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When Patriots and Redskins meet, it gets interesting

Rob Gronkowski had a big game against the Redskins in 2011 to set the record for most touchdown receptions by a tight end in a single season.
Rob Gronkowski had a big game against the Redskins in 2011 to set the record for most touchdown receptions by a tight end in a single season.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Sunday will be the fourth time Bill Belichick will face the Washington Redskins as the coach of the New England Patriots. While the Patriots and Redskins haven’t exactly had a storied rivalry, their last three meetings were notable for a variety of different reasons.

2003: Redskins 20, Patriots 17

The first matchup resulted in a loss to Steve Spurrier and the Redskins.

Wait. What?

Yes, the old ball coach came out on top against Belichick. To be fair, it seemed as though the Patriots defeated themselves that day in Landover, Md. Tom Brady threw three interceptions, Adam Vinatieri missed a field goal, Kevin Faulk fumbled and turned the ball over on the Patriots’ one-yard line, and New England fell into a 20-3 hole late in the third quarter.

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Still, the Patriots managed to rally and pull within 20-17, and had the ball at the Washington 45 with 1:45 remaining. Facing 4th and three at the 38, the Patriots eschewed a 55-yard field goal attempt by Vinatieri and went for a first down, but Brady’s pass to tight end Daniel Graham was broken up by Ifeanyi Ohalete.

The loss dropped the Patriots to 2-2, a mere two weeks after ESPN’s Tom Jackson had declared, when speaking about the Patriots players: “I want to say this very clearly: They hate their coach, and their season could be over.”

Kevin Faulk winced after cornerback Champ Bailey forced a fumble that the Redskins recovered on the one=yard line at the start of the third quarter at FedEx Field.
Kevin Faulk winced after cornerback Champ Bailey forced a fumble that the Redskins recovered on the one=yard line at the start of the third quarter at FedEx Field.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

The .500 start through the first four games was troubling, but the Patriots would not lose again for the rest of the season. They won the final 12 games of the regular season to post a 14-2 record, then win three more in the playoffs to capture a second Super Bowl title. The streak would reach 21 consecutive wins when the Patriots started the following season at 6-0.

The Redskins faded down the stretch in 2003 and finished 5-11. Spurrier resigned at the end of the season, just his second year as an NFL coach.

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2007: Patriots 52, Redskins 7

Just as they will in 2015, the Patriots faced the Redskins in Week 8. The Patriots entered the game in Foxborough 7-0, while the Redskins were 4-2. Head coach Joe Gibbs was in his second stint with Washington after winning three Super Bowls (1982, 1987 and 1991) in his first go-round. The second stint was not as successful, but the Redskins appeared to be headed in the right direction.

That was clearly not the case though, as the Patriots rolled over Washington . The Patriots had a franchise-record 34 first downs and collected 486 yards of offense. Tom Brady completed 29 of 38 passes for 306 yards. His three touchdown passes (including one to linebacker Mike Vrabel) gave him 30 on the season, and he also rushed for two more.

The Patriots led 24-0 at halftime and 52-0 in the fourth quarter before Washington scored with three minutes left to avoid the shutout. The defense forced four turnovers, including three fumbles forced by Vrabel, all of which led to points, including a touchdown by Rosevelt Colvin on an 11-yard fumble return to make it 38-0 in the fourth quarter.

Mike Vrabel celebrated his touchdown reception against the Washington Redskins during the second quarter.
Mike Vrabel celebrated his touchdown reception against the Washington Redskins during the second quarter.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff File

The Patriots would go on to finish the regular season 16-0 before losing in the Super Bowl to the New York Giants.

Washington’s season took a dark turn a few weeks later, when All-Pro safety Sean Taylor was shot at his house by an armed intruder, and died later at the hospital. The Redskins managed to finish 9-7 and reach the playoffs, but lost in the wild-card round. Shortly after the season, Gibbs retired again.

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2011: Patriots 34, Redskins 27

It was a win for New England, but this December game in Landover, Md., was not supposed to be close. After starting the season 3-1, Washington would drop seven of its next eight games and entered the contest with a record of 4-8. The Patriots were 9-3, well on their way to clinching another AFC East title.

The Redskins offense, led by quarterback Rex Grossman, had struggled that season, but against the Patriots, it was downright prolific. The teams played to a 20-20 tie in the first half, with the highlight coming from Rob Gronkowski.

The second-year tight end turned a catch in the flat into a 49-yard gain. Realizing he wasn’t down, Gronkowski rumbled down the sideline, escaping tackle attempts by safety DeJon Gomes and Reed Doughty. On the next play, Gronkowski hauled in an 11-yard touchdown pass from Brady. It was Gronkowski’s 14th touchdown of the season, the most ever for a tight end.

Tom Brady walked to the bench with head coach Bill Belichick on the left and offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien in the middle after he threw an interception in the end zone late in the game. O'Brien and Brady would have words on the bench soon after.
Tom Brady walked to the bench with head coach Bill Belichick on the left and offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien in the middle after he threw an interception in the end zone late in the game. O'Brien and Brady would have words on the bench soon after.Jim Davis/Globe Staff/Boston Globe

As impressive as that was, this game is remembered more for what happened in the second half. The Patriots had finally taken control, and were leading 34-27 late in the fourth quarter when they drove to the Washington 4. Facing third down, Brady forced a pass to Tiquan Underwood, but Josh Wilson picked it off in the end zone.

When the Patriots offense went back to the sideline, Brady seemed to suggest that Underwood needed to fight for the ball, at which point offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien and Brady got into a shouting match by the bench. The two continued bickering as backup quarterback Brian Hoyer attempted to stand between them. O’Brien was finally pulled away by receivers coach Chad O’Shea.

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A few minutes later Brady and O’Brien sat next to each other, going over the play sheets.

“I threw a pretty bad interception, so he wasn’t happy about it . . . I deserved it,’’ Brady said when asked what O’Brien said. “It was a stupid play.”

The defense stepped up for the Patriots, with Jerod Mayo recording an interception to preserve the win.

The Patriots would go on to finish the season 13-3, and advanced to the Super Bowl before once again losing to the Giants. Washington finished 5-11, with two of those wins against the Giants. Coach Mike Shanahan returned as coach for 2012, but with a new quarterback, as the Redskins moved up in the draft to select Robert Griffin III.


Follow Andrew Mahoney on Twitter @GlobeMahoney