LANDOVER, Md. – Something just didn't feel right.
Even before the game's first snap from scrimmage, the Patriots' normally dominant defense had a mental breakdown, sending 12 players onto the field. They noticed their error before Clay Martin's officiating crew did, but had to waste a timeout in order to get pass rusher John Simon off the field.
That uncharacteristic mistake seemed a portent of poor play to come from the Patriots in the first quarter.
To their credit, the D wound up stuffing the Colt McCoy-led Redskins offense on that first drive, thanks to a tackle-for-loss by LB Dont'a Hightower and an 8-yard sack by rookie Chase Winovich and Kyle Van Noy. However, on the second play of Washington's second possession, WR Steven Sims took an end-around handoff from McCoy and, by virtue of a bad missed tackle by a couple of Patriots defenders, scooted 65 yards down the right sideline (along the Redskins' bench) for a touchdown. New England trailed – for the first time all season – 7-0.
Van Noy appeared to be held trying to get into the backfield, by no flag was thrown by Martin's officiating crew.
"We went to the sideline, made the adjustments, seeing what went wrong," Hightower recalled in the post-game locker room, "went back out the next series and tried to do better. It's football. There's going to be adversity. Worst thing you can do is shut down. It's one play."
"It was just on us," CB Stephon Gilmore admitted. "Nothing they did. We just had to tighten up and we did that after that."
That score appeared to galvanize the Patriots' O, which had sputtered on its first drive and lost WR Phillip Dorsett early to a hamstring injury. Dropped passes, overthrown balls, and poor pass protection for QB Tom Brady plagued the Patriots throughout the first half.
"I had a drop, I jumped offsides," WR Julian Edelman lamented later. "It's unacceptable stuff… We just started executing. Guys started getting hat on hat and the backs started running well. That proves if you're a tough football team, if you can run the football."
New England managed to trim the Washington lead with a six-play 75-yard ensuing touchdown drive that took less than two-and-a-half minutes. Brady zinged passes to several players along the way, including his running backs and tight ends, but Edelman finished it off with a six-yard catch and dive into the end zone.
However, the score remained 7-6, as New England's kicking woes continued. Newly-signed kicker Mike Nugent pushed his first-ever boot as a Patriot wide right.
"Yeah, first game [for me] since Week 3 last year," Nugent remarked afterward. "I've always really been in love with the pursuit of getting better, chasing guys like Stephen [Gostkowski, who's on IR], and being able to kick as well as he has in his career. If I want to do that, I have a lot of work to do."
Meanwhile, the defense got back to business, as Danny Shelton later brought McCoy down for a 7-yard loss and Washington punted. Yet, New England's offense kept sputtering.
An offensive pass interference penalty by TE Ryan Izzo, an Edelman false start, and a (correct) overturned review of a spotted first-down resulted in a 4th-and-1 for the Patriots from the Washington 22. Rather than give Nugent a chance at a 40-yarder, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels called a direct snap to RB Sony Michel, who didn't get good blocking from his teammates and was stuffed for a two-yard loss.
Nugent later nailed a 37-yard field goal to give the Patriots a 9-7 advantage in the early second quarter.
Late in the second, on fourth-and-inches from around midfield, instead of going for it, the Patriots punted. However, CB Jonathan Jones forced a Washington fumble deep in Redskin real estate, giving the O a favorable scoring opportunity… which the offense squandered when Brady threw an ill-advised toss-up ball toward the end zone. The Skins picked off the pass and took over at their own 1-yard line.
Washington couldn't do any damage from there, though. New England suffocated the Skins and eventually got the ball back, but the Patriots remained lethargic offensively.
When Jason McCourty intercepted McCoy with under a minute to play, down in Washington territory, it looked like the Patriots might punch it into the end zone again. But Brady threw two passes out of the back of the end zone intentionally to avoid sacks and the Patriots settled for a 23-yard Nugent field goal.
Brady and the O looked much more like themselves at the outset of the third quarter. They casually marched 75 yards in seven plays, with Brady finding Brandon Bolden on a beautiful 29-yard touchdown pass. Nugent drilled the point-after to up the score to 19-7.
After the D forced another Washington punt, the O followed up with an even more impressive TD drive: six plays, 88 yards, in just over three minutes. Much of that yardage came from a big catch-and-run by Edelman and two long Michel runs, the second of which was a 14-yard score. Nugent's PAT gave the Patriots a 26-7 lead late in the third.
"Came out and played football. We had our ups and downs," Michel acknowledged, "but got better in the second half."
Defensively, New England kept on bullying the Redskins, punctuated by what looked at first like a perfectly set-up screen pass by McCoy. His running back had three blockers and a lot of green grass ahead of him, but LB Ja'Whaun Bentley came out of nowhere to drop Chris Thompson for a three-yard loss with a devastating tackle that woke up the dormant FedExField crowd – much of which was decked out in Patriots garb.
Those visiting fans had more to celebrate when Michel gobbled up more yards en route to an eventual Brady-to-Izzo wide-open touchdown throw.
For the second consecutive game, the Patriots, on both sides of the ball, weren't at their best overall, but today, they overcame relatively sloppy first-half efforts to leave the nation's capital with a thoroughly lopsided victory. They now have just a few days to prepare for the New York Giants, Thursday night's opponent.
"Obviously, last week [in Buffalo], we didn't play our best," RB James White commented. "[Being 5-0], it's cool and all, but we still have a long way to go. It's still early in the season. You don't get anything for being 5-0. We've got to keep going. Just got to get ready for the Giants."
"It was good," Edelman concluded, "to come out and get a good, big road win."
The New England Patriots take on the Washington Redskins in a regular season game at FedExField on Sunday, October 6, 2019.