Fall in New England

By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 29, 2007

FOXBOROUGH, Mass., Oct. 28 -- The true measure of an opponent's inferiority to the New England Patriots comes not in the traditional forums of points or yards. For this undefeated outfit, and its ruthlessly unforgiving coach, Bill Belichick, the degree of dominance is best judged by the moment at which quarterback Tom Brady leaves the game and how high the Patriots opt to run up the score.

After carving the Washington Redskins' defense with precision and taking a 38-point lead into the fourth quarter, Belichick still longed for more. So he called a quarterback sneak on fourth and one near Washington's goal line, watched Brady punctuate an 88-yard drive with his 30th touchdown pass of the season and only then yanked Brady to the sideline. "What do you want us to do, kick a field goal?" Belichick asked rhetorically afterward.

The undefeated Patriots thrashed the Redskins, 52-7, at Gillette Stadium, exposing Washington's fallibilities in the process. New England scored on its first drive, led 24-0 at halftime and did so with an air of cool genius, never seeming to overexert on either side of the ball. They entered the game averaging roughly 40 points per game and with an average margin of victory of 23 points, and held the ball for nearly 38 minutes against the Redskins (4-3).

"We got utterly embarrassed in every facet of the football game," said linebacker London Fletcher, a vocal leader in just his first season with the team. "This loss falls on everybody in this organization. I feel like we've got to let it simmer and stew, because I don't ever want to have this feeling again. I don't think you just move on. There's a lot of stuff that happened on this football field today that has to be corrected if we're going to get to our ultimate goal this year."

Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel essentially out-produced Washington, causing three turnovers on sacks -- one led to a field goal, another led to a touchdown and a third fumble was returned by teammate Rosevelt Colvin for a touchdown. Vrabel also caught a two-yard touchdown pass from Brady -- in that one play eclipsing the season touchdown mark of all of Washington's wide receivers combined -- and New England delivered a pounding from its first drive to its last.

The Redskins yielded 50 points in a game for the first time since 1961 (a 53-0 loss to the Giants), and suffered the fourth-worst loss in franchise history.

Washington's sputtering offense, lacking any punch for much of the season, failed on all counts. The 25th-ranked running game remained inept (47 yards), quarterback Jason Campbell (71.2 passer rating) had his worst outing and was involved in all four turnovers; the offensive line repeatedly allowed New England's linebackers into the backfield and Washington's receivers failed to provide any spark.

"I've never been a part of something like this before," center Casey Rabach said. "I don't even know what to say about it."

The Patriots, who had not beaten the Redskins in six games over 35 years, were methodical in their offensive approach, determined to establish the run and set a physical tone, carving out 10-yard chunks of the field against Washington's deep cover-2 zone defense. If the Redskins were going to sit back and eliminate the big play, then New England would opt for outside runs, screen passes and quick slants. The Patriots had 19 first downs in the first half (and a team record 34 in the game) and 258 yards and settled any mystery about this outcome by halftime. Of the 40 first-half plays, 19 were for seven yards or more.

"It's our job to stop them," said Gregg Williams, assistant head coach-defense, who like Coach Joe Gibbs said he had "no problem" with Belichick's tactics. "That's on us. We've got to get off the field."

Patriots running back Laurence Maroney tore off runs of 11 and 13 yards to open New England's first drive, and that 14-play, 90-yard masterpiece took over seven minutes. The lead was doubled early in the second quarter, with the Redskins failing to defend Vrabel at the goal line, where he is a go-to target as a tight end.

On defense, Vrabel was allowed to tear through the right side of the line on Washington's next drive, blowing past fullback Mike Sellers and tailback Clinton Portis to knock the ball from Campbell's hands. Campbell badly overthrew wide receiver James Thrash on his next possession and was intercepted, and even when Brady fumbled on the next play, the Redskins could not capitalize.

They trailed by 17 when Vrabel tore past tackle Todd Wade and ended that drive by causing Campbell to fumble again. Brady threw another touchdown -- it was his 29th and a career high at the time -- to Randy Moss for the 24-0 lead at the half.

"That was my responsibility, I had him," said Wade, who erroneously assumed Vrabel was dropping into coverage when he stopped his initial rush. "I turned to help out with the inside guy. I shouldn't have done that."

New England marched 85 yards on 13 plays to open the third quarter with another score, using nearly eight minutes. Vrabel stripped Campbell once more on the next possession, with Colvin dashing to the end zone with the loose ball, and the deficit was 38 points. Brady threw his third and final touchdown to Wes Welker, and backup quarterback Matt Cassel ran 15 yards for his first NFL touchdown, giving the Patriots a 52-0 lead.

Tight end Chris Cooley's touchdown negated the shutout, but it was of little consolation. How, and when, the Redskins recover from this beating is of greater concern as they prepare to play the New York Jets next week.

"How do we deal with this?" Gibbs said. "I don't know. I think it's something we have to play out and see how we all react."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company