To beat the New England Patriots, a team must play perfectly for 60 minutes. Even when Tom Brady is so out of sorts he gets into a screaming match with his offensive coordinator, the Patriots still score so much that anything short of error-free football won’t cut it.
The Washington Redskins made two mistakes Sunday: one within the opening three minutes, another in the final 30 seconds. That was all it took for the defensively incompetent, offensively inconsistent Patriots to secure a 34-27 victory in Washington.
Can the Patriots defend their thesis any better than they defended against the Redskins? Here’s this week’s report card.
Brady can scream at Bill O’Brien all he wants, but throwing a softball to a well-covered and very inexperienced Tiquan Underwood was a stupid decision. The Patriots only needed a field goal for a two-possession lead with six minutes left in the game. Instead, Josh Wilson intercepted Brady, and the Patriots’ linebackers had to save the game. The interception highlighted just how out of sync Brady was with his receivers.
Brady completed less than 60 percent of his passes Sunday, and his receivers’ ability to get yards after catches accounted for many of his 357 passing yards. But Brady still threw three touchdowns; a third-quarter 24-yarder showed Brady’s impressive mobility, with him ducking and dodging tacklers before hitting Wes Welker in the end zone. Brady went 8-for-10 in the third quarter.
Running Backs: B-
Danny Woodhead averaged 5.1 yards per carry, but 71 yards and no touchdowns between three running backs aren’t good enough. The running backs so failed to establish themselves the Patriots abandoned the play-action pass. A better game from the offensive line might have sprung them for more yards, but this running corps so far hasn’t played well enough for playoff football, when rushing is so crucial.
Rob Gronkowski: A+
Rob Gronkowski so out-performed any other Patriot Sunday he gets his own grade, catching six passes for two touchdowns and a career-high 160 yards. He earned over 70 of those yards the hard way: after diving to make a 10-yard catch at midfield in the first quarter, Gronkowski got up, broke through two tackles at the same time and tiptoed down the sideline for an extra 39 yards. One play later, he set an NFL single-season record for touchdown receptions by a tight end by catching an 11-yard overhead bullet from Brady.
Gronkowski overpowered the Redskins again early in the third, yanking down a floater from Brady at the Washington 32 and then easily shedding linebacker Ryan Kerrigan to jog into the end zone.
If Gronkowski doesn’t start in the Pro Bowl, I’m boycotting it. I wasn’t going to watch the Pro Bowl anyway, but now I’ll have a better reason than “it’s stupid and no one tries.”
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: B+
Minus Gronkowski, this receiving corps didn’t put forth their best effort. Aaron Hernandez and Welker both dropped likely touchdown passes: Hernandez’s drop forced the Patriots to settle for a game-tying field goal in the second quarter, and Wilson picked off Brady on the very next play following Welker’s drop. Too many drops, too much trouble getting open. The receivers rarely receive worse grades than Brady, but this time they failed to use the opportunities he gave them.
Offensive Line: B
No running game, two sacks and a holding penalty against Matt Light kept this unit at a solid “B.” Had the offensive line better controlled the line of scrimmage, New England’s runners would have put up bigger numbers. Had the running game become a real threat, Washington would have had to back off the constant pressure. Sunday’s game showed how a lackluster performance by the offensive line can have a trickle down effect on the rest of the offense.
Defensive Line: B+
Minus a late-game sack from Brandon Deaderick, the defensive line’s pressure on Rex Grossman ceased three minutes into the game, when Andre Carter stripped him in the end zone and Vince Wilfork recovered it for the touchdown. Boneheaded plays by the defensive line later on wiped out the touchdown: Carter’s roughing the passer penalty midway through the second erased Devin McCourty‘s interception and led to a Redskins touchdown; Wilfork’s ridiculous and unnecessarily rough tackle on an already-down Evan Royster turned a third-and-14 into a first-and-10 early in the third that led to another touchdown.
Washington’s offensive line also thoroughly contained New England’s defensive line, letting Roy Helu rush for 127 yards and Grossman throw for 252 and two touchdowns.
The linebackers lost out on a straight “A” because of Helu’s rushing performance, but Rob Ninkovich made two tackles behind the line and Dane Fletcher got to Grossman once. No Redskins tight ends caught a pass, and oh yeah: Tracy White tipped a goal-line pass to Moss into the air, and Jerod Mayo sprawled to pick it off and clinch victory. That’s two interceptions for Mayo in two weeks – two more than he’d caught from 2008-2010.
Defensive Backs: D
McCourty still has a job only because the Patriots don’t have anyone to replace him. When he wasn’t committing pass interference on third-and-18 against a pass that wouldn’t have gotten a first down anyway, he was blocking James Ihedigbo in the end zone and causing an easy Redskin touchdown. And that’s not even all the times McCourty himself was yards behind his coverage.
The Redskins’ successful halfback pass from Brandon Banks to Santana Moss was a trick play that the defense had no way to see coming. But two defensive backs had a chance to make the tackle, and instead they just tripped each other up. The secondary keeps getting opportunities to show Patriots fans something, and they keep showing nothing.
Special Teams: A
Stephen Gostkowski nailed two field goals – both game-tying – and four extra points, and the coverage teams played penalty-free. The Redskins broke off no long returns on kickoffs or punts, and Zoltan Mesko out-punted Sav Rocca by nearly 8 yards per punt. That’s an “A” performance from special teams.