Lawrence Taylor didn't single-handedly destroy the Washington Redskins two Sundays ago, but the New York Giants won, 24-20. Taylor hasn't consistently terrorized the NFL in 1990 like he used to, but the Giants are 6-0.
He's 31. He's in the first year of a three-year, $4.5-million contract that he says "is definitely my last." When the Giants play the Redskins Sunday at the Meadowlands he'll have more specific defensive assignments, fewer opportunities to free-lance, two or three Redskins in his face after every snap.That's not to say he still won't make the big play. It's just that LT's days playing "renegade football" are over. And he knows it.
"I liked it better when I was more the focal point of the defense," he admitted Wednesday. "I could be a lot more abandoned. But the game
has changed. We play within the system. That gives us a better defense. It's not as much fun, but we're winning more games this way. It comes down to sooner or later the renegade-type of football leaves and then you've got to go play within the system."
Coach Bill Parcells has reminded Taylor that the close attention paid to him frees others. The Redskins two games ago used a tackle, a tight end and even wide receiver Ricky Sanders to keep Taylor out of their backfield. Nobody's surprised anymore when Taylor lines up right, center or left. They find him.
"If I was an offensive coach for another team, and I was playing against myself, I wouldn't allow Lawrence Taylor to wreck my game, or Reggie White to wreck my game," Taylor said. "I'm not a 100-or 200-a-year tackle player. I'm strictly a big-play guy. I make plays. I try to make things happen. Whether it's a fumble, sack, interception."
But can he make the same big plays at 31 that he made at 21?
"I think Philadelphia thinks I can. I think Dallas thinks I can," Taylor said. "I think there are some people who think I can still make things happen. Maybe not as much, but who's willing to allow me to run around? I'm waiting for one team to say, `Well, I don't think he can still do it,' and start putting a single guy on me. When they start blocking me with a single person and not worrying where I'm at or what I'm doing, that's when I know I'm just another ballplayer."
Statistically, LT's season has been sliced in half by the pulled left hamstring he suffered on the final play of the 20-3 triumph over Miami. After his protracted holdout ended on the Wednesday prior to the opener, he played a huge role in the Giants' 27-20 victory over the Eagles. Seven tackles, three sacks and one forced fumble despite no training camp and only four practice days re-emphasized the nine-time All-Pro linebacker's unique skills.
The following week, Taylor registered five tackles, one sack, one forced fumble and an interception that he returned 11 yards for the clinching touchdown in a 28-7 win at Dallas. Against Miami, he had three tackles and a half-sack. In the last three games, he has made 11 tackles, but hasn't had a sack.
"Everybody talks about my age," he said. "Three weeks ago, I was the greatest thing since white bread. All of a sudden now, `Oh, he's too old.' I don't think you're going to find a whole lot of people saying, `He's ready for the junkyard.' That's quite evident by what teams are doing."