Over the last two weeks, the Patriots have played
two teams with a combined four wins. But New England needed last-ditch
efforts to beat both the 0-13 Colts and the 4-9 Redskins as the team's
32nd-ranked defense continues to render its postseason future dubious
despite its 10-3 record that remains tied for the best in the AFC.
Heading down the stretch of the final three games,
including Sunday's trip to Denver to take on Tim Tebow and the Broncos,
Bill Belichick's team is far more than just a work in progress on
defense. When your secondary allows Dan Orlovsky to drive for three
fourth-quarter touchdowns a week prior to seeing Rex Grossman have a
game-tying touchdown called back with just more than a minute to play
due to offensive pass interference, clearly there is major work to be
Sure it's great news that the Patriots have won
five straight games, scoring 30-plus points each week along the way.
But it's also pretty bad news that New England
very much needed to score 30-plus points over the last two weeks
against two theoretically overmatched non-playoff teams in order to
walk away victorious.
"We're happy to be 10-3," Belichick said just
after beating Washington on the road. "But we have a lot of work to do."
That may be the understatement of the year.
New England allowed the Redskins to put up 463
yards of total offense and 27 points as Grossman converted half of his
14 third-down chances. Rookie runner Roy Helu rushed for 126 yards as a
usually stout Patriots rush defense got into the mix of allowing big
plays. And Washington had three receivers with at least 81 yards
receiving on the day as the Patriots allowed six pass plays greater
than 20 yards, including 49 and 51 yarders.
The Patriots have now allowed more than 400 yards
of offense in eight of 13 games this season, more than 20 points in
nine of 13 games.
However you measure it, heading into a road
matchup with the limited, Tebow-led option attack of the Broncos, the
Patriots defense is as bad as any that Belichick has coached in his
decade plus in New England. Given the circumstances they may not allow
as many points and yards this week, but that doesn't mean the unit is
any closer to being nearly competitive or complementary enough with its
offense to win come January.
LINEUP WATCH: The Patriots continue to be a work in progress in the
secondary, where there has been a turnstile of personnel in recent
weeks as Belichick continues to tinker with the struggling unit.
Belichick has gotten so creative that Patriots special teams captain
and wide receiver Matthew Slater has started two straight games at wide
receiver, while wide receiver Julian Edelman has been playing as a slot
corner for parts of the past month.
BY THE NUMBERS: There have been 28 different players start on their
defense this season. Though some of the lineup manipulation has been
necessitated by injuries, more often it's been in search of a solution
to the team's struggles stopping opponents on a weekly basis. In 13
games this season, New England has used the same defensive lineup just
three times, a three-week stretch from Oct. 9 to Oct. 30.
--S Patrick Chung missed his fifth straight game
with a foot injury, being downgraded to out prior to New England's trip
--LB Brandon Spikes also missed his fifth straight
game, thanks to a knee injury. Spikes returned to the practice field on
a limited basis last week.
--C Dan Connolly (groin) was inactive for the
third straight week against the Redskins.
--RT Sebastian Vollmer (back/foot) was downgraded
to out prior to the Patriots flying to Washington, missing his second
straight game to injury and his seventh overall on the season.
--LB Dane Fletcher returned to make the start
against the Redskins after missing six games in a row with a thumb
injury that required surgery.
Gallery: Patriots 34 - Redskins 27
& Goats: Week 14 Redskins
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