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Overshadowed Armstead is more than a safety valve

By JOSEPH WHITE, AP Sports Writer

September 17, 2003

ASHBURN, Va. (AP) -- If he had played by the book, Jessie Armstead wouldn't have the safety that gave the Washington Redskins their margin of victory over Atlanta.

Armstead was supposed to cover the running back when Doug Johnson dropped into the end zone on a play-action pass in the third quarter of Sunday's game against Atlanta.

But he recognized the play from earlier in the game, abandoned his man and flattened the quarterback for the two points that turned out to be the difference in a 33-31 win.

I felt like I could get to him before he threw it to my man,'' Armstead said, ``so I just took that chance to make that play.''

It was a chance Armstead probably wouldn't have taken last year under the tight leash of Marvin Lewis. Lewis' successor as defensive coordinator, George Edwards, is allowing the linebackers more freedom.

As long as it works, of course.

``George, he gives you a little leeway,'' Armstead said. ``His thing is, 'If you take it, make it.' If you take a chance like that, you'd better make it. Otherwise, it's on you.''

Armstead finished with two sacks in Sunday's game, and the other one was a maverick play as well. He sprinted across the field -- again leaving his assigned coverage behind -- to tackle Warrick Dunn before the running back could throw an option pass late in the first quarter.

The two big plays have the five-time Pro Bowl linebacker back in the spotlight, at least for a week. Armstead has been the forgotten star of the linebacking corps since joining the Redskins from the New York Giants last year, lost in the glare of a unit that includes LaVar Arrington and Jeremiah Trotter.

``It's kind of nice. I don't have all the pressure,'' said Armstead, who faces his old team Sunday. ``In New York, if we win, we lose, it's on me.''

Armstead is emphatic about one point: Just because he's perceived as No. 3 out of three doesn't mean his skills have eroded. He turns 33 next month, but feels that's not something that should be used to judge his performance.

``How many years I've been playing -- put that to the side,'' Armstead said. ``Look at me, know I can run sideline to sideline and make plays out there.''

Armstead claims he's never had a down year, but the last two certainly weren't up to his usual standards.

He was hampered by a torn hamstring during his final season with the Giants and made the Pro Bowl on reputation alone. Last year, he had to adjust to a new team, a new scheme and overblown expectations in coach Steve Spurrier's first NFL season.

Always a leader in New York, Armstead didn't speak up as much in his first year with the Redskins because it took time for the players to get to know him. This year, teammates point to Armstead and 40-year-old defensive end Bruce Smith as the defensive leaders. I don't worry about doubters,'' said Armstead, an eighth-round draft pick in 1993. ``I've been doubted ever since I walked into the NFL. I always shine every year. I don't slow down. I'm not losing a step. I might not be a 4.4every time you pop it on, but I'm still going to be a consistent player.''

:gaintsuck

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That's two "freelances" in two weeks. Trotter and LA colored outside the lines against the Jets and made the big 3rd and 1 stop that got us the ball back with a chance to drive for the win.

Which we did. :)

We went out and got 3 stud 'backers ... makes sense to let 'em run.

Until they mess up and lose us a game, of course, at which point we'll tear them AND Edwards a new one.

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