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Washington off to best start in four years

9/29/2003

LANDOVER, Md. (AP) -- Maybe the Washington Redskins are just destined to play every game close this season.

At least they're winning most of them.

The Redskins nearly blew a 17-point lead Sunday against the injury-riddled and penalty-prone New England Patriots. A comedy of errors in the final two minutes gave their opponents a chance to tie before a final defensive stand sealed a 20-17 victory.

Question on the Patriots: Even with Brown and Brady, are the Pats lacking sufficient playmakers on offense?
It's not the playmakers, but their game plans. They've been going with a dink-and-dump offensive system for the past few seasons and now defenses have caught on. They aren't doing a good job mixing in running plays and don't threaten teams with their vertical game. If a team realizes that 5-yard patterns are all a team is going to run, they'll take it away quickly. That's what's happening to the Patriots. They also need to find a running back and give him the ball.

Question on the Redskins: What is Steve Spurrier doing differently this year?
It's a combination of things. The Ol' Ball Coach is running the ball more with Ladell Bette and Trung Canidate this year. Last season, the Redskins didn't run and were very predictable. Also, Ramsey knows he's the starter no matter what. It's much easier for a quarterback, or any player for that matter, to play when he's not constantly looking over his shoulder. And finally, the 'Skins have better playmakers. The addition of Laveranues Coles to their team gives them a top notch receiver and a potential game-breaking player.

Eric Allen played cornerback for 14 NFL seasons with the Eagles, Saints and Raiders.

"It works on my nerves bad," receiver Rod Gardner said.

"It's good to be coming out with these victories, but we need to stop cutting it close. When we've got them behind the 8-ball, we've got to go ahead and knock them out."

The Redskins (3-1) have had all four of their games decided by three points or fewer, losing only last week in overtime to the New York Giants. This one was different from the others, keyed by four turnovers by the defense and a turnover-free offense that threw
just 22 passes -- the fewest in Steve Spurrier's year-and-a-quarter
as coach.

Patrick Ramsey was 10-for-22 for 147 yards and threw just seven times in the second half in a game that pitted Spurrier's high-powered offense against defensive guru Bill Belichick.

"He gave us the run," receiver Laveranues Coles said. "Coach Spurrier was taking advantage of whatever the he gave us, and that's what we're about. Matching wits with a guy like that, Coach did that and came out on top."

Champ Bailey, playing with a broken wrist and a sprained shoulder, made up for a pass interference penalty with an interception and a forced fumble that Matt Bowen recovered inside New England's 10-yard line -- the defense's first fumble recovery this season.

"We've been talking about how the ball hasn't been bouncing our way lately," Bowen said. "But today, it did."

The Patriots (2-2) played without nine injured opening-day starters, including three linebackers. Two offensive linemen made their first NFL starts. Brady has been nursing a sore elbow, but he said it wasn't a factor in his three picks.

"Just bad plays, man. Just bad plays," said Brady, who was 25-for-38 for 289 yards. "I have to make good decisions, good throws and give ourselves and chance to win."

The Redskins led 20-3 in the third quarter before two touchdown
passes by Brady put the Patriots within three points with 2:10 to
play.

The Redskins then mismanaged the clock, throwing two incomplete
passes and committing three false-start penalties -- including two
by Pro Bowl tackle Chris Samuels. Laveranues Coles' tough catch
appeared to convert a third-and-16, but it was ruled incomplete
after a video review.

Bryan Barker's short punt gave the Patriots the ball at Washington's 45 with 1:39 to go, and they moved to the 38 to set up fourth-and-3. Instead of sending Adam Vinatieri on for a 55-yard field goal attempt that could tie the game, coach Bill Belichick kept the offense on the field. Brady's pass was broken up by Ifeanyi Ohalete to end the final threat.

Belichick said he didn't try the field goal because he felt the
odds were better on fourth-and-short -- and Vinatieri agreed, saying
that his range Sunday was in the "low-to-mid 50s."

"What more can you ask for than what we had?" Brady said. "We
came back, we did a good job getting ourselves back in the game.
You get the ball on (the) 45 and you can't get a first down. That's
a pretty bad feeling."

The Redskins led 6-3 at the half, and then a big play by the defense turned the tide. Bailey, not fooled when the ball was snapped directly to Kevin Faulk, made the tackle in the backfield but was too busy celebrating to notice that he'd knocked the ball loose. Bowen saw it and cradled it just enough to keep it inbound before picking it up and falling in a pile inches from the goal line.

Ladell Betts scored on the next play, putting the Redskins up by
10. Rock Cartwright's 3-yard run made it 20-3 later in the third.

Game notes
New England's inactive list would make a good basis for a
team in itself: LB Mike Vrabel, LB Ted Johnson, G Damien Woody, T
Adrian Klemm, WR David Patten, NT Ted Washington and FB Fred
McCrary. OLs Tom Ashworth and Russ Hochstein made their first NFL
starts. ... Washington G Dave Fiore (sore knee) was inactive,
giving rookie Derrick Dockery his first start. ... New England
hasn't beaten Washington since 1972, a 0-6 streak. ... The Redskins
hired officials this week for practice to cut down on penalties,
but they still had nine for 75 yards. ... The Patriots had eight
for 64 yards, including a late hit by Larry Centers that nearly
derailed their final touchdown drive. ... The Redskins have had
four straight game decided by a field goal or less for the first
time since 1975.