- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 8, 2015

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Dashon Goldson tried his best to make sense of the mess of a football game that unfolded at Gillette Stadium.

The harder he thought, the more he struggled to piece together the answers for the mistakes that allowed the New England Patriots to take a 27-10 win over the Washington Redskins on Sunday.

Was it the seven dropped passes — the first of which occurred on the Redskins’ first play and resulted in a Patriots interception? Was it the surprise onside kick New England successfully tried after scoring a touchdown on its opening drive? Perhaps it was the 14-play, 88-yard drive that ended with Tom Brady’s 18-yard touchdown pass to running back Brandon Bolden, which gave New England a 27-3 lead with 11:33 to play in the fourth quarter.

“I can’t figure it out, what’s going on,” Goldson, the Redskins’ free safety, said. “It’s tough. … We knew the challenge was going to be there, that it was up to us to execute. We told ourselves we couldn’t shoot ourselves in the foot like this.”

Through eight games of the season, there is one thing that is hard to dispute: The Redskins, despite a 3-5 record, are very much in contention in the muddied NFC East.

What is even more unclear is trying to evaluate where the Redskins actually stand in comparison to the rest of the league. They’re not the bottom-dwelling Detroit Lions (1-7) and they’re certainly not with teams like the Patriots (8-0) or Carolina Panthers (8-0), who they visit in two weeks.

SEE ALSO: Even with errors, discrepancies between Patriots, Redskins remain apparent

The reality is that they are somewhere in the middle, but that is a vast landscape. Performances like the one submitted on Sunday make it more difficult for Gruden and the organization to get a more accurate reading.

Washington entered the game as 14.5-point underdogs. It was not even supposed to be close against the defending Super Bowl champions, right?

New England did not play its signature near-flawless brand of football. It turned the ball over twice in the first quarter after having two first-quarter turnovers in the last 26 games combined.

After Brady led the Patriots on a methodical 13-play, 84-yard opening drive that ended with an eight-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Julian Edelman, kicker Stephen Gostkowski stunned the Redskins with the onside kick. Instead of turning the Redskins’ miscue into seven more points, the Patriots turned the ball over when Redskins cornerback Will Blackmon stripped it from Edelman and recovered it at the Washington 26-yard line.

Then came the gut check. Quarterback Kirk Cousins’ first pass was to a wide-open Pierre Garcon, who could not secure the ball. It deflected into the hands of cornerback Logan Ryan and the Patriots scored two minutes later.

It was the first of seven drops by Redskins receivers. Tight end Derek Carrier, a former wide receiver, dropped a play-action pass on the next drive. He was alone on the left sideline and had plenty of room to run in front of him. Instead, the Redskins went three-and-out.

SEE ALSO: Despite struggles, Jay Gruden insists Redskins remain focused on run game

“It’s maddening,” Gruden said. “I can’t explain it. We had guys drop balls who don’t drop balls very often. I’ll throw it to them again and again and again and I don’t expect a drop ever again. Just one of those days. I don’t know what happened.”

Later in the first quarter, Brady, who entered the game with 20 touchdown passes and one interception, gifted the Redskins a rare gaffe. He targeted Edelman but instead fired the ball directly at Washington inside linebacker Keenan Robinson, who returned it 44 yards to the New England 46-yard line.

The Redskins responded with a drive that lasted just seven plays and ended with another punt. On third-and-7, right tackle Morgan Moses froze on the snap count and defensive end Chandler Jones blew by him and sacked Cousins.

Despite gaining just 89 yards to the Patriots’ 245, the Redskins were only trailing 17-3 at halftime and received the ball first in the second half. Six plays into that possession, running back Matt Jones fumbled and the Patriots tacked on a field goal.

The Redskins could have made the game competitive, but it is nearly impossible to be certain if they ever would have.

“You never know, man,” Gruden said. “This one’s in the books. You’ve got to move past this one and chalk it up as a bad day. We took some shots, and none of our shots went in today, unfortunately. When you’re playing, like I said, against a heck of a team like New England, historically, that’s great at home, you’ve got to play your best, and we didn’t do that.

“We’ve got to understand where we are exactly,” Gruden later said. “We’re 3-5 and we’re not playing very well on the road, obviously. We have to address that issue, but worst-case scenario, we’ll probably be a game out of first place in our division. We have to let it go. We have to learn from it and understand what it takes to learn on the road, and what we did today, it wasn’t enough with the self-inflicted wounds, the drops, the miscues that we had.”

However, until the Redskins fix these issues, the fact that they are just possibly one game out of first place in a mediocre division is more of a facade that clouds where they actually stand.

• Anthony Gulizia can be reached at agulizia@washingtontimes.com.

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