FOXBOROUGH - Like the Jaguars game in Week 3, this Redskins contest had all the look and feel of a preseason game. There was a general lack of enthusiasm about it from fans and media… even when Tom Brady came marching out onto the field for his pregame warm-up session, it lacked its typical luster. He trotted the length of the field to the south end zone, as normal. However, he typically punches the air with authority and yells for the fans in that end zone to cheer his arrival. This time, Brady just gave a perfunctory clap and turned back toward the sideline.
The game itself played out nearly as most anticipated. New England came out moving the ball with ease, making big plays, and scoring right off the bat, then recovering a surprise on-side kick. Washington, meanwhile, couldn't catch a cold. Kirk Cousins' receivers didn't do him any favors, either. The 'Skins QB made some on-target throws to start, but his teammates just couldn't hold on. His first throw, in fact, resulted in an interception after it bounced off the facemask of Pierre Garcon.
Yup, it got boring pretty quickly, as the Patriots jumped out to a 27-3 lead. And it never even felt that competitive.
In games like this, aside from the final score, the most important victory is coming out healthy, not losing any of your key players to injury. In that regard, the Patriots weren't so fortunate.
Running back Dion Lewis, one of the pleasant surprises for this year's Patriots, appeared to suffer a serious left knee injury with about five minutes to play in the third quarter. After taking a screen pass from Tom Brady, Lewis turned up-field and made a hard cut to elude a Redskins defender. As he fell to the ground, Lewis clutched the knee with his left hand, apparently sensing that he'd done something damaging.
Lewis lay on the turf for several minutes while the team's medical staff assessed his situation. He eventually walked off under his own power, but his actions seemed to indicate that he would not be back – in the game and possibly for the season. Lewis walked straight to the locker room with the medical staff, but halfway there, he was stopped by defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, who was seemingly offering the injured ball carrier some words of encouragement.
Check out the best images from the Patriots Week 9 game against the Washington Redskins at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, November 8, 2015.
In the post-game locker room, several of Lewis' teammates lamented his loss.
"It's terrible to see anyone go down," wide receiver Julian Edelman remarked. "But especially Dion. We don't necessarily know what it is, but he's been having a great year, he's a great asset to the team. I'm going to send good vibes his way."
"Man, it's hard," wide receiver Brandon LaFell said about watching Lewis go down, "because when you think about what we've been doing for these first eight games, Dion has been the biggest part of that – catching the ball out of the backfield, making guys miss in space. Hopefully, he heals up quick."
Replacing Lewis will be quite a challenge for the Patriots going forward. And as if that wasn't enough, New England's already-thin offensive line suffered yet another loss as well. The team went into the 'Skins game with just six o-linemen, then somewhere at the end of the first half, starting left tackle Sebastian Vollmer (who's playing in place of Nate Solder) left the game with a head injury and never came back. Cameron Fleming switched from right to left tackle, and Bryan Stork, fresh off short-term IR, jumped in at right tackle. Rookie David Andrews remained at center, rookie Shaq Mason at left guard, and veteran Josh Kline at right guard. Miraculously, despite the mid-game adjustments, Brady wasn't sacked once by the Redskins.
"We worked on rotating, just in case something happened," Fleming disclosed later. "We're all prepared to play, ready to contribute to the team, and we were able to keep Tom clean. That's the name of the game. I've never played that side before. It's cool. I liked it… I just hope [Vollmer] gets better and comes back soon."
It's unclear just how severe either of these two injuries is, but at first blush, Lewis' might be the more long-term concern. Vollmer, conceivably, could be back sooner, if history with this type of injury is any indication.
Losing key players is perhaps the only obstacle New England could face in its quest to repeat as Super Bowl champions. But you won't hear any of the players wasting much time worrying about such things.
"If someone goes down, you can't panic," Kline maintained. "You have to be even-keel, you know? You just have to step up. Next-man-up mentality. Everyone has to be prepared to step up and play any position any time. Sometimes [the coaches] will tell you if you're playing different positions, but everyone has to be on the same page no matter what position you're in. [Cam] played well. He stepped up, so did Stork and everyone else."
"That's what Bill always preaches: Next guy has to be ready," added LaFell. "Seabass [Vollmer] went out, next guy stepped in, moved Cam over to the left and he played a solid game. Moved Stork out to right tackle and he played solid. When Dion got injured, Brandon Bolden came in and L.G. [LeGarrette Blount] kept running the ball hard, but we always preach, next guy stay ready because you never know when it's going to be your time to play."
That, perhaps, is the lone consolation to be taken from this Pyrrhic victory over Washington.
"Hey, you put us anywhere, in any situation, and we'll figure out a way to come out," Bolden declared. "It starts from the top with Bill [Belichick]. He prepares everybody for any and everything. That's what you saw out there today. A lot of stuff happened out there, but everybody was ready. I'm proud of everyone for doing what they had to do."
"You never want to see a guy go down, especially nobody in your position group, but you have to do what has to be done in order for the team to keep going."
"It's unfortunate to have injuries in the NFL. It's just a part of the business," defensive end/co-captain Rob Ninkovich pointed out. "The team is very mentally tough, and that starts back in our offseason workouts, mini-camp, training camp – that's where you put in all that hard work and create that mentally tough attitude. So again, I think that it's unfortunate that we've had some injuries, but you just have to look forward and continue to push and have that next-man-up mentality."
So far for the unbeaten Patriots, it seems to be working.