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Key Matchup: Linebacker Jerod Mayo makes a play with the game on the line

12.11.11 at 5:00 pm ET
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The key play in the Patriots’ 34 -27 win over the Redskins Sunday afternoon at FedEx Field came late in the fourth quarter with Washington driving for what would have been a game-tying score.

New England was in this rater precarious position because of what had happened down at the other end of the field — namely, a pair of ugly back-to-back plays for the Patriots’ offense. First, wide receiver Wes Welker dropped what would have been a sure touchdown at the goal line. Then, quarterback Tom Brady threw a red-zone pick on a ball meant for wide receiver Tiquan Underwood. (That sparked a heated sideline debate between Brady and offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien.)

The Redskins responded nicely, as quarterback Rex Grossman drove them from their own 20 all the way down into the New England red zone with under two minutes to go. But just as Brady would encounter misfortune on his trip inside the Washington 20-yard line, Grossman and wide receiver Santana Moss would falter deep in Patriots’ territory.

First, a touchdown pass from Grossman to Moss from five yards out was called back because of offensive pass interference. Then, with the Redskins sitting on a 3rd and goal from the nine with 29 seconds left, Grossman dropped back to pass and looked again for Moss, this time over the middle. Grossman let fly, and the ball was batted up in the air by the receiver, who landed awkwardly on the grass. Linebacker Jerod Mayo plucked it out of the air, allowing him to come away with his second interception for Mayo in as many weeks. After a booth review to confirm that the linebacker hung on to the ball, the game was over.

‘€œWe were in a zone defense (and) it looked like they tried to check it down,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of the play. “Jerod made it look like it was going to be incomplete and he kind of — I’€™m not going to say he came out of nowhere, but  he made a good burst and closed to make the play.’€

Read More: Bill Belichick, Bill O'Brien, Jerod Mayo, Rex Grossman

Snap Judgments: Patriots 34, Redskins 27

12.11.11 at 4:07 pm ET
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It was a game that did zero to quiet any doubts regarding the quality of the Patriots defense, but it was ultimately a win, as Tom Brady threw three TD passes — two to Rob Gronkowski — and a last-minute Redskins drive was halted by a Jerod Mayo interception as New England moved to 10-3 on the season with a 34-27 victory over Washington.

The Patriots travel to Denver to take on Tim Tebow and the Broncos next Sunday. They will clinch the AFC East with a win or loss by the Jets against the Eagles.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

— Rob Gronkowski (six catches, 160 yards) continued to make a case for MVP consideration (I’m serious — I know Rodgers will win, but are there five better candidates than Gronkowski?) with another brilliant performance on Sunday. Gronkowski got started quickly, carrying Reed Doughty and DeJon Gomes on a 49-yard catch first-quarter catch. Tom Brady hit Gronkowski over the middle on an 11-yard TD catch on the very next play, giving the tight end his 14th TD of the season, setting a positional record. He added another TD in the third quarter, hauling in a 37-yard pass from Brady despite being held by linebacker Ryan Kerrigan on the 3rd-and-5 play.

Vince Wilfork has more INT’s than Devin McCourty this season and now has been in the end zone more than Chad Ochocinco. Andre Carter beat Willie Smith for a sack on Grossman, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Wilfork in the end zone for a first-quarter TD. Carter was a force all game, beating Smith consistently on the edge to put pressure on Grossman.

— Tom Brady wasn’t at his most accurate– he completed just 22-of-37 passes — but finished the game with 357 yards passing and three touchdowns. Both his second-half TD passes were highlight-reel stuff, as he tossed a perfect lob to Gronkowski over the middle and then was able to buy time and find Wes Welker for a 24-yard score. Brady was 9-of-11 for 148 yds and the two TDs in the third quarter and is now over 4,000 yards passing on the season and moved ahead of Warren Moon for sole possession of sixth place on the all-time list for passing TDs.

— Welker caught his ninth TD of the season (career high) and reached the 100-catch total. He is one of three players in NFL history (Jerry Rice, Marvin Harrison) with four seasons with at least 100 receptions.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Rex Grossman throws for 252 yards, Roy Helu rushes for 126 yards, and Brandon Banks throws a touchdown pass. A very shaky effort by this defense today. No more excuses, this group took a major step back. There is no way anyone can really believe that this defense, right now, would ever keep a game against the Packers or Saints competitive. Again: For long stretches, Rex Grossman shredded them on Sunday. The Redskins put up 463 yards of offense, and this wasn’t Vince Young or Dan Orlovsky tanking up in garbage time, either.

— Devin McCourty has had a lost season, and it got even lostlier (we’ll go with it) on Sunday. McCourty was beat deep by Donte Stallworth on a 51-yard pass in the first quarter (never saw the ball, never turned around) and was beat by Stallworth on a third-down in the red zone on the same drive. McCourty later was flagged –correctly — for pass interference on a 3rd-and-18 slant to Jabar Gaffney at the Washington 15, allowing the Redskins to continue a drive that would end in a Gaffney TD. The man Gaffney beat on the play? You bet.

— Jeff Triplette headed an officiating crew that was nothing short of embarrassing. A roughing the passer call that wiped out a McCourty INT? Awful. A forearm to the head hit on Brady by London Fletcher? Not even close. Wilfork with a helmet-to-helmet hit on Evan Royster? Nope. The only thing even approaching the level of ineptitude of some of these calls was Dan Dierdorf trying to explain what was going on. A Bird-Domininique duel of ineptitude.

— Up 34-27 with just over 6:00 left in the fourth quarter and with the ball at the Washington 6, Brady and the Patriots looked poised to put this game away. But a Welker drop (ball was behind him, but should have been caught) on second down was followed by an interception, a poorly thrown ball to Tiquan Underwood. Brady and offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien had a very heated argument on the bench after the pick, with Bill Belichick and other coaches having to step in.

Halftime analysis: Patriots 20, Redskins 20

12.11.11 at 2:37 pm ET
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Two quarters are in the books at FedEx Field and the Patriots and Redskins are tied at 20. Here are a few quick notes:

‘€¢Tom Brady was 8-for-18 for 166 yards and a touchdown, while Rex Grossman was 9-for-15 for 145 yards and a touchdown. Rob Gronkowski has four catches for 118 yards and a touchdown, while Roy Helu has 16 carries for 80 yards.

‘€¢It was a very good first half for Gronkowski and a very bad half for Devin McCourty. The tight end set the record for most touchdown catches in a season for a tight end when he hauled in an 11-yarder from Brady in the first quarter. As for McCourty, he appeared to be culpable on several pass plays from Washington, including a 51-yard pass from Grossman to Donte Stallworth, and then later on a nine-yard touchdown pass from Grossman to Jabar Gaffney.

‘€¢The Patriots special teams set up the first touchdown of the afternoon when Zoltan Mesko delivered a booming punt that was downed at the Redskins four-yard line by Matthew Slater. Three plays later, Andre Carter delivered the strip sack on Grossman, who was standing in the end zone. The ball was scooped up in the end zone by Vince Wilfork to give the Patriots a 7-0 lead with 12:17 left in the first quarter.

‘€¢The 51-yard pass play from Grossman to Stallworth highlighted Washington’s next scoring drive. (McCourty also yielded a nine-yard pass play on the following play.) The Redskins stalled out in the red zone and had to settle for a 24-yard field goal to make it 7-3.

‘€¢When the Patriots got the ball back, it quickly became the Gronk Show. On the first pass play, Brady found him over the middle, and Gronkowski shed Reed Doughty and DeJon Gomes — both of whom were riding his back and legs — for a Mark Bavaroesque 49-yard gainer. He followed that up with an 11-yard touchdown reception on the next play to give the Patriots a 14-3 lead, and it was off to the races. It was Gronkowski’s 14th touchdown of the season, the most by a tight end.

‘€¢It was another ex-Patriots wide receiver who beat his old mates on Washington’s next drive. The Redskins put together an eight-play, 84-yard sequence that took 4:29 and ended with Grossman hitting Jabar Gaffney on a nine-yard pass play — where it appeared that McCourty was beaten again in coverage — to make it 14-10. The Redskins added to that at the start of the second. That’s when Washington dipped into its bag of tricks when wide receiver Brandon Banks hit Santana Moss on a 49-yard pass play that left the Patriots flat-footed to make it 17-14, Redskins.

‘€¢It was pretty much a field-goal festival the rest of the way: Stephen Gostkowski connected on a 23-yarder midway through the second to tie the game at 17. The Redskins’ Graham Gano answered with a field goal of their own after stalling out in the red zone to make it 20-17 with 2:13 left in the half. Gostkowski closed out the half with a 23-yarder to knot the game at 20 heading into the locker room.

Live Blog: Tom Brady, Patriots face road test against Redskins

12.11.11 at 11:51 am ET
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Patriots/Redskins

Bill Belichick still dealing with Scarlet Knight fever

12.11.11 at 11:05 am ET
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LANDOVER, Md. — When the Patriots take the field today, three of four Rutgers products figure to have an impact.

Defensive back Nate Jones is likely to start and see significant playing time in the secondary. Tiquan Underwood will play on special teams and could come in often as a third receiver, as he did last week against the Colts and Devin McCourty figures to start at right corner.

Only defensive end Alex Silvestro doesn’t figure today as he’s spent the whole season on the practice squad.

With his working relationship over the years with Greg Schiano, Bill Belichick has learned to trust the Rutgers coach.

“I have a good relationship with him and anytime he’€™s told me anything, it’€™s always been 100 percent accurate,” Belichick said. “I think a player that he’€™s familiar with, I would definitely want to take the opportunity to get his opinion and see what he thinks because of his experience and the amount of respect I have for him. He does a great job with that program and the kids that come out of there that play in the NFL, usually end up playing in the NFL.

“A lot of colleges get guys drafted or signed or whatever. I’€™d say that program, most of those kids when they’€™re on a team, they end up making a team. I think that’€™s a credit to what he puts them through for four or five years there in terms of preparation for the National Football League, assuming they have enough talent to be competitive. He does a good job of that. Yeah, absolutely, I would talk to him, sure. What he said about Nate is what I’€™ve seen in two weeks.”

Underwood, who attended Rutgers from 2005-09, remembers the first day he heard Belichick speak. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Alex Silvestro, Bill Belichick, College Football, Devin McCourty

Setting the scene: Patriots-Redskins

12.11.11 at 7:41 am ET
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LANDOVER, Md. — Abundant sunshine and temperatures in the mid 40s are expected for today’s kickoff between the Patriots and Redskins at FedExField.

Today could be a landmark day for the 2011 Patriots. They can clinch their third straight AFC East title and ninth in 11 seasons with a win and a Jets loss at home to the Chiefs. The division title would also give the Patriots a home playoff game.

The 9-3 Patriots are also looking for their 10th win, which would mark the ninth straight season of double-figure wins. They have already clinched a winning record for the 11th straight season, becoming the first team to accomplish that feat since free agency began in 1993.

The Patriots are also trying to make history here, just minutes outside the nation’s capital. They have never won in Washington, the only NFL city in which the Patriots have never won, going 0-1 in RFK Stadium and losing their only previous regular season tilt at FedExField in 2003.

Of course, the last time these two teams met, the Patriots annihilated the Redskins and Joe Gibbs at Gillette, 52-7, in a game the Patriots were accused of running up the score.

The Patriots enter the game having ruled out several players, including safety Patrick Chung in somewhat of a surprise. The safety hasn’t played since injuring his right ankle in the loss to the Giants on Nov. 6 at Gillette Stadium. He has been limited in practice for the last three weeks but has not been cleared to play.

Last week, he told reporters he felt “awesome” but was scratched for the game against the Colts. There was some speculation that he would finally return this week against the Redskins. But, with Tim Tebow on the docket next Sunday in Denver, Bill Belichick and the coaching staff might be holding off until he’s closer to 100 percent so he can be more of a weapon in containing Tebow and the Denver running game.

Also out today for the Patriots is Sebastian Vollmer, missing his second straight game with an injured right foot. Center Dan Connolly is missing his third straight game with a groin injury. Linebacker Brandon Spikes is out for the fifth straight game with a right knee injury and rookie running back Shane Vereen is out with a hamstring injury. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Denver Broncos, FedEx Field, FedExField, Fred Davis

Nuggetpalooza: Patriots vs Redskins!

12.10.11 at 9:08 am ET
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Week 14 sends the 9-3 Patriots to our nation’s capital to face the once proud Redskins, who have fallen on hard times. Get ready for the game with lots of numbers that I doubt you’ll see elsewhere. But if you’re a ‘Skins fan, it’s not particularly pretty:

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* – Last Sunday against the 0-11 Colts was the first time that the Patriots have played a winless team with 10 or more losses since a 38-10 win over Buffalo (0-10) back in 1984. But since 1970, it was their fourth game against an opponent that was 0-10 or worse at the time, the most in the NFL in that span.

Get a load of this: Since 1970, the Chiefs have played a winless team with 10 or more losses three times… and lost all three games! In 1975, the Chargers were 0-11 but downed the Chiefs, 28-20. In 1984, an 0-10 Oilers squad nipped Kansas City, 17-16, in Houston. And in 2000, San Diego came into Arrowhead at 0-11 and got off the schneid, also by a 17-16 score.

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* – Highest fourth quarter completion percentage allowed in a single game since 1991 (min. 18 fourth quarter attempts):

90.0% – Patriots vs Colts, 12/4/11, 18-of-20
87.0% – Patriots vs Steelers, 11/14/10, 20-of-23
85.0% – Lions vs Broncos, 11/4/07, 17-of-20
85.0% – Chargers vs Chiefs, 10/30/05, 17-of-20

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* – Washington has lost 10 of their last 12 home games. The only other times that they’ve won as few as two times in a 12 home game stretch was 1993-1994 (won one of 12) and 1962-1964 (won one of 12).

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* – Since 1970, the Patriots have gone on the road 24 times to play a team with a .333 winning percentage or worse after Week 12 (the Redskins are currently 4-8). From ’70 through ’00, they lost 10-of-14. Since then, they’ve won 9-of-10. In those last 10 such games since 2001, only one of their nine wins was by less than a touchdown (average margin: 17.6) and their lone loss was by one point (29-28 to a 2-11 Dolphins squad in 2004).

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* – The Redskins have scored 19 or more points in their last three games. They haven’t put up 19+ points in four consecutive games since Weeks 2-5 of the 2008 season, 52 games ago. By contrast, the Patriots have scored 19 or more points in 43 of their last 52 games.

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* – Averaging just four rushing first downs per game, the Redskins are last in the league. It continues a disturbing three-year progression in rushing first downs per game: 30th in 2009, 31st in 2010, and 32nd in 2011.

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* – Washington is 27th in scoring this season. Beginning with the 2000 season, the Redskins have finished in the top 20 in scoring just once and have put up an average ranking of 24. That quite a drop from their previous 17 seasons, where they finished ouside the top 20 just twice. They’re average rushing yards per game (87.5) is second worst in the league. They haven’t finished in the league’s bottom two in rushing yards since 1973. What’s more, Grossman and Co. have a combined NFL passer rating of 70.5, second worst in the league (Jacksonville, 60.4). They’ve finished in the bottom two in passer rating just twice before since 1960: In 1961 they were second worst, and in 1993 they were last. They’ve thrown seven more interceptions than touchdowns this season. The only other time since 1963 that they’ve had a -7 or worse was 1993 (-10).

—————————————————————————————— Read the rest of this entry »

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