NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (9-3) at WASHINGTON REDSKINS (4-8), 1:00 PM ET, CBS
Beating the Patriots is not mission impossible, just very difficult. If it is to be done, the defense must do it. Get Tom Cruise a burgundy jersey and suit him up.
The NFL briefly billed this game as Shanahan vs. Belichick...because there is no cache in Grossman vs. Brady. The NFL tried this in 2007, the last time these two teams met, as a Gibbs vs. Belichick contest...because Campbell vs. Brady had no more buzz than Grossman-Brady. New England won 52-7. And that was with Sean Taylor in secondary. That game was played on October 28. The tragic event that would take Sean's life was 30 days away. Donte' Stallworth and Jabar Gaffney combined for eight receptions for 83 yards...for the Patriots. Gaffney and Stallworth are a pair of try hard veterans, but their presence here is another reminder that building your team on other team's cast-offs is no path to a title.
The hard truth is that this game will only interest fans of the teams involved.
What To Watch
Rex Grossman is the best quarterback on Washington's roster. Shanahan bluffed his way to the assertion that the 'Skins could win with either Grossman or John Beck. It helped that he drafted Ryan Kerrigan instead of Blaine Gabbert and that Kerrigan is a gem. That will not work for 2012. The Redskins will have a tough time selling tickets if Beck or Grossman--or Peyton Manning--is the quarterback starter. The curious will watch early games to see Manning in a Redskins uniform, but see the Gaffney-Stallworth comment above for our assessment of such a move.
Grossman has four games to show Washington or some other team that he deserves a roster spot. Say this for him, he has the heart of a lion to go with the skills of Jon Kitna and butter finger hands when hit. What he will not have is his leading receiver, Fred Davis, and blind side protector, Trent Williams. (Get help, fellas.) So Gaffney and Stallworth, who played a secondary role in the '07 game, must step up today.
Take no comfort in the Patriots defense's low ranking. They are a disruptive bunch with twice as many interceptions as the Redskins. Like the Indianapolis Colts, the Pats defense is designed around Tom Brady. They defend leads that Brady gives them more than they make stops. That's Washington's one real hope. The Redskins do make stops. They have defended more passes and allowed fewer third-down conversions than the Pats. If the 'Skins defense can repress the irrepressible Brady to three touchdowns, Washington has a shot. Steve Spurrier did that (2003). Sean Taylor could not. New England is favored by 8.
Who Will Win
21 points by Washington would be a moral victory. NEW ENGLAND
UPDATE: RT Jammal Brown suffered a pregame injury and has left the field. The Redskins just took a snap with an O-line of, left to right, Smith, Hurt, Chester, Locklear, Polumbus. Adjusting on the fly.