EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Everyone is talking about LT. The fact that almost everyone knows what the initials LT represent is of significance in itself. The New York Giants and Lawrence Taylor, or is it Lawrence Taylor and the New York Giants? Whatever comes first, LT is always a primary focus of any game plan, any head coach and any quarterback who prefers that his limbs remain attached to his body.

Giants Coach Bill Parcells said words can't describe what Taylor does on the field. Actually they do: On the turf, he manipulates the action, a maniacal mover and shaker in shoulder pads. He bruises, bashes and obliterates, and even on the rare occasion when he may be consistently blocked, he is a 240-pound distraction, a teammate's best friend. He is mean, quick, intelligent, a solid pass defender and the game's best pass rusher. He spills blood, and can single-handedly raise the blood pressure of Joe Gibbs.

But on a week like this, take LT and multiply him by two. On Sunday, the Washington Redskins (3-1) and Giants (4-0) will meet at RFK Stadium in one of the more significant games of the year for both teams. The winner will have a distinct advantage in pursuit of the NFC East title.

Big game plus Redskins equals a fired-up LT. Gibbs said on Wednesday that no player has cost him as much as Taylor, and certainly there are more stops yet to come for LT at Gibbs's drive-through window.

That afternoon Gibbs's quotation was relayed to Taylor. He smiled while sitting in front of his locker. "I don't pay any attention to that stuff," he said. "But I'm not talking this week. It's the Redskins."

LT may be the only person who doesn't enjoy talking about LT.

But earlier, he did have plenty to say about playing Washington. He couldn't resist. Everyone is talking about LT, and the man himself wasn't going to let all the chit-chat continue without getting in a few choice words of his own.

"Until somebody proves any different, Washington is the team to beat," Taylor told reporters. "Simple as that. We're at their place and they're the team to beat. When we're at home, we're the team to beat. You still have to prove you can win on the road in this league.

"I like playing the Redskins and Philadelphia. Those are games you don't like to miss. I look forward to playing Washington, especially down in Washington, because the fans are always very vocal down there. I like going down there because people don't know whether to cheer me or to boo me because I grew up down there" in Williamsburg.

But "I'm quite sure {Washington} is tired of losing to us. We're their number one rivalry right now."

Those who know Taylor will say they notice a distinct change in his personality the week of the Redskins. There is less joking and he is much more serious.

Former Giants linebacker Harry Carson said Taylor would sometimes look at him and just blurt out the words "Jacoby, Grimm and Bostic." Not the law firm, but three members of the Redskins' massive offensive line that Taylor had gone against repeatedly throughout the 1980s.

"The difference in this game for LT and a team like Detroit or Seattle," Carson said, "is that this is a rivalry in the true sense of the word. I always remember during the week of the Redskins, LT was always more tense and trying to concentrate on his job. He wouldn't joke around as much and he'd put all the bull on the back burner for the Redskins.

"He always wanted to make sure he was ready for the Redskins, because you have to be, both psychologically and physically. As soon as you step off the bus there are a bunch of kids sitting there yelling how the Redskins are going to kick your tail. Baggage handlers at National Airport say the Redskins are going to kick your tail. People at the hotel are saying, 'I wouldn't want to be in your shoes because the Redskins are going to kick your tail.' "

Said New York linebackers coach Al Groh, who coached Taylor when the linebacker was a freshman at North Carolina: "On Sunday, it's like he's from another planet. And against the Redskins, he doubles the intensity. It's amazing."

What is truly amazing was what Taylor did in the Giants' first game of the season, a 27-20 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.

Taylor had missed all of training camp over a contract dispute. The situation never really turned ugly, though there was talk about a possible trade. But that's all it turned out to be -- talk. Then America got to see action. They got to see Taylor make a mockery out of this thing called training camp.

Against the Eagles, he had 10 tackles (seven solo), sacked the nimble Randall Cunningham three times and forced one fumble. Afterward, Taylor talked about how golf helped to keep his body and mind in shape.

Golf?

"What he did has been elevated to a national tragedy," Giants General Manager George Young said.

What Taylor is doing now is just in-your-face football. He has 22 tackles, 4 1/2 sacks and an interception returned 11 yards for a touchdown.

As a team, the Giants have the No. 1-ranked defense in the NFL. They allow only 223.3 total yards per game, and a microscopic 47.8 yards rushing a game. When the usual suspects are rounded up for why the Giants defense is so good, Taylor heads the top of the list. As usual.

In fact, there are already whispers that this may be the best defense to play the game in the last 20 years. As subjective as best-ever comparisons are, New York safety Dave Duerson thinks the Giants defense is close, and he should know. Duerson was with Chicago when the Bears rode their tight-fisted defense to the 1985 Super Bowl.

Some think that was the best defense ever. There are definitely similarities, especially the way both could basically do anything they wanted to an offense.

One can even compare the great players of those two teams, like LT to the wide-eyed Mike Singletary. "Mike can affect everything you do," Duerson said. "He can especially shut down your running game. But it takes people surrounding a middle linebacker.

"A guy like LT, he's swarming all over the place, catching you from behind and running you down. He can drop back into pass coverage or be in the quarterback's face. There are very, very few people who can totally disrupt a game in all aspects and in every way. There's only one LT."

Young gives little argument to that assessment.

"I talk to a lot of agents that say they have the next Lawrence Taylor," Young said. "That's a lot of nonsense. There are a lot of pretenders. Now, LT is getting a little older and he's actually fighting his own legend. But he's doing a pretty damn good job."

Defensive back Everson Walls, while playing with the Dallas Cowboys, used to have dreams about playing with LT. Now Walls, a Plan B free agent picked up by the Giants earlier this year, gets a firsthand look.

"Playing with him is pretty much what I dreamed it would be," Walls said. "He's no longer a player who rushes all the time. His experience is much more vast."

And so has been his influence on the Redskins, even when he's not playing. When a story this week in the Washington Times suggested that maybe the Redskins had found a way to control Taylor, it set off Gibbs's LT alarm, which could be heard all the way in New York. Gibbs told New York writers in a conference call that no, the Redskins had not found any magical formula to control LT, and that the author of the story "obviously doesn't know anything about football."

Damage control, on a player who usually causes lots of damage.

"LT doesn't need any story to push him over the edge," said linebacker Steve DeOssie. "He's already there."