FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — It’s easier during the halcyon days of training camp. The sun was out, there were still weeks until a game counted, so, why not be positive?
New Washington Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan, sun-burned, visor backward, assessed the status of the roster.
“We’re getting close,” McCloughan said then. “I feel very positive about this roster. Like I said, we’re not going to win every game this year, but when you play us, you’re going to know you played us. You’re going to see energy. You’re going to see toughness, competitiveness. You’re going to feel us. I guarantee it.”
On Sunday, his team lost to the New England Patriots, 27-10. If the Patriots felt anything, it was that they the game should not have been that close. Tom Brady, angered and spectacular all season, was mediocre. The Patriots fumbled the ball, threw interceptions, used an offensive line plugged with out-of-position players. Yet, the Redskins still had the chance of a mouse under the hoof of an elephant.
This is not an exclusive state against the Patriots, particularly when the setting is Gillette Stadium. But, the disparity between the organizations remains stark. And, the difference between New England and the rest of the league again appears to be widening despite subpar performance that, on Sunday, still produced a win with ease.
New England was without important parts. Outside linebacker Jamie Collins did not play because of the flu. The Patriots had to shift their offensive line because of injury. Cameron Fleming moved from right tackle to left tackle. He replaced Sebastian Vollmer, who replaced Nate Solder earlier in the season. In the second half, Bryan Stork, who was activated Sunday for the first time this season after being on short-term injured reserve, was playing right tackle. He was the Patriots’ center last season, when they won the Super Bowl.
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It was behind that line the Patriots put together 460 total yards. LeGarrette Blount ran for 129. Brady threw for 299. The Redskins neither ran nor threw the ball well.
There may not be a more crucial aspect in the NFL than replacing the injured and making it work. The league is predicated on plans being detonated by a twisted knee or rattled skull. Brady stopped himself on Sunday when explaining that play calls are nuanced, which can present a challenge to offensive linemen who have not worked much as a group and practice in different spots.
“Obviously, without those guys practicing at all at those positions, you won’t run a bunch of things — I guess we’ve never practiced anything with those guys in there, so anything we called would be new,” Brady said.
The freshness of the grouping was not an inhibitor. New England strolled to 8-0 surrounded by a this-could-have-been-better sense, lamenting its two first-quarter turnovers and multiple penalties. The 27 points were a season-low for New England. If the Redskins produce 27 points this season, it will be the second-most they have scored.
Brady is 38 and crushing one of life’s largest challenges: success-produced complacency. Judging by his fist pump and scream when he ran onto the field for the first game of the season after beating the NFL in court, Brady’s wiring received a zap from the din of “Deflategate.” He has thrown two touchdown passes in each game this season. After a pedestrian afternoon against the Redskins, he leads the league with 22 touchdown passes and two interceptions. If he maintains this pace, the 44 touchdown passes will be his most since he went bonkers and threw 50 in 2007.
With 12:13 remaining, Brady looked at the Redskins’ defense and called timeout. Once New England returned to the field for third-and-8 from the Redskins’ 18-yard line, third-string running back Brandon Bolden was split wide right. He ran past linebacker Perry Riley, Brady lofted a perfect throw, and the play became an easy touchdown.
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The score was exploitation and execution at its finest. Forget the offensive line mish-mash or that the Patriots’ top back, Dion Lewis, left the game because of a knee injury. Brady tapped his smarts, experience and calm to make one play so simple and crisp. He continues to lord over a position the Redskins can’t seem to figure out.
“I wasn’t quite sure — sometimes I have a decent idea before the play what the degree of difficulty is on the play,” Brady said. “If we run the play, it could have worked. But, I thought with the lead and the timeouts that we could think about it a little bit more.”
After the game, a sports anchor for a Boston television station chirped out a question of the day.
“Midway through the season, which unit has been the most impressive?”
He went on to list all options: offense, defense, special teams and coaching. The only wrong choice would be not to pick D, all of the above.