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Original Issue


He knew he was looking at six points the instant the ball landed
in his hands. "There aren't too many people in the league who
can catch me," New York Giants linebacker Jessie Armstead said
in recounting his 57-yard interception return for a touchdown
against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. "I never even worry
about someone catching me." In addition to that play, which put
New York up 7-0, Armstead had another interception plus a sack
and 10 tackles in a 31-21 win that moved the Giants within one
victory of an improbable division title.

The season has come down to this for New York, picked by many to
finish last in the NFC East: Beat the Washington Redskins on
Saturday at the Meadowlands and win the division for the first
time since 1990. If the Giants reach the playoffs, much of the
credit will go to a fiery defense that has carried an offense
beset by injuries and inconsistency at quarterback.

The rejuvenated Danny Kanell's three touchdown tosses on Sunday
didn't fool anyone into believing that the offense can carry New
York the rest of the way. The Giants forced Eagles quarterback
Bobby Hoying into five turnovers, and two of Kanell's scoring
tosses came after Hoying fumbled at his 33- and 40-yard lines.
"The defense put the offense in good situations," Armstead said.

An eighth-round draft pick out of Miami in 1993, Armstead has
quietly developed into one of the NFL's most versatile
defenders, and he's the Giant most often mentioned as the player
likely to be the team's first Pro Bowl representative since
1993. Already respected for his run stuffing and blitzing,
Armstead showed on Sunday that he's a premier cover man as well.
Hoying's second attempt of the game was thrown in the direction
of wideout Michael Timpson. Armstead, who was shadowing running
back Ricky Watters, drifted into the flat, made an
over-the-shoulder catch and streaked down the sideline for the
touchdown. Armstead had set the tone in a game that was less
than three minutes old. "Somehow he saw where the play was going
and was smart enough to leave his man and break toward the wide
receiver," Giants linebacker Corey Miller said afterward.

As one of New York's defensive captains, Armstead calls
adjustments at the line, which is no easy assignment. Each week
first-year defensive coordinator John Fox loads up the game plan
with schemes. "Last year we were so vanilla," Miller said. "We'd
go into a game with two or three coverages. Today we had about

Which was more than enough. Hoying, a second-year player who
came into the game with one interception in his previous 125
attempts, was picked off three times and was limited to 129
passing yards until his final possession. "This is how we're
supposed to play," New York cornerback Phillippi Sparks said.
"We expect to shut people down. We know we can do that."


COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS Armstead helped keep wide receiver Mark Seay and the Eagles' passing attack under wraps. [Jesse Armstead and Mark Seay in game]