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
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 receiver.
“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 in 1970.
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
“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
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
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 passer rating.
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
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
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.