September 26, 2003
Battered Pats Try To End 31-Year Skid
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
The last time the Patriots played Washington in the regular season, it almost happened. Back on October 13, 1996, the Patriots held a 16-10 lead over the Redskins at halftime at Foxborough Stadium. But Gus Frerotte threw two third quarter touchdown passes, and Washington held on for a 27-22 win. It dropped the Patriots to 3-3 at the time, but Bill Parcells led the Patriots to eight wins in their next ten games on their way to Super Bowl XXXI.
The leading rusher for the Patriots that day? Curtis Martin, with 164 yards rushing on 17 carries, a wee bit better than his output last Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
Of all the NFL teams the Patriots have played at least once (the first ever clash with Houston is two months away), the Redskins are the team the Patriots have gone the longest without beating. In their initial meeting on October 1, 1972, the Patriots authored their only win over this franchise with a 24-23 victory at Schaefer Stadium. This game is remembered as the career rushing game for Josh Ashton, but at the time it was a monumental upset for the Patriots over the team that would ultimately lose Super Bowl VII to a Miami squad that would go 17-0 that year.
The Patriots have lost all five regular season meetings since. Remarkably, all but one of the meetings in the entire series has been in Foxborough. The Patriots dropped a 24-22 decision at RFK Stadium on October 25, 1981 on their way to a 2-14 record. Though this weekend's game is at FedEx Field, the Patriots are no strangers to this stadium. Just six weeks ago, the Patriots came here and won their second preseason game of 2003 by a 20-13 count.
The Patriots might be solid favorites to win this game if they were at full strength. Without Ted Washington to tie up Randy Thomas, without Rosevelt Colvin to harass Patrick Ramsey, without Ted Johnson to stop Trung Canidate, with Ty Law at reduced capacity to stop Laveranues Coles, the Patriots won't find pickings as easy as they were in August, not that they expected things to be the same anyway. Who is left to play defense will be hard pressed to stop the key components of the Redskin offense, and what should have been a golden opportunity to get their first win over these guys in 31 years might be a tall task.
Not that it will be impossible. Mike Vrabel, who was injured against the Jets, will see action and work in concert with Willie McGinest as the outside pass rush threats. The Patriots are considering a switch back to a 4-3 base due to the depletion in the linebacker corps, which could mean more playing time for top draft pick Ty Warren. And if they stay in a 3-4, fellow rookie Dan Klecko might continue his audition as a linebacker.
Offensively, the Patriots caught a break, no pun intended, with David Patten also being cleared to play despite sustaining an injury last week against the Jets. Mike Compton was placed on injured reserve this week, but the Patriots solved this problem by sliding Damien Woody to left guard and starting rookie Dan Koppen at center. All other offensive cogs are in place, and Tom Brady swears that he and his elbow are okay.
What the game will really boil down to is if the Patriots have enough material to shut Ramsey down, and whether or not Brady will be able to find open receivers in case the running game cannot make enough hay. Injuries and home field sway this game towards the Redskins on paper, but there are a few matchups where the Patriots can sway the game back their way if they can win them.
The Patriots will need to employ multiple wide receiver sets to help counteract the outstanding cornerback tandem of Champ Bailey and Fred Smoot. If Matt Light can keep former Buffalo Bill lineman Bruce Smith at bay and give Brady time to find these receivers, this should work out well. Bailey is one of the best cover corners in the league and will likely draw Troy Brown, which once again throws the burden on Patten and Deion Branch. If either of these guys can wriggle free from coverage, the Patriots should pick up good chunks of yardage.
The Redskins have two decent rushing linebackers in Jessie Armstead and LeVar Arrington. The Patriots might try and attack former Patriot Bernard Holsey and middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter with runs up the middle. Koppen is totally unafraid of the challenge of replacing Compton on the line, and needs to spearhead this assault.
A much tougher challenge lies in stopping the Redskin offense. The Patriots are ill equipped to deal with Coles, Canidate and Ramsey, the main Redskin threats. Coles will likely carry the Jet rivalry into this game, and Ramsey will want to show that Patriots that what they saw in the preseason wasn't the real thing.
If the Patriots are to slow down the Redskin offense, they need big games from McGinest and Vrabel, and also Richard Seymour if he plays end in a 3-4. The blitz packages the Patriots threw at the Jets last week may not work as well, as the Redskins have two great tackles (Chris Samuels, Jon Jansen) and former Jet Thomas at right guard, plenty of material to slow the Patriots down. But the basic tenet of blitzing is to send in more men than can be accounted for, and this is how the Patriots succeeded last week against the Jets and their good blockers who still remain. Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison would also figure greatly in the Patriots' success if they were able to blitz and prevent Ramsey from hitting hot reads.
The Redskin home crowd is a rabid one. FedEx Field has the largest seating capacity in the NFL (86,484), and they still sing Hail To The Redskins with as much gusto as their parents and grandparents did in all those NFL Films features of the 1960s and 1970s. Their owner, Daniel Snyder, as daft as he is filthy rich, observes his kingdom from his royal box and wonders if he finally managed to buy a Vince this year.
Let their fight song be hanged. Ask any Norwood High School grad from the 1970s and they'll tell you about Hail To The Patriots, the Patriot fight song of that era. It was their high school jazz band which got to play that song at Schaefer Stadium. It was a lively and tuneful precursor to Beautiful Day, and a heckuva great song.
Did Josh Ashton like it also? If so, Bob Kraft, take note.
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