LANDOVER, Md. -- 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.
"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 four 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 a 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.
- 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, an 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.
The Associated Press News Service
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