New England rebounded from a bad performance in Tampa Bay and closed the preseason in style with a 33-13 pounding of Washington Thursday night at Foxboro Stadium.
The Patriots first-string defense had another strong performance in holding the Redskins to just 89 yards of offense in the first half. Once again the third-down defense was impressive for the first group, which limited Washington to just 1-of-5 (20 percent). However, despite allowing just 8 yards of offense in the first quarter, the Patriots were down 3-0 after a Brett Conway field goal.
Fortunes changed for the team midway through the second quarter. New England (3-1) continued to display the ability to force turnovers. An interception and two fumble recoveries led to 17 points in less than a six-minute span late in the first half. The first turnover came on a Terrell Buckley interception on Jeff George's bomb attempt for Rod Gardner. Buckley caught the pass at his own 4-yard line and returned it 30 yards. The pick was New England's sixth in four preseason games after the team had just 10 all last year.
The Patriots offense, which struggled throughout the first quarter despite excellent field position, needed eight plays to put the ball in the end zone. Drew Bledsoe found David Patten for a 22-yard touchdown pass that put New England up 7-3 with 6:22 left in the half.
"Last week we pretty much got shut out, and we wanted to come out and do some work in the red area," said Patten, who had two catches for 36 yards. "We've still got to work and be ready for next week, but we put some points on the board and played much better than last time."
After the ensuing kickoff, the defense came up big again. On Washington's first play from scrimmage linebacker Roman Phifer sacked George. On the same play he forced and recovered a fumble to give the offense the ball at the Redskins 17-yard line.
This time it took the offense just five plays and two minutes, 34 seconds to cross the goal line. After converting a third-and-one play, Antowain Smith rumbled 4 yards for a touchdown to make the score 14-3.
The defense slacked a bit on the next Washington possession, waiting four plays before getting its third consecutive turnover. On second-and-8, Phifer and Mike Vrabel led a heavy rush on George, who back-peddled to his own 28. Phifer sacked him there and forced another fumble, which Vrabel fell on at the 24-yard line. New England couldn't get it into the end zone, but Adam Vinatieri extended the lead to 17-3 with a 30-yard field goal.
Among the biggest performers on defense was rookie Richard Seymour, who got his first start of the preseason, and it came at nose tackle. Seymour, who has been primarily on the end in the preseason, looked quite comfortable in the middle. He was credited with a half-sack of George along with Greg Spires, and he got constant pressure in the backfield. On the final play of the first quarter he nearly got George for a safety. The quarterback was called for intentional grounding when he threw the ball away just before crossing the goal line.
"This was my first time being on the nose tonight, and I just wanted to go out there and finish plays strong," Seymour said. "We had a strong week of practice, and we were able to transfer that out to the field. I was able to get some pressure, which is my job. We were mixing things up, and it felt pretty good."
The only blemish for the defense came at the close of the first half. Washington got the ball at its own 37 with 42 seconds before the break. George found Kevin Lockett for 17 yards and then Michael Westbrook beat Terrance Shaw for a 36-yard toss to the New England 10. Three plays later George and Lockett hooked up for a 4-yard touchdown to close within 17-10.
The teams exchanged field goals in the second half to make the score 20-13. Early in the fourth quarter the Patriots put the game away when Tom Brady hit Kevin Faulk on a 54-yard screen pass for a touchdown. The play was big for Faulk after he had fumbled a kickoff return earlier in the half. Faulk used his speed to run away from the defense, but he got a huge downfield block from Grey Ruegamer to take it all the way.
"It was a screen play, and I just needed to get on my horse and get out there," Ruegamer said. "It opened up and was basically a one-on-one blocking play for me. We usually throw down field, but that play certainly worked out and the result was fine by me."
The game results were also fine with Head Coach Bill Belichick. He was pleased with the overall performance of the team, but he stressed the team needs to start again when the regular season opens in Cincinnati.
"I don't think you really have a comfort level at this time of year," Belichick said. "Right now the slate is clean and everybody has to go out and establish themselves in the regular season."
- Bledsoe had his strongest outing of the preseason. He completed 14-of-22 passes for 145 yards and the touchdown to Patten. He got the offense into the end zone twice and was sacked just once.
- Brady was also strong, connecting on 11-of-19 for 166 yards and the touchdown to Faulk. Brady also handled most of the holding duties on field goals and extra points. Damon Huard did not play, but Belichick said that was because the game was well in hand and he didn't see the point of putting Huard in just to hand the ball off.
- Vinatieri removed all doubt that the kicking job is his. The veteran hit on kicks of 30, 50, 52 and 46. His only miss was just wide left from 49 yards.
- Several players made their first appearance of the preseason. Defensive end Willie McGinest, tackles Adrian Klemm and Matt Light and cornerback Terrance Shaw all drew praise from Belichick. Light, the second-round pick from Purdue got the start at left tackle and played well.
- Several players on the roster bubble made a strong final case for their jobs. Wide receiver Curtis Jackson caught three passes for 46 yards. Wide receiver/defensive back Sean Morey did not play much on regular offense or defense, but he contributed a team-high three special teams tackles. Rookie safety Hakim Akbar had four tackles on defense and two assists on special teams.
- The following players did not play in the game: kicker Owen Pochman, punter Brad Costello, Huard, cornerback Ty Law, linebackers Ted Johnson and Tedy Bruschi, defensive lineman Garrett Johnson, and guards Josh Rawlings and Mike Compton.