Say this for the Patriots: They took advantage of the opportunities they had. New England had the ball for only 3:07 in the opening quarter, but still led at the end of it. The first score came on defense, as Rex Grossman held onto the ball too long in the end zone, allowing Andre Carter to beat Willie Smith and knock the ball away. Vince Wilfork picked up the fumble in the end zone for a touchdown. The Pats’ other score came on a two-play, 60-yard “drive” that consumed less than a minute and consisted of two passes from Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski — the first of which was aided when cornerback DeAngelo Hall stood there like the house by the side of the road, to borrow from the great Ernie Harwell. The Redskins blew a chance at a TD in the middle of the quarter but converted late, as Roy Helu set up a Grossman-to-Jabar Gaffney 9-yard score. Helu ended up outrushing the Patriots 55 yards to 1 in the quarter.
The quarter certainly started with a flourish, with Brandon Banks hitting Santana Moss for a 49-yard touchdown on a reverse pass to give the Redskins their first lead of the afternoon. But despite defensive atrocities throughout the quarter by New England, the Patriots were even with their hosts at halftime. They could easily have been ahead, too, having squandered TD chances on a pair of drives that ended in field goals. Midway through the quarter, Aaron Hernandez dropped a sure TD pass from Brady on third down. And the Pats had a great opportunity on the final drive of the half — aided by an absurd roughing call on London Fletcher — but couldn’t close it out and settled for three once again. Of course, the Redskins benefitted from an equally ridiculous call, this one a roughing the passer penalty against Carter, that helped set up a field goal of their own just before that final Patriots drive.
There were positives once again for the Redskins in the third quarter, as the offense continued to take advantage of New England’s pitiful pass defense and picked up another touchdown when another receiver (David Anderson this time) ran free in the end zone to give Grossman an easy target. But that play and the continued piling up of yards weren’t enough to put the Redskins ahead, as Brady kept coming up with answers. Not that they didn’t have help. Take Hall, for example. In his second boneheaded play of the day, he was flagged for a 5-yard holding penalty, then managed to get 15 more yards by picking up the flag and throwing it. That paved the way for another Gronkowski TD, this one coming at the expense of Ryan Kerrigan. More impressive was Brady’s work later in the quarter, when he eluded the type of rush that always seems to frazzle Grossman and hit Wes Welker for a 24-yard score.
Both teams had their chances to make something happen in the final quarter, but mistakes prevented any headway by either offense and left the game as it was at the end of the third for a tenuous Patriots win. The Redskins’ first drive of the quarter was backed up from the start when a holding penalty against Maurice Hurt wiped out what would have been a 26-yard gain, prompting a rare three-and-out. The Patriots started their next drive at midfield and were headed for what could have been a putaway TD when Brady threw behind Welker at the goal line, then saw Josh Wilson make a great play to pick him off in the back of the end zone. That gave the Redskins minutes to mount a game-tying (or go-ahead) drive, and a pair of third-down completions by Grossman helped move things along. But it all went for naught when Moss was flagged for pass interference, then lost the ball for an interception.
For a team that was trailing, Washington seemed like it had the momentum as it drove for what could have been the tying score in the fourth quarter. The Redskins appeared to have it when Santana Moss caught a 5-yard TD, but he was flagged for offensive pass interference after pushing off a defender. Two plays later, Moss couldn’t handle a Rex Grossman pass over the middle and saw it bounce into the arms of Jerod Mayo for a game-sealing interception.