The Patriots bounced back from a two-score deficit in the first half to take a halftime 14-10 lead into the locker room against the Washington Commanders on Sunday, however, the Commanders unleashed their potent passing attack in the second half, making up the four-point difference and taking away a 20-17 win at Gillette Stadium. With a late chance to tie the game up, Mac Jones threw a deflected interception that closed out the comeback bid.
The loss drops the Patriots to 2-7 on the season, as the Commanders racked up over 430 yards of offense that easily offset New England's two takeaways during the game that helped make it a close contest.
Here's our instant analysis of how it all went down for New England.
The New England Patriots take on the Washington Commanders in Week 9 at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, November 5, 2023.
1. Commanders open scoring
The two teams traded punts to open the game, with New England going for it on a fourth-and-three that fell incomplete giving the ball back to Washington. It appeared that Mac Jones had Tyquan Thornton on a crossing route on the play but was unable to get the ball to him. The Pats converted two third downs on the drive but were unable to pick up the final three yards after Thornton had been tackled short of the line to gain on third down.
New England inserted Conor McDermott at left tackle in place of the injured Trent Brown while Michael Onwenu again got the start at right tackle. Demario Douglas was active early, as was Rhamondre Stevenson who had an important 13-yard gain on third-and-11 that kept the inital drive alive.
Washington would make the most of their fourth-down stop, stringing together a nine-play, 42-yard drive that New England stopped at their 19-yard line, forcing the Commanders to settle for a three-point lead to start the game. Sam Howell had some success with the short passing game, while Brian Robinson picked up one third-and-one conversion along the way.
New England started Shaun Wade at cornerback in a departure from recent personnel decisions, J.C. Jackson entered the game on Washington's third possession, but it was Jonathan Jones who exited as Jones continues to manage a knee injury. Jack Jones looked to also be relegated to a reserve role but entered the game in the second quarter.
After another three-and-out by the Patriots offense, the Commanders put together a more impressive scoring drive, punctuated by a 26-yard reception by Byron Pringle on a third-and-seven. The Patriots blitzed Howell on the play, but the quarterback was able to just get the ball out as he fell backward, completing the pass to Pringle who was left wide open in the middle of the field. The Patriots pass defense looked to be on differing pages as multiple defenders occupied one side of the field.
Washington took some deep shots on the drive as New England was lucky to avoid allowing an explosive scoring play. Jabrill Peppers came up with a last-second pass breakup on a would-be deep shot score.
But even that play was all for not, as Washington would cap off the 11-play, 80-yard drive with a touchdown run by Brian Robinson off the offensive right edge. His nine-yard touchdown made it 10-0 Washington early in the second quarter.
2. Patriots get on the board
Once again the Patriots found themselves in a double-digit points hole in the first half but the defense stepped up and made the kind of play the team desperately needed. It started with Jahlani Tavai punching the ball out of Brian Robinson's arms and Davon Godchaux pouncing on it. It set Mac and the offense up inside Washington territory and three plays later they'd find pay dirt with Mac hitting Hunter Henry up the seam for a 14-yard touchdown that finally got the Patriots on the board and back into the game.
The Patriots defense has shown a rising ability to force turnovers with five in the three preceding games. With the offense struggling to string together any drives, the takeaway came at a critical moment before the Commanders could run away with the game. Slowly but surely the D is making the kind of plays long expected in New England.
The turnover and touchdown highlighted two players who have had strong seasons despite the team's two-win season thus far, as Tavai and Henry have continued to make plays through the team's struggles. Henry has had a resurgent 2023 while Tavai has broken out as a key contributor in his third season with New England.
3. Rhamondre... GONE
This week's player to watch was Rhamondre Stevenson and in the second quarter he lived up to the billing with the longest touchdown run of his career, 64 yards. The line opened wide open as Stevenson received the handoff and good downfield blocking, notably by Jalen Reagor, helped spring him for the huge scoring play.
It's been a grind for Stevenson this year, but he's shown sparks in recent weeks including his big run against the Bills that set up the game-winning score and a number of promising broken tackles last week against the Dolphins.
Still, this wasn't the usual kind of Rhamondre run as he was untouched through the line of scrimmage and turned on his underrated jets as he scampered to the score, handing the Patriots their first lead of the game, 14-10. Just like that the Patriots flipped the script and took the lead when it looked like they might fall behind to an insurmountable lead early on.
4. Dugger pick bails out D
After New England took the lead Washington put together another sustained drive that the defense, with a maddening conversion on third-and-23 that featured a rush and broken tackle by Howell himself. The Patriots defense's poor tackling and loose downfield coverage was a major issue during the 15-play, 75-yard drive, as Washington looked poised to take back the lead before the half.
After converting a third-and-10 to set them up just outside the end zone, Howell made his biggest mistake of the game, trying to force the ball into the end zone, but it was thrown right to Kyle Dugger who made the interception and preserved New England's lead into the halftime.
Most notable was Washington's domination in time of possession, as they held a 21:42 to 8:18 advantage through the first 30 minutes thanks to their long sustained drives. But as is often the case, two turnovers trumped all else and the Patriots took their 14-10 lead to the locker room at the half.
It was Dugger's second interception in two games as he's shown signs of life in his fourth season by making some plays on the ball.
5. Commanders hit a bomb
The Patriots extended their lead on the first drive of the second half, aided by a questionable roughing the passer call on a third down that helped push the drive into scoring range. They'd fail to pick up another first down from there, settling for a 43-yard field goal that made it 17-10.
But the Commanders would bounce back from three lackluster possessions that included two turnovers, with Sam Howell unleashing a 33-yard bomb to Jahan Dotson that would knot things up at 17-17. The Patriots downfield coverage had plenty of problems in this game and were lucky to see several drops by the Commanders. This throw by Howell was one of higher difficulty than most of the drops, yet Dotson was able to secure the catch with Jonathan Jones and Myles Bryant all over him. The big play stopped the bleeding for Washington after they had allowed 17 straight points. The big play made it a new game midway through the third quarter.
Washington would re-take the lead on their next drive, hitting big plays of 26 and 36 yards to Terry McLaurin that set up a 30-yard field goal that made it 20-17. It was just an eight-play, 65-yard scoring drive as the Commanders continued to have plenty of success moving the ball.
New England would get their opportunities to catch up but had four straight punts following their field goal on the opening drive of the second half. Still, it looked like their defense had come up with one final forced punt until Mack Wilson was flagged for being offsides on the punt, handing Washington a new set of downs that cost the Pats more time on the clock.
The defense would then force a final punt just before the two-minute warning to give Mac and the offense one last crack at tying the game with a field goal. The offense moved the ball well on the drive, converting a big fourth down near midfield with an impressive catch from Juju Smith-Schuster, but just two plays later a deflected pass attempt from Jones was intercepted, closing out the win for Washington.
6. Patriots are now 2-7
With the loss, the Patriots season record falls to 2-7 and they are now facing a trip across the Atlantic Ocean to Germany where they'll take on the Colts in Frankfurt next week. The Patriots continued a helpful trend of getting much-needed takeaways and those changed the dynamic of the game in the second quarter. However, New England's defense was unable to contain the Commanders passing attack, while the Patriots offense couldn't muster enough points to keep up in the second half. It wasn't so much the mistakes that cost New England the game this time around, but rather a lack of complementary three-phase football that certainly left a lot to be desired on offense and defense.