Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Pats' Past: When Mike Vrabel single-handedly destroyed the Washington Redskins

By Bernd Buchmasser

May 16, 2016

The 2007 New England Patriots were an unstoppable machine, at least during their perfect 16-0 regular season. The offense was and still is the most prolific ever, while the defense was its perfect counterpart: opportunistic and efficient. If there is one game exemplifying this, it is the team's week 8 game against the Washington Redskins.

Probably the best player on the field that day was linebacker Mike Vrabel.

Vrabel had already registered 4.5 sacks and one touchdown reception in New England's seven prior wins. However, those performances would pale in comparison to his one against the visiting Redskins in late October.

After the game's first quarter, which saw Vrabel record three tackles and the Patriots take a 7-0 lead, the versatile linebacker started dominating the contest – both on offense and defense. With 8:12 left in the second quarter and the Patriots facing a 2nd and goal from Washington's two-yard line, the part-time tight end Vrabel took the field.

After faking the hand-off to running back Laurence Maroney, quarterback Tom Brady found Vrabel uncovered in the right half of the endzone. The then 32-year old had no issues catching Brady's pass and the Patriots took a 14-0 lead. It was Vrabel's 10th career touchdown on his 10th career catch.

While he was an efficient tight end, Vrabel's main occupation was playing defense – and he showed it on Washington's next possession, just four plays after his touchdown catch. On 3rd and 5, Vrabel was able to fight his way through the Redskins' offensive line to sack quarterback Jason Campbell for an eight-yard loss. While doing that, the linebacker knocked the football loose; Ty Warren recovered the fumble and four plays later New England led 17-0.

After Washington's next possession ended with an Asante Samuel interception and the Patriots gave the football back on the very next play via a Brady fumble, Vrabel was back in the spotlight.

Facing a 3rd and 4 on New England's 23-yard line, Vrabel was again able to get to Campbell. Once again, the quarterback was sacked. Once again, he lost the football. Once again, Ty Warren recovered it. Once again, the Patriots turned the takeaway into points and thus entered intermission with a 24-0 lead.

New England's dominance continued in the second half, as the team marched 85 yards on 13 plays to widen the lead to 31 points. Four plays later, the Patriots led 38-0 – once again because of Mike Vrabel: on the Redskins' first possession of the third quarter, the outside linebacker was able to sack Campbell for the third time, forcing a third fumble. This time, Colvin was able to scoop up the loose ball and he returned it 11 yards for the touchdown.

Vrabel's contributions that day were not limited to offense and defense: he also recovered an onside kick late in the fourth quarter (and with the Patriots already up by the final score of 52-7). Overall, the linebacker finished the game with a touchdown, three sacks, three forced fumbles, ten additional tackles and said kick-recovery.

It was a dominating performance by the linebacker, who earned AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors because of it and was later that year selected to his first Pro Bowl and All Pro team. It also was a vintage Mike Vrabel game as he was a game-changer in all three phases.

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