By Les Carpenter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 29, 2007
FOXBOROUGH, Mass., Oct. 28 -- There have, in the history of the Washington Redskins, been worse losses than the one Sunday afternoon on the highway between Boston and Providence. But none of them had occurred since 1961.
Not that the players who stumbled in helpless pursuit of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady could think much about historic context in this 52-7 defeat. Comforted in recent weeks into thinking they were one of the better teams in the NFL, they were shocked into a different reality by the team widely considered to be the best in the league.
"It's an utter embarrassment," said linebacker London Fletcher, who called the defeat the worst he has endured in his life. "My stomach is nauseous."
The Patriots are 8-0, considered the best team in the NFL along with the 7-0 Indianapolis Colts, whom they play next Sunday. Yet given the fact the Redskins had been able to stop some of the better passing attacks in the league and had players big enough to beat up New England's star receivers, this was seen as a game that might be closer than Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs suggested earlier in the week when he said his team might be the biggest underdog ever.
Still, nothing the Redskins tried against New England seemed to work. Left guard Pete Kendall joked that after spending the week studying New England on video, "they move a lot slower in slow motion" than in real time. Washington's plan, like many other teams' plans against the Patriots, was to try and run the ball. New England's defensive backs tend to play farther downfield than those on other teams in hopes of keeping stopping long scoring plays. But try as the Redskins might, they couldn't run.
Or pass. One Patriot, linebacker Mike Vrabel, raced past befuddled Washington linemen three times and knocked the ball from Campbell's hands, with each fumble being recovered by New England -- one for a touchdown.
"They kicked our butts, they really did," said tackle Todd Wade, who was beaten by Vrabel for one of the fumbles.
But most alarming was the sight of Patriots Coach Bill Belichick, late in the game, asking Brady to convert a fourth-down play in an attempt to drive the score higher. It is a tactic called running up the score. And it is rarely done in professional football -- especially to Gibbs, the Redskins coach in his second tour with the team. So when Brady converted and later dived into the end zone for a touchdown, the 68,756 at Gillette Stadium roared.
Gibbs glared. After the game, he barely shook Belichick's hand as he raced off the field.
Later, when asked about the play, Belichick stared for a moment.
"What do you want us to do, kick a field goal?" he said.
Then he shrugged.
"It's 38-0," he continued. "It was fourth down. We were just out there playing."
The Redskins did not openly complain about the fourth-down play. When asked what he thought of it Gibbs said, "I have no problem with anything that they did. Nothing. No problems from me."
The general reaction from the players could be summed up by Fletcher, who said: "It's their football, that's what they chose to do with the ball. It's our job to stop them."
One player wondered privately about the karmic consequences of such a move on New England's part. But that was for another time, another team, another game. Sunday was about the worst defeat Gibbs has suffered in either of his runs as the Washington coach. It was a complete trampling. The Patriots scored seven of the first 10 times they had the ball before third-string quarterback Matt Gutierrez knelt to run out the clock on the 11th.
They ran up 486 yards and stomped through a Redskins defense that was rated fifth in the NFL going into the game. It wasn't even close.
"They have one objective," said Washington cornerback Shawn Springs. "They whoop people's [backsides]. If you understand that, it answers all your questions. They might not lose [this year]."
The Patriots have been the most dominant team in the league this year, never failing to score less than 34 points. But Sunday's victory was by far their most decisive, a victory that Belichick dryly called "a solid performance by our team today."
Beyond any consequences of confidence, the Redskins (4-3) also tumbled another game behind the second-place New York Giants in the NFC East. It makes next Sunday's game in New Jersey against the struggling New York Jets almost imperative.
But first they must recapture their dignity from Sunday's bashing.
"Anything with evaluating our football team always starts with me," Gibbs said. "I just know that today we didn't play a good football game and that starts with me."