Patriots-Redskins Preview

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 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

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 yards.

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 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

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.