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Game Observations: Patriots find second-half stride, dispatch Redskins 33-7

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The Patriots once again followed their defense’s lead, riding out an inconsistent start before finding their ground game and an offensive stride in the second half to help them pull away and secure their fifth victory of the season.

The defense was every bit as dominant as we’ve come to expect this season despite giving up a flashy long touchdown early in the game. After that they returned to their shutdown ways, including forcing two turnovers to add to their league lead.

What was a first-half slog turned into a second-half romp, including nice runs by Sony Michel, the first touchdown of the season by a tight end and some feel-good moments that swept the early-game struggles under the rug.

They were almost tested for a second-straight week, but the Patriots did what they usually do - stay the course, adjust and win. That will buy them time and even more leeway to figure their issues out, because there are still issues on the offensive side of the ball.

Here’s everything else that stood out from a solid Patriots road win as the train keeps rolling.

-Starting the game out with a defensive timeout was a first and Belichick looked agitated as the Patriots scrambled to change personnel and just avoided a 12-men penalty. It was a strange miscue out of the gate but wasn’t a harbinger of things to come.

-The 65-yard TD rush by Steven Sims was one of the only times this season the Patriots defense has gotten gashed and looked really bad. There was a tough missed tackle by Devin McCourty but it looked like Kyle Van Noy was held briefly on the edge as well. It was just the second touchdown of the season allowed for the defense and little more than a speed bump in this game.

-The Patriots made a quick response to being behind for the first time this season, with a well-paced drive sparked by a nice catch by Ryan Izzo and another up the seam by Matt LaCosse. The team hasn’t been able to run many two-tight-end sets this season but it would appear LaCosse is starting to get healthy and that could open some things up. Izzo’s second-half touchdown was a nice development for him as he’s been doing a lot of the dirty work through the early part of the season.

-The Redskins had too much success rushing three defenders, getting two sacks on Brady’s first 13 drop backs. The Pats didn’t seem interested in running the ball early, instead they had a focus on no-huddle and quick throws. It was a strange tactic, to ignore running the ball against the29th-ranked run defense in the NFL. As a result, the offense was one-dimensional and struggled to find a rhythm until the second half when they started running the ball.

-The Patriots first fourth-down attempt of the season was snuffed out as they tried a direct snap to James White. It’s a far departure from the powerful running game of last season and, with no James Develin and just one rushing yard in the first quarter, the Pats went with trickery instead of physicality, a tradeoff we don’t see often in New England.

-Dont’a Hightower blew up two-straight plays after the failed fourth-down attempt. After getting a week off with a shoulder injury, Hightower was all over the field, with four tackles-for-loss to go with a sack-and-a-half and two QB hits.

-Jake Bailey handled the kickoffs with no problem, sending all into the end zone, though some of his punts were a bit sporadic. Mike Nugent missed his first kick as a Patriot, an extra point, but made the second, a 37-yarder, and a 23-yarder just before halftime to give the Pats a five-point lead. He’d add two more issue-free extra points in the second half, though a third hit off the upright and through. All things considered it was a decent debut. We’ll see what happens if/when the Pats need a long field goal in a tight must-win game though.

-The offense continued to look sporadic in the first half, with a focus on running the no huddle. Brady set a personal high with 31 passing attempts in the first half. What’s clear is that Gordon-Edelman-White continue to be the only weapons in the passing game capable of making plays and everyone else is window dressing. The spread offense played with tempo just doesn’t seem to have the same effect as it did back when we called it “The Scalpel”.

-Jonathan Jones forced a fumble and Jamie Collins recovered it, as the defense once again tried to spark things but a blitz forced a bad throw by Brady that was intercepted. The pass protection had been pretty good through the first quarter of the season, but seemed to regress this week in Washington, allowing three sacks and seven QB hits in the first half. They’d add another sack and two more QB hits in the second half as the running game took some heat off.

-Even after that failure, Jason McCourty gave the Pats their second takeaway just before halftime, but again the offense could not take advantage and had to settle for a field goal. This kind of bad situational football continues to be surprising and must be as frustrating for the team as it is for the fans.

-The Pats had a renewed focus on running the ball to start the second half, but it was still a grind aside from one 11-yard gain by Sony Michel. A 21-yard catch on third down by James White, followed by a 29-yard touchdown catch by Brandon Bolden were the two big plays that helped extend the lead to 19-7 and they never looked back.

-The running game started to really produce on the second drive of the second half, with Michel busting off a 25-yard run, then finishing things off with a tough 14-yard scamper into the end zone. Maybe one drive can turn a season around, as these kinds of tough runs that have been mostly absent through four games. Still, Washington seemed like they faded quickly as the lead grew and had less and less interest in playing hard.

-Julian Edelman looked to be moving better this week than he was last week against the Bills, but was still noticeably favoring his ribs at times. Edelman finished with an Edelman-like eight catches for 110 yards and a touchdown. If he’s healthy and his usual self, the Pats offense will have a chance against anyone, even despite their lack of overall weaponry. Jules is that good.

-James White was the offensive MVP though, finishing with six catches for 46 yards, and six carries for 26 yards. White is the only healthy difference maker on the offense right now and they must continue to lean on him.

The Patriots have a quick turnaround to Thursday night when they’ll welcome the Giants and then get an extended break until the following Monday night. The mini-bye week will be a great time to heal some bumps and bruises and recalibrate what’s working and what’s not.

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