The Patriots improved to 8-0 on the season with a sluggish 27-10 victory over the Washington Redskins. Injuries to Sebastian Vollmer and Dion Lewis marred what was an otherwise positive day as the Patriots were forced to scramble with their personnel.
Here are some random thoughts from the victory:
LEWIS LOST –There's no question that Dion Lewis has emerged as one of the Patriots most indispensable parts over the first half of the season. Whether it be as a runner or a receiver, few players have been as productive in the Patriots productive offense. That's what made the turn of events in the second half on Sunday so difficult to handle. Lewis went down after catching a screen pass from Tom Brady, grabbing his left knee before he even took any contact. Lewis was able to walk off under his own power with trainers and the rest of the medical staff, but several teammates and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia offered some well wishes as he left for the locker room and the scene did not look good. Brandon LaFell talked about Lewis after the game, explaining how Lewis was the biggest part of the success of the offense over the first eight games of the season. If he is indeed out long term, it will put a lot of pressure on second-year back James White, who was inactive against the Redskins.
BOLDEN RULES –With White out and Lewis sidelined it left Brandon Bolden as the lone candidate to fill third-back duties. As is usually the case, Bolden was up to the task despite receiving very little time on offense this season. Bolden caught three passes for 27 yards including a beautiful 18-yard touchdown down the right sideline to close the scoring for the Patriots. Bolden has always been a valuable piece of the Patriots puzzle with his ability to perform on special teams but his contributions on offense when called upon have often been overlooked. Once again Bolden was ready when needed.
CRITICAL CONDITION –The Patriots took just six healthy offensive linemen into the game and soon lost one when Sebastian Vollmer had to leave the game in the second quarter with a head injury. That sent offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo into scramble mode and he eventually settled on inserting Bryan Stork at right tackle with plenty of help from all of the tight ends. Meanwhile, Cameron Fleming went from right tackle to left tackle, a position he later said he'd never played at any level. There were some plays when Stork had Ron Gronkowski, Michael Williams and Scott Chandler were all lined up to his right, and Williams spent the majority of the half next to him. There were some communication issues and things weren't as smooth as they would be with the starters but considering the fact that Stork was playing in his first game coming off short-term IR and working at a position he hasn't played much things went about as well as could be expected. The changes up front left the offense leaning heavily on the run game throughout the second half, which likely made things easier on Stork.
BLOUNT FORCE –The Patriots wanted to establish the run against a Redskins team that entered the game allowing an average of almost 5 yards a carry and they were able to do so. LeGarrette Blount had his strongest game of the season by far, racking up 129 yards on a career-best 29 carries. He added a touchdown and was on the verge of breaking a long one seemingly throughout the day. He was especially effective in the second and third quarters when New England offered up a steady diet of the big man and the Redskins simply couldn't handle the load. He did a great job of picking up the slack after Lewis went down. As a team the Patriots finished with 161 yards on the ground.
JONESIN' FOR MORE –Chandler Jones continued his torrid pace over the first half by picking up a sack in the second quarter. As was the case a week earlier against Miami, Jones shot off the edge and dropped Kirk Cousins for a 4-yard loss. The Patriots added a slight wrinkle on the play by having Jones rush from the defensive left side, the opposite of his normal positioning. He blew past right tackle Morgan Moses and easily dropped Cousins immediately for a big stop on third-and-seven. He now has 9.5 sacks on the season.
PRESEASON FEEL –The Patriots entered the game as two-touchdown favorites over the Redskins and it appeared as if Bill Belichick wanted to use it as a way to add some elements to the game plan. After the Patriots first touchdown Belichick called for an onside kick and Jonathan Freeny was able to recover after Washington's Ryan Grant bobbled Stephen Gostkowski's kick. New England also tried some different screens and deep balls during the first half with varying success. Dion Lewis got behind the defense but dropped a perfect bomb in the end zone, but Brandon LaFell was able to hang on when he got behind everyone for a 48-yard gain. There was nothing concrete about the Patriots approach but it certainly had a different look and feel at times, especially offensively.
FULL DAY FOR LAFELL –After an inauspicious season debut against the Jets when he dropped five passes, Brandon LaFell has returned to the form that saw him full a valuable role on the Patriots offense a season ago. He bounced back with a solid effort in Week 8 against Miami and added to that with another strong outing against Washington. LaFell finished with five catches for 102 yards including a 48-yard reception in the first quarter. LaFell offers a different element to the offense with his size on the outside and his ability to work over the middle on slants and in-cuts. It was the fifth 100-yard receiving game of LaFell's career.
FALLING IN LINE –With Jamie Collins out of the lineup due to an illness, Jonathan Freeny got the start alongside Dont'a Hightower at linebacker. Freeny was active and finished with four tackles, and he was forced to don the green dot helmet when Hightower was forced to the sideline for a series in the second half. Hightower eventually returned but took much of the fourth quarter off as Freeney and Jerod Mayo finished up. Even without Collins the run defense continued its strong play of late, holding the Redskins in check throughout.
EXTRA POINTS –The Patriots lost the coin toss for the second straight week but have still managed to win 19 of the last 26 to open the game. … The Patriots became the fourth defending champion to open the season 8-0, joining the 1990 49ers, 1998 Broncos and the 2011 Packers. The Broncos were the only one of the three to go back to back. … By scoring in every quarter New England now has points in its last 31 quarters, tying an NFL record set by the Rams (1999-2000) and Colts (2005). … The Patriots improved to 44-10 against the NFC since 2002. … After struggling a bit to start the season, the Patriots run defense has been dominant. Washington finished with 37 yards rushing and averaged just 2.5 yards per carry. … Julian Edelman scored his seventh touchdown of the season, establishing a career high. … Logan Ryan picked up his fourth interception of the year. … Bolden became the 59th player to catch a touchdown pass from Brady with his 18-yarder in the fourth quarter. … The Patriots successful onside kick was the Patriots first since Dec. 8, 2013, against Cleveland.