Game Preview: Patriots at Redskins

WEEK 14 PREVIEW: New England Patriots (9-3) at Washington Redskins (8-5). News, notes, stats links and more...

New England Patriots (9-3) at Washington Redskins (4-8)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
GAMEDATE: 12/11/11
LOCATION: Landover, MD (Weather)
VENUE: FedEx Field
SURFACE: Natural grass

TV: CBS, Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf

PREDICTION: Patriots 33-17

GAME UPDATES:  Twitter (live) -- NFL -- FOX -- CBS 

KEYS TO THE GAME: Redskins QB Rex Grossman has been sacked 18 times in 334 drop-backs, and his protection doesn't figure to improve with LT Trent Williams and TE Fred Davis suspended. But New England's secondary is the vulnerable spot of the defense so Grossman will need to be able to step up and complete passes downfield in the face of the pass rush. While Washington can apply pressure off the edges defensively, few quarterbacks have a quicker release than Tom Brady, who also enjoys the best combination of inside route-runners in the game in WR Wes Welker and TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

FAST FACTS: The Patriots have scored 43 touchdowns, compared to the Redskins' 20. ... Roy Helu is the first Redskins rookie running back to rush for 100-plus yards in consecutive games.



   One quick look at the New England Patriots' schedule reveals a slew of opponents not quite ready for prime time, among them the Indianapolis Colts, Kansas City Chiefs, and, most recently, the Buffalo Bills.

   Quarterback Tom Brady would disagree with that sentiment, especially since he's the one who has to face everyone else's pass rush on a weekly basis.

   "I feel like every week we're talking about their pass rushers," Brady said. "We've played quite a few good pass rushers this year."

   He'll face another great tandem this Sunday in Washington with linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, who've combined for 12,5 sacks this season.

   "They're good -- very good," Brady said. "They can rush. They're good in coverage, too; I think that's the thing that surprises a lot of people because they're 260-, 265-pound guys.

   "I think these two guys are right up there in terms of their ability to set the edge in the running game, to collapse a pocket, strip sack the quarterback -- even if they're not sacking the quarterback, they're forcing the ball out quickly. They're the key to the whole defense."

   With so many great pass-rushers staring him down on a weekly basis, one would expect Brady to utilize his checkdown receivers a lot more than usual  - particularly his running backs - yet the numbers show New England's running backs haven't been as involved in the passing game as they have in the past.

   Credit that to the emergence of tight Rob Gronkowski, who has become one of the league's top pass-catching threats both in and out of the red zone, and the Patriots' ability to block long enough to allow Brady to utilize his bigger targets.

   "There probably just hasn't been as much opportunity for them," Brady said of his running backs' involvement in the passing game. "I'm always trying to find the open guy, so sometimes they're in protecting and not really a part of the play. Sometimes between Wes (Welker), Deion (Branch), Rob (Gronkowski) and Aaron (Hernandez), who have really gotten the ball quite a bit this year, the read takes you there first."

   Regardless of who gets the ball, the emphasis for Brady this weekend will be on getting rid of it quickly, which is nothing new considering the competition he's faced all year.

   "When you play good pass rushers, you've got to understand that at some point, they're going to be there," Brady said. "You just don't have all the time to sit around and make decisions, so you just try to get the ball out. A lot of it comes down to coordinating the routes with the protection and then ultimately getting the ball out fast enough."


   A month before he signed as a free agent with Washington on July 30, Stephen Bowen and wife Tiffany suffered the death of Skyler, 10 days after he and twin brother Stephen III were born four months premature.

   Stephen III came home from the hospital in September and is doing well as he approaches six months. Bowen, a backup for most of his five seasons in Dallas, hasn't missed a start while producing a career-high 4.5 sacks while helping the Redskins rocket from 31st in defense in 2010 to ninth this year.

   On Nov. 27 at Seattle, Bowen tore his left PCL but barely missed a snap. Then at 4:30 last Sunday morning, Tiffany's mother, Muriel Johnson, who had been battling muscular dystrophy, died at 59 in the Bowens' Northern Virginia home. Bowen chose to play that afternoon against the New York Jets. His mother-in-law's funeral is Saturday in New York, the day before Bowen, will start, as always, against New England.

   "I don't wish for anybody to go through none of the stuff I've been through," said Bowen, who was announced Thursday as the Redskins' winner of the Ed Block Courage Award. "My teammates recognizing me means a lot. I'm still trying to work hard and get it done on the field. But I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy."

   Nose tackle Barry Cofield said Bowen, who lines up next to him, has been amazing.

   "He comes in with a smile on his face, he works hard," Cofield said. "He's played great football. He deserves that award. He's been an inspiration to all of us."

   Coach Mike Shanahan said Bowen has been "unbelievable" and a "true professional" with how he's dealt with his adversity.

   "He comes here and he's all business," agreed defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. "We knew what kind of football player we were getting, but obviously the character part has been outstanding. He's a tough-minded guy. He's one of those guys that's not going to let his other family down, which is the football part of it. And he's got a (knee injury). He could've said (last Sunday), 'I'm staying home. My knee's still hurting.' And he toughed it out. He played pretty good."


   --LB Brandon Spikes returned to practice Thursday. He's been out of the lineup since suffering a sprained MCL against the Giants on Nov. 6. There's a possibility he'll be a game-time decision Sunday.
   --LB Dane Fletcher completed a full week of practice Thursday and appears close to returning to the lineup Sunday. With Brandon Spikes possibly returning, this would put New England at full strength in terms of linebacker depth.
   --RB Stevan Ridley missed another day of practice due to a non-football issue, but is reportedly returning to Foxboro Friday, so there's a strong chance he'll make the trip to Washington.
   --OL Sebastian Vollmer missed practice Thursday due to a foot injury and will likely miss his second consecutive game this weekend.
   --OL Nate Solder will get the start at right tackle in place of Sebastian Vollmer this weekend. Solder is a versatile backup who'll be making his second consecutive start barring a miracle return by Vollmer.

   --SS LaRon Landry remained sidelined on Thursday with the groin injury he injured on Nov. 27 at Seattle and is likely to miss a second straight start. Either Reed Doughty or rookie Dejon Gomes would take his place.
   --DL Chris Baker missed his second straight practice since being promoted from the practice squad after injuring a quad while stretching before Wednesday's workout.
   --P Sav Rocca, who injured an ankle last Sunday against the New York Jets, was limited on Thursday after not practicing on Wednesday.
   --NT Chris Neild returned Thursday after missing Wednesday's practice for personal reasons.
   --S DeJon Gomes was limited again on Thursday with the knee he injured against the Jets.
   --CB DeAngelo Hall (back) was limited again on Thursday.
   --LG Maurice Hurt (knee) was limited again on Thursday.
   --ILB London Fletcher (ankle) was limited again on Thursday.
   --DE Stephen Bowen (knee) was limited again on Thursday.
   --RT Jammal Brown (hip) was limited again on Thursday.
   --WR Terrence Austin (hamstring) was limited again on Thursday.

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