FOXBORO, Mass. -- The tone for the proceedings was set shortly before the kickoff when the fire alarm went off in the Foxboro Stadium press box.
After the members of the media corps were evacuated to watch the start of the Washington Redskins-New England Patriots exhibition game from the stands, stadium officials decided the alarm was triggered by cigar smoke.
That was appropriate, because the Patriots appear to be a team going up in flames.
zTC The Patriots' record since Dec. 3, 1989, dropped to 1-24 last night when they lost to the Redskins, 27-6. Six of those losses have been exhibition games.
Things got off to a bad start for the Patriots when backup Terry Hoage intercepted Hugh Millen's first pass on the third play of the game and went 45 yards for a touchdown.
At that point, they could have evacuated the stadium, because the game was essentially over. The Patriots, who attracted a crowd of only 16,757 even though some tickets were given away to military personnel and others were sold at half price, never made a game of it.
It was the smallest crowd ever for a non-strike game at Foxboro Stadium.
Shortly after Hoage scored his touchdown, the fire alarm went off again and officials started to evacuate the press box a second time before determining the alarm had malfunctioned while being reset.
The Patriots, meanwhile, seem to make malfunctioning an art form. They didn't get past midfield until the final four minutes of the first half.
It was so one-sided that coach Joe Gibbs, who had been unhappy with his team's play during training camp and last week's 16-7 exhibition loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, was almost apologetic after the game.
"I've been there as a first-year coach. They've got a tough deal now trying to get everybody organized. When you start off a game like that [Hoage's interception], for a young team that's tough," Gibbs said.
"We tried to go after it like a regular game plan. We were really concerned after last week so we went after this hard. On New England's behalf, that was as good as we can play and as hard as we can play," he said.
It was such a frustrating night for the Patriots that new coach Dick MacPherson started out after the game talking about the weather.
"I didn't think we'd have a night like we had from a weather standpoint. It was just a perfect night for football," he said.
He added, "I feel very good that something good is going to happen when it's supposed to."
The Patriots can only wonder when it's supposed to.
Several Redskins stood out in the easy victory.
The first, of course, was Hoage, who was starting because Brad Edwards missed the game with a minor knee injury.
The Redskins decided Todd Bowles, who's now in San Francisco, didn't fit into their plans because he wasn't making enough big plays at free safety.
Hoage made one by anticipating where Millen was going to throw his first pass. "He didn't expect to see me over there," Hoage said.
Hoage overplayed the left side and Millen, aiming for Irving Fryar, threw the ball right into Hoage's hands.
Talking about the Redskins' quest for more big plays from the free safety, Hoage, who had seven tackles, said, "I hope that qualifies."
After Hoage's big play, the offense took over and quarterback Mark Rypien, wide receiver Stephen Hobbs and running backs Earnest Byner and Brian Mitchell all had good nights.
Rypien, who was bothered by a stiff back last week, had no problems with his back as he completed seven of 11 passes for 109 yards and a touchdown.
"I really tested it hard in warm-ups," Rypien said. "I wanted to test it to find out for sure if there were any problems and there weren't. It felt real good."
Hobbs, who is fighting for the fourth wide-receiver slot with Walter Stanley and Joe Johnson, caught four passes, including a diving touchdown catch, for 69 yards.
"I made it look hard," Hobbs said with a smile about his catch.
Byner got a good tuneup as he gained 48 yards in 10 carries while Mitchell, who's been overshadowed by rookie Ricky Ervins, ran eight times for 45 yards. Ervins sat out the game with a bruised thigh.
The one player who struggled on offense was running back Gerald Riggs, who gained only 10 yards in eight carries.
Gibbs blamed Riggs' poor showing on the blocking.
"We haven't got him a real good chance. We've got to get him in there with front-line guys early," he said.