zone, which was picked off by safety Terry Kinard.
"If they're ahead by 10 or 14 points in the third quarter you know what they're going to do," May said. "They're going to put in the nickel defense and come at you."
The Giants also held the Redskins, ranked No. 2 in the NFL in rushing, to 69 yards on the ground. Theismann attributed that to Taylor as well.
"Anyone who breaks past the front seven, Taylor's going to get them," he said.