Landover, Md. -- This was the game in which the Patriots starters would see their most action to date. The result may have made Head Coach Bill Belichick thankful he has two more preseason games to maybe give them yet more time. Perhaps he wishes he didn't cancel that scrimmage against the Giants as well.
The story here was the first half of play by the Patriots starters against Washington's. Continuing the ineffectiveness of their last game against the Lions, New England's offense could find no rhythm and Drew Bledsoe had little if no protection behind a still makeshift line. As a result, New England suffered their first preseason loss, 30-20.
But despite being completely outplayed in the first half by a Redskin team loaded with talent, it looked like New England might make things interesting in the fourth quarter.
Trailing by 10, John Friesz was finding success through the air, with passes to newly-acquired Dane Looker, Patrick Pass and Matt Bumgardner. On second and 11 from the New England 37, Bumgardner then let one slip through his hands and Washington's Eric Whitfield picked it off. On the return, however, Shockmain Davis managed to pluck the ball free and Sean Morey pounced on it giving the Patriots new life. Washington claimed that Davis came from out of bounds and the play was challenged but the ruling stood.
New England made good use of the second chance. On the next play, Looker was interfered with on the Redskins 25. Rod Rutledge caught an 18-yard pass, knocking the ball to the 7. Two plays later, Friesz looked right and saw Bumgardner for the score.
New England got the ball back deep in their own territory with a chance to tie but couldn't work their way out. And when Marcus Stiggers returned the ensuing punt 42 yards, the game was virtually over. Washington slammed the ball in behind the running of Chad Dukes and once again had their 10-point lead with 2:58 left in the game. Friesz putting the ball on the ground on the Patriots next drive didn't help much as the Redskins recovered in New England territory. In a show of sportsmanship, Washington chose to run out the clock rather than go for the extra score which they could have accomplished as they finished the game on the New England 3-yard line.
Not at all happy with what he saw out of his offense, Belichick kept the starters in the game to start the second half and New England quickly tied the game at 13 after stopping Washington on their first possession of the third quarter.
Bledsoe went into a hurry-up offense and spread the ball around to Tony Simmons, Terry Glenn and Troy Brown until from the Redskins 12, he found Simmons in the end zone for his first touchdown of the preseason.
But Washington drove right back down the field with their second offense. The Redskins offensive line led Skip Hicks into the New England defensive backfield throughout the drive which ended in a 44-yard field goal to put Washington back up, 16-13.
Bledsoe's night wasn't finished despite proving he could score, albeit against second stringers. It looked like the Patriots first-teamers would continue to beat up on Washington's second string defense. A beautiful catch by Vincent Brisby along the left sideline had the Patriots on the Redskins 13. But Bledsoe's next pass intended for Glenn resembled more of a fade-away jumper than anything else and Washington's Matt Stevens picked it off.
A muffed punt by Tony Gaiter set up Washington on the Patriots 17 for their third drive of the second half. And it only took Hicks one play to go around right end and score. Actually, the play was ruled out of bounds inside the 1-yard line but the Redskins challenged the ruling and won. The extra point put them up 23-13.
The first half was one the Patriots would like to soon forget. After three possessions in the first quarter, Bledsoe was 1 for 6 passing for 1 yard and an interception. By the end of the half, the Redskins had out thrown the Patriots 177 yards to 59 and had 13 first downs to New England's three.
The Patriots defense was also disappointing through the first 30 minutes. Two third and long situations were converted by the Redskins; one a third and 8 in which Johnson found James Thrash for 13 and the second came when Johnson found Irving Fryer for 21 yards on a third and 20. That second conversion led to three points on a 33-yard field goal by Peter Elezovic to begin the second quarter.
Had it not been for two Brad Johnson interceptions, one by Ron Holmberg and the other by Ty Law, Washington would have put up more than the 13 points they ended with.
After an opening Patriots drive that featured Bledsoe being sacked by longtime nemesis Bruce Smith for a loss of 7, the Redskins took over on their own 35-yard line and moved the ball effectively. Three first down plays generated 9 yards each on Stephen Davis runs, making it easy to convert third downs when the time came.
It was Adrian Murrell who took the Brad Johnson pass for 14 yards, evaded three Patriot would-be tacklers and scored the game's first touchdown.
New England's first sign of life came in the second quarter. After a nice return by Faulk on the Skins kickoff following Elezovic's field goal, Bledsoe found Troy Brown on a short pass. Actually, the pass was behind Brown, but No. 80 adjusted and that adjustment was enough to get him behind the Washington defenders. The play went for 40 yards and found New England on the Washington 16. But a bad snap by Damien Woody on a third and 11 shotgun play got Bledsoe in trouble and he went down for a 6-yard loss. The Patriots settled for a 41-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal to make the score 10-3.
Washington tacked on three more points late in the first half on a 23-yard field goal. Hard running by Murrell and a 24-yard pass from Johnson to Mike Sellers highlighted the drive.
The Patriots will finally play a game in Foxboro next week when they meet the Tampa Bay Buccanneers. Don't be surprised if Belichick uses the Bucs strong defense as an opportunity to once again give his starting offense the work it apparently needs.