1:00 PM ET, December 11, 2011
FedEx Field, Landover, MD
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).
"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.
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1. New England Patriots need to find a running game: The Patriots have the No. 1 offense in the league but are inconsistent rushing the football -- they ran for only 3 yards per attempt last week. The Washington Redskins have a feisty front seven but can be exploited on the ground, giving up 117 yards per game. Look for offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien to work for more balance pounding the football with rookie back Stevan Ridley and BenJarvus Green-Ellis between the tackles while attacking the edges with a motion sweep or a reverse with Wes Welker and Julian Edelman.
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|Avg Points Allowed||21.1||22.3|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||NE|
|Rush Yds Allowed||NE|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|New England leads 2-1|
|Oct 28, 2007||NE 52, WSH 7|
|Sep 28, 2003||NE 17, @WSH 20|