From that perspective, Sunday was a mixed bag for the Patriots. They won easily, of course, improving their record to 5-0 with a 33-7 victory before a pro-Patriots crowd in Landover that chanted quarterback Tom Brady’s name during the fourth quarter.
But it wasn’t seamless. The Patriots faced their first deficit of the season when the Redskins led 7-0 in the early going. The New England defense allowed only its second touchdown to an opposing offense this season. But the real concerns were about an offensive line that failed to safeguard Brady at times and, to a lesser degree, about new kicker Mike Nugent, who missed an extra point.
It seems like nitpicking, of course. The Patriots led by five points at halftime and put the game away with a pair of third-quarter touchdowns. Brady finished with three touchdown passes in a 28-for-42, 348-yard performance. He was sacked four times, including three times in the first half, before giving way late to rookie backup Jarrett Stidham.
“We can be a lot better,” Brady said of the offense. “I think that’s how we feel.”
With the Patriots, it’s all about looking ahead. They’re coming off their sixth Super Bowl win with Brady as their quarterback and Bill Belichick as their coach, and they don’t feel they’re quite done collecting Lombardi Trophies.
“It’s not perfect,” Belichick said. “We still have a long way to go. But we’re making progress.”
A push toward an undefeated season seemed within reach when the Patriots added wide receiver Antonio Brown after he was released by the Oakland Raiders just before the season. But Brown lasted only one game before being released. Now the offense again is an issue, looking ahead to a potential rematch with the powerful Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC championship game.
The defense seems likely to do its part. The Patriots have yielded 34 points in their five games. They have 11 interceptions and have yet to allow a touchdown pass. The defense steadied itself quickly Sunday after the Redskins’ early touchdown on a 65-yard run by rookie wide receiver Steven Sims Jr. on an end-around.
“We had one bad play,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said. “That came down to tackling.”
But can the offense ultimately be good enough? The Patriots were coming off a sluggish offensive performance in their 16-10 triumph at Buffalo a week earlier. Brady had an ugly passer rating of 45.9 in that game, and the Patriots managed only one touchdown on offense, with another touchdown coming on special teams.
Things weren’t much better early on Sunday. Even with so many Patriots fans in the stands, the New England offense had a tough time getting started. Brady missed an open receiver, Josh Gordon, for what would have been a long gain on the Patriots’ opening drive. Brady was under pressure regularly in the first half and threw an interception.
The Patriots totaled only three points on two second-quarter drives that started, following turnovers, at the Washington 16- and 11-yard lines. Nugent, signed because of a season-ending hip injury to Stephen Gostkowski, missed the extra point on the Patriots’ first touchdown. There also was a failed fourth-and-one try in the first quarter on which running back James White took a direct snap, while Brady yelled and gestured and attempted to serve as a decoy, and was thrown for a two-yard loss.
Even so, the Patriots did enough to lead 12-7 at halftime. It was no contest from there. Brady threw second-half touchdown passes to running back Brandon Bolden and tight end Ryan Izzo, sandwiched around a touchdown run by tailback Sony Michel.
“I thought we did a better job executing” in the second half, Brady said. “There’s not much other than that, just playing better football.”
The Patriots certainly did a better job in the second half of establishing their running game. After a first half in which Brady threw 31 passes and the Patriots had only seven rushing attempts, they ran the ball 20 times in the second half while Brady threw 11 passes.
“I think one thing that did help us [was] the play count got up there pretty high,” Brady said. “We had quite a few plays by halftime. Any time you do that, you feel like you’re going to wear the other team out, and those three-yard runs become six, and then finally you can break one.”