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Defense felt it needed to make point

Linebacker Rosevelt Colvin celebrates after returning a recovered fumble 11 yards for a TD in the third quarter. Linebacker Rosevelt Colvin celebrates after returning a recovered fumble 11 yards for a TD in the third quarter. (MATTHEW J. LEE/GLOBE STAFF)

FOXBOROUGH - They are a prideful group and felt as if the last two games were not reflective of their potential. They had watched their own offense carve up the opposition and, in turn, lost their own edge.

So with arguably the most anticipated regular-season game in recent memory on the schedule next week - a date with the undefeated Colts in Indianapolis - members of the Patriots' defense vowed to return to form yesterday against the Redskins.

And while a late Redskins touchdown took a little shine off the performance, the mission was accomplished with authority in the 52-7 victory.

The irony continues to be that the Patriots' defense has been challenged as much by its own offense as the opposition.

"It's human nature, you see the score and it's like, 'Wow'. In a sense, I think we were being lackadaisical," defensive end Ty Warren explained. "It is amazing to see the score ran up the way it's been, Randy [Moss] is making those spectacular catches. You're kind of watching the game, and we're talking about it on the sidelines before we go back out there [on defense].

"It was good to bounce back from that. It was good to finish the way we started. We needed that."

Yesterday's dominant defensive effort included a mix of everything. There was the outstanding playmaking of outside linebacker Mike Vrabel (three sacks, three forced fumbles) and another interception from cornerback Asante Samuel, the return of defensive end Richard Seymour for about one-third of the snaps, the run defense returning to its stingy ways after slipping the last two weeks, and continued excellence on third down (2 of 12 conversions for the Redskins).

As always, there was also a minor schematic wrinkle in the base 3-4 alignment.

The wrinkle, not that it was truly needed, came with cornerback Randall Gay substituting for safety James Sanders when the Redskins put three receivers on the field. Gay would often roam the back end of the defense as a safety, the idea being to add more cover skills to the mix, especially with one of the team's best cover safeties, Eugene Wilson, missing the game with an ankle injury.

"Each and every week, there is a different wrinkle, you never know what you're going to see," safety Rodney Harrison said. "You might see five corners, you might see three safeties, you might see eight defensive linemen. You never know with these guys. Bill [Belichick] has us so confused at times by what we're going to do, but at the end of the day, it's working."

The intrigue this week will be what the Patriots cook up for a Colts' offense that - while not at lethal as the Patriots' this year - is still one of best in the NFL.

The Patriots' defense did not want to enter Indianapolis coming off performances like it had put together in the two games leading into yesterday - wins over the Cowboys (48-27) and Dolphins (49-28). Harrison went as far as to say the defense was humbled by a poor second half against the Dolphins, so holding the Redskins to 177 passing yards and 47 rushing yards builds momentum into next week's showdown.

The only blemish was losing the shutout.

"I think any time you can leave a goose egg up there, you want to," Harrison said. "That's really a pride thing."

So after two weeks of feeling as if it was being pulled along for the ride by its explosive offense, the Patriots defense returned to form yesterday. With the Colts up next, the timing couldn't have been better.

"I can honestly say I haven't been a part of anything like this, it's something special," Harrison said of the Patriots' ability to put up points on offense. "Still, it's early in the season. We have big challenge ahead of us."

That challenge, it turns out, is facing two offenses at the same time: The opposition, and the Patriots' own high-flying attack.

Mike Reiss can be reached at mreiss@globe.com.

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