The New England Patriots squandered the majority of a seemingly
comfortable lead last weekend, leaving an uneasy feeling even after
their fourth straight victory.
They left no such doubts the last time they faced the Washington Redskins.
The nation's capital, however, remains the only NFL city where the
Patriots have never won, a distinction that will disappear Sunday
unless the Redskins can pull off the upset and avenge a historic rout
four years ago.
New England (9-3) charged to a 28-point lead against winless
Indianapolis last Sunday, but was outgained 266-11 and outscored 21-0
in the final quarter, securing a 31-24 victory only after pouncing on
an onside kick in the final minute.
Although the Patriots are tied for the AFC's best record, the
near-meltdown reinforced concerns about a patchwork defense that ranks
last in the NFL both overall (412.1 yards allowed per game) and against
the pass (310.0).
New England's starting safeties against the Colts were Nate Jones, who
was making his Patriots debut, and Matthew Slater - typically a wide
"It's disappointing. Go back to the drawing board and try to improve,"
linebacker Jerod Mayo said. "We just have to learn how to put two
halves together next week."
The Patriots certainly did that against Washington during their perfect
regular season in 2007, opening the game with 52 straight points before
a late Redskins touchdown made it a 52-7 final.
That remains Washington's most lopsided loss since the AFL-NFL merger
Losing has become all too familiar for the Redskins in recent seasons.
The Patriots have won eight division titles - they would clinch another
Sunday with a win and a New York Jets loss to Kansas City - since
Washington last won the NFC East in 1999.
The Redskins (4-8) lost 34-19 to the Jets last weekend, falling to 0-4
in their last four home games, 0-3 against AFC foes this season and 1-7
since their promising 3-1 start.
They got even more troubling news after the game, learning that tight
end Fred Davis and left tackle Trent Williams would be suspended for
four games - the rest of the regular season - by the NFL for repeated
violations of the league's substance abuse policy.
"Am I disappointed in them? Big time, yeah," coach Mike Shanahan said.
"Because they affect not only themselves but this organization and
their teammates. That's a bad decision, and they know they put us in a
heck of a position."
The Redskins selected Williams with the No. 4 overall draft pick in
2010, and Davis leads the team with 59 receptions and 796 receiving
The Patriots have also used their tight ends as major weapons in the
passing game - particularly Rob Gronkowski, who scored three more
touchdowns last week. One went down as a rushing score because it was
ruled a lateral by Tom Brady, leaving Gronkowski with 13 receiving TDs
- tied with Vernon Davis (2009) and Antonio Gates (2004) for the
single-season NFL record for tight ends.
"He is a tough kid and he knows how to run the routes," Colts defensive
back Jerraud Powers said of Gronkowski. "It also helps when you have
one of the greatest quarterbacks."
Brady may face a bit of a challenge against a Washington defense that
has not allowed a 300-yard passer all season. The reigning NFL MVP has
averaged 303.3 passing yards during New England's four-game winning
streak, throwing 10 touchdowns and no interceptions in that stretch.
Brady, though, struggled against Shanahan's teams when the coach was in
Denver. Including a postseason loss, he went 1-5 against Shanahan's
Broncos, completing just 56.5 percent of his passes and posting a 78.1
Teammate Andre Carter played for Shanahan last season, his fifth year
with the Redskins, but the defensive end didn't fit in the 3-4 scheme.
With the Patriots moving largely to a 4-3 this year, the veteran has
clicked, leading the team with nine sacks.
"He's a very professional guy that's smart, a well-conditioned
athlete," coach Bill Belichick said. "He really works hard at football
and things are really falling into place for him here."
Two former Patriots - Jabar Gaffney and Donte Stallworth - are now
wide receivers for the Redskins, but one player is notable in his
absence from both rosters. Each club has parted ways with Albert Haynesworth this year, with Washington trading the controversial
defensive tackle to the Patriots, who waived him last month.
The Patriots, who've won at every other NFL franchise's home venue, are
favorites to defeat the Redskins on the road for the first time. New
England has only played two previous regular-season games at
Washington, most recently losing 20-17 in 2003 - a game in which Brady
threw three interceptions.
Redskins safety LaRon Landry will miss his second straight game Sunday
because of a groin injury.
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