FOXBOROUGH – The Patriots should be about losing. Play just well enough to compete, but just bad enough to lose.
This was mentioned in a Globe article Sunday morning. This season should be more about a high draft pick next year, not trying to win and damage their draft position. If you the Patriot fan also feel this way, you got exactly what you wanted on Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium.
Presented with a beatable 3-5 Washington Commanders team, with a quarterback you likely have never heard of, at home in front of a still-friendly crowd, this was a game the Patriots should have won. Instead, a late interception sealed a 20-17 loss, putting a capper on a totally regrettable game which was rife with bad defense, bad offense, lots of mistakes and a bad team totally unable to take advantage of what was presented to them.
The Patriots are now 2-7, with no shot at the playoffs, and now you will see a lot more people jumping on the “tank the season” bandwagon.
Sam Howell, a second year quarterback out of North Carolina, wound up as the Commanders’ quarterback at the end of the previous season after Carson Wentz and Taylor Heinecke flamed out. This year, he beat out former Patriot backup Jacoby Brissett and earned the starting job. But for one ill-advised pass at the end of the first half, he was magnificent for most of the day even though much of his success was the residue of bad coverage, bad schemes, and a Patriot defense that had an awful time getting off the field on third down.
The Commanders gifted the Patriots two first half turnovers, otherwise this game would have been a complete blowout. With 10:25 left in the first half, Brian Robinson suffered a fumble thanks to a terrific punchout by Jahlani Tavai, which Davon Godchaux recovered at the Washington 25. Three plays later with a short field to work with, Mac Jones hit Hunter Henry in the right seam for a 14-yard touchdown pass to make it 10-7 Commanders. On their next drive, Rhamondre Stevenson cracked off a 64-yard touchdown run to give the Patriots their only lead at 14-10. It was a simple right tackle run where Stevenson ran through a huge hole and Jalen Reagor had a terrific downfield block to spring Stevenson.
Following Stevenson’s touchdown, Washington took over at their own 20 with six minutes left in the first half. This was the most exasperating drive of the day, which miraculously ended in an end zone pick. On the drive, the Commanders converted on all three of their third downs, from ten yards, 23 yards, and ten yards. The “23” is not a typo. How it was pulled off perhaps encapsulates the Patriot season in a nutshell.
Washington was on their own 44, and they had to get to the Patriot 33 for a first down. Howell took the snap, and most of the receivers did patterns on the right side of the formation. It left a huge gap in the left side, so Howell took off. About ten yards short of the line to gain, Jalen Mills and Adrian Phillips had decent shots to tackle Howell, and they both whiffed completely. Jonathan Jones was finally able to push Howell out of bounds at the 32, completing a 24-yard gain. This play deflated the Patriots greatly, and should have led to a Washington touchdown. Four plays after this scramble, Howell again converted on third and ten with a left sideline completion to Byron Pringle. Washington had the ball first and goal at the five.
What happened next should have been the linchpin for a Patriot win, but such was not to be. Following the Pringle first down, Howell took the snap and rolled to his right. He tried to hit Jahan Dotson in the end zone, but he wasn’t open and the pass went right to Kyle Dugger in the end zone. Dugger should have fallen down for a touchback, but instead tried to run the ball out of the end zone. Still, the Patriots went into intermission ahead, 14-10.
Missed opportunities were the story again for the Patriots. (PHOTO:Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)
The Patriots opened the second half with a 43-yard field goal by Chad Ryland, but punted on their next four drives. Howell responded with a 33-yard touchdown pass to Dotson, and a field goal put the Commanders up 20-17. The Patriots were able to keep the Commanders off the scoreboard from then on, but a terrible penalty late in the game cost Jones precious seconds on the final drive of the game.
With 2:25 left in the game and the Patriots down to two timeouts, the defense got a stop and the punt team came out. Pop Douglas had a nice return, and the Patriots were set at their own 43. Except Mack Wilson was called for being offside, as he left a fraction of a second early. The Commanders got a new set of downs and eventually punted four plays later, but the Patriots were by now out of timeouts and had only the two-minute warning.
Jones did drive the Patriots to the Washington 41 with 33 seconds left, almost in Ryland’s field goal range. But Jones tried to force a throw to JuJu Smith-Schuster in the right seam, and Jartavius Martin made the game clinching interception. Jones could not finish the drive like he did two weeks ago against Buffalo.
The Commanders outgained the Patriots in total yards, 432-327. Washington was 9 of 17 on third down conversions, while the Patriots were 3 of 12. The defense gave way too much ground overall, as their zone coverage schemes were easily picked apart by Howell.
Howell finished 26 of 45 passing for 325 yards, one touchdown, one interception and a rating of 84. The passing and receiving numbers don’t jump out at you, but if you watched the entire game, Howell looked at times like a near-elite quarterback who had terrific accuracy and field awareness.
Jones had 24 of 44 passing for 220 yards, one touchdown, one interception and a rating of 66.5. Smith-Schuster led the team with six catches, while Douglas led the team with 55 yards. Stevenson had 87 yards rushing, bolstered mostly by his long touchdown run.
Next week the Patriots will be over in Germany to take on the Colts, then a bye week follows. The Patriots usually do well in Europe, and the crowd will be decidedly pro-Patriots thanks to broadcaster/former Patriot Sebastian Vollmer.
That may not matter. Germans don’t want the Patriots to tank the season. That might not be the same for New Englanders. The Patriots are still portraying themselves as a bad team, and one has to wonder how many fans will soon start rooting for someone like Caleb Williams, J.J. McCarthy or Michael Penix Jr. becoming the next Patriot quarterback.
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