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Commanders Takeaway Patriots Comeback Hopes



New England Patriots running back Rhamondre Stevenson

Sunday’s game between the New England Patriots and Washington Commanders marked the midway point in the 2023 season for each team. They entered the game a combined record of 5-and-11. At the NFL Trade Deadline on Wednesday, Washington traded away their two starting defensive ends. Meanwhile, New England did nothing. On the surface, it appeared one franchise was still trying to win games this season, while the other had an eye on the 2024 NFL Draft.

But regardless of what the front offices had in mind, the players on both teams fought hard on Sunday. In a game with multiple major momentum shifts, the Commanders ultimately emerged with the 20-17 victory.

Washington Takes Command Early

New England’s defense forced a three-and-out on Washington’s opening drive. The Patriots offense had a solid opening drive. They converted multiple third downs, something they have struggled with in 2023. Mac Jones found Demario Douglas, Rhamondre Stevenson, and Hunter Henry to earn a fresh set of downs on the drive. But the Patriots drive stalled out in Commanders territory. Bill Belichick opted to go for it on fourth down, but a pass attempt to Tyquan Thornton missed badly. Washington got the ball back and made the most of it.

Sam Howell led a drive down to the Patriots red zone. Dyami Brown picked up the largest gain on a 19-yard reception. But the Patriots defense held tight on a third-and-one play that got stuffed. Washington was forced to settle for a short field goal and the 3-0 lead.

When the Patriots went there-and-out on their next possession, the Commanders had a a chance to add to their lead. After taking the 3-0 lead into the second quarter, they did just that.

Washington drove 80 yards on 10 plays for the game’s first touchdown. The big play came on a 26-yard completion to Byron Pringle on a third-and-seven play. Howell found Pringle wide open in the middle of the field, and the drive continued from there. It ended with Brian Robinson, Jr. taking advantage of some good blocks and his own good speed. Robinson ran completely untouched into the end zone for a nine-yard touchdown. Commanders led 10-0, something the Patriots have struggled to overcome all season.

Nothing is More Important Than Ball Security

Bill Belichick continues to be proven correct on a weekly basis. Nothing is more important than ball security in the NFL. Games are decided each week by costly turnovers and it appeared Sunday would be no different.

After the Patriots punted while already down 10-0, the game had a chance to get away from them. But Jahlani Tavi forced a fumble on the Commanders second play, knocking the ball out of Brian Robinson Jr.’s hands. Davon Godchaux landed on the loose ball for the games first turnover. New England wasted no time taking advantage.

Ezekiel Elliott ran the ball consecutive times to pick up a first down for New England. Then Mac Jones found Hunter Henry in the end zone for a Patriots touchdown. The extra point closed the Commanders lead to 10-7. Momentum shifted to the Patriots side and the Gillette Stadium crowd came to life.

After the Patriots defense forced a punt, New England took over at their own 16-yard line. Two plays later New England was back in the end zone. First Mac Jones hit JuJu Smith-Schuster for a 20-yard gain. On the next play Rhamondre Stevenson took a handoff to the right and took it the distance. A 64-yard touchdown run made the score 14-10 New England. Both OG Cole Strange and WR Jalen Reagor threw key blocks to help spring the run for Stevenson. It was the longest rush of his NFL career.

Nothing is More Important Than Ball Security, Part Two

Despite the two second half touchdowns by the Patriots, the Commanders had a chance to regain momentum heading into halftime. Washington controlled the ball for nearly six minutes of game clock. They drove 17 plays, converting third downs on three different third-and-long situations. First there was a 13-yard completion to Pringle on third-and-ten. Next there was a third-and-23 situation, and Sam Howell scrambled and picked up 24 yards on a run. It was a possible back breaker of a play. Especially when Washington converted again three plays later. This time it was via a 16-yard pass to Pringle. Covering opposing tight ends has been an issue for the Patriots defense all season, and this drive was no different.

The last completion to Pringle set up a first-and-goal from the Patriots five-yard line. Sam Howell rolled to his right, appearing to look for his tight end yet again. But this time Pringle was covered well and Howell inexplicably tossed the ball directly to New England safety Kyle Dugger. The interception allowed New England to end the first half on a positive note and maintain their 14-10 lead at halftime.

Washington Wins the Third Quarter

New England Patriots received to start the second half. They possessed the ball for nearly five minutes. The drive was aided by a questionable roughing the passer call when Mac Jones hit as he released the ball. There was no elaboration on what led to the call, but it certainly benefitted the Patriots. Although the offense didn’t take full advantage of the gift, they were able to put three points on the board when Chad Ryland’s field goal was good. This increased their lead to 17-10.

But the Commanders answered back with authority. After driving down to the Patriots 33-yard line, their next play scored with shocking ease. Washington wide receiver Jahan Dotson simply ran by New England defensive back Myles Bryant, made the catch, and scored a touchdown. The game was tied back up at 17 apiece.

Following a New England Patritos punt on their next drive, the Commanders moved the ball once again. Consecutive completions to Terry McLaurin for 26 and 36 yards moved the football from the Washington 26-yard line to the New England 12. The Patriots defense managed to hold tough in the red zone, holding the Commanders to another field goal attempt. The kick from Joey Slye sailed through the uprights. Washington held a 20-17 lead entering the fourth quarter.

Busy Fourth for the Punters

The two offenses combined for as many first downs as punts on the first six possessions of the fourth quarter: six of each. Both teams punted on their first three possessions of the quarter as neither team seemed in a rush to take control.

Washington’s third possession was stalled when Bryant made a nice open field tackle on third down. Mac Jones was going to get the ball back with a chance to lead the New England Patriots to their second fourth quarter comeback of 2023.

Nothing is More Important Than Ball Security, Part Three

The New England Patriots offense took the field with 2:07 remaining. Due to penalties on the punt return, the drive began at New England’s own nine-yard line. The Patriots needed a field goal to tie, a touchdown to win.

Rhamondre Stevenson caught the ball out of the backfield for a 15-yard gain on the opening play. It gave the Patriots some room and brought the game to the two-minute warning of regulation. Mac Jones then found Hunter Henry for eight yards and JuJu Smith-Schuster for 15 on consecutive plays. Momentum was on their side as they worked the middle of the field to get it out to their own 45-yard line.

Two incompletions later, including a strange decision to throw deep for tight end Mike Gesicki, and the Patriots were facing third-and-10. A six-yard completion to Stevenson set up a fourth down play. Smith-Schuster made a nice catch, showing good hand strength and picking up the first down on a six-yard completion.

With a fresh set of downs and the ball at Washington’s 49-yard line with 1:02 remaining, New England was in excellent shape to at least get into field goal range. Jones scrambled out-of-bounds for a two-yard gain on the next play. Then he went back to Smith-Schuster across the middle.  Jones’ pass hit Smith-Schuster in the hands but he wasn’t able to bring it in. The ball deflected to Jartavious Martin, who secured it for the interception.

Game over. Commanders win 20-17.

What’s Next…

The New England Patriots (2-7) travel to Germany, where they will play the Indianapolis Colts in Frankfurt.