Phil Perry

Patriots-Commanders Report Card: Miscues abound for Pats receivers, DBs

Familiar issues cropped up for the Patriots in their latest loss.

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The Patriots have one of the worst offenses in football. That much was clear even before their Sunday's lackluster showing in Foxboro.

New England mustered just 17 points -- seven of which came off a Brian Robinson fumble at Washington's own 25-yard line -- in a 20-17 loss to the Commanders. The offense recorded "successful" plays on just 36.5 percent of its snaps. (More on that here.) Not ideal.

The offense wasn't the only culprit, however. The Patriots' secondary deserves its slice of the blame pie after allowing Sam Howell to rack up 325 passing yards, while several glaring errors on special teams also stand out.

Let's get to the good, the bad and the ugly in this week's grades...

Quarterback: C

It was the definition of a roller-coaster performance for Mac Jones on Sunday. By the end of it, he ended up getting an average grade, but there was a mess of good and bad mixed in against the Commanders and the Patriots rode the highs and lows.

He began the game by picking apart Washington in the middle of the field but then missed an open Tyquan Thornton on a post-corner route on fourth down. Later he got his team on the board with an accurate strike down the seam to Hunter Henry, and his 20-yard second-quarter pickup to JuJu Smith-Schuster (which gave way to a long Rhamondre Stevenson touchdown) was a strong throw. 

Two odd misfires didn't help the cause as the Patriots tried to get into the end zone to start the third quarter. The first should've been picked off, but Jalen Reagor -- who interfered with the defender -- broke it up. The second was a low throw to the middle that drilled a defender's back and fell incomplete. 

Jones delivered a bomb to Reagor that was dropped. Not on him. Excellent throw. Jones' pick at the end to Smith-Schuster should've been caught. Both helped the quarterback's mark this week. 

But there were too many head-scratchers -- a changed play at the line on third-and-9 that resulted in a short receiver screen; a flat-footed miss to a wide-open Stevenson deep outside the numbers in the fourth quarter -- for this grade to rise any higher.

Running back: B+

Rhamondre Stevenson looked like the 2022 version of Rhamondre Stevenson. He galloped, nearly untouched, for his 64-yard score that flashed real lower-body burst.

But he also ran hard and forced three missed tackles in the game, helping to elevate this mark further. Additionally, he looked dynamic as a route-runner as he added four catches for 42 yards -- a total which should've been much higher had it not been for a Jones misfire down the field to Stevenson in the fourth quarter. 

Ezekiel Elliott had a much tougher time getting anything going on the ground (six carries for 17 yards) but showed up at times as a pass-catcher, nabbing three for 15 yards.

Wide receiver: F

Smith-Schuster's drop ended the game. Reagor's drop changed the game. Two major miscues in one afternoon? Hard to avoid a failing mark.

Furthermore, last year's second-round pick Tyquan Thornton struggled as a route-runner on one third-down incompletion, and it looked like he drifted his in-breaking route up the field on another third-down incompletion soon thereafter. He played just 12 snaps in the game and sat for the second half.

Smith-Schuster actually showed a little more than he had all year at times, finishing with a season-high 51 yards on six grabs. And Demario "Pop" Douglas did what he could with a couple of lunging grabs and a team-high 55 yards on five catches. Reagor's block down the field on Stevenson's touchdown also was key.

But those positive moments weren't enough to dig this grade out of the basement.

Tight end: C-

The Patriots wanted to flex on the Commanders with their multi-tight end personnel packages. They wanted to play with tempo, leveraging the versatility of their tight ends to put Washington's defense in a bind. They did neither. 

Outside of Stevenson's long touchdown run -- which was sparked by offensive line and receiver blocks -- Patriots backs picked up just 2.7 yards per carry. As receivers, this unit was quiet as well. Henry ended up with four grabs for 39 yards and a touchdown. But that was it.

Gesicki was held without a catch and looked like he slowed up on a fourth-quarter pass play that fell to open space incomplete. 

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Offensive line: B

This group gets dinged for those running back runs that generated very little. But on one of the plays of the game? Stevenson's touchdown? Cole Strange got to the second level quickly to wipe out a linebacker. David Andrews cork-screwed his assignment out of the play. Sidy Sow and Mike Onwenu put their defenders on skates. Perfectly blocked.

In pass-protection, this group held its own. It wasn't as though they had to keep Chase Young and Montez Sweat at bay -- both were traded days before at the deadline -- but they still didn't allow a sack. The one time Jones was drilled was wiped from the record thanks to a questionable roughing-the-passer penalty called on KJ Henry.

Solid work from this unit without their best player Trent Brown (ruled inactive with knee and ankle injuries).

Special teams: D

This game started ominously for Bill Belichick's kicking-game units, wth a 37-yard kick return by the Commanders. Bryce Baringer picked the group up by drilling a 57-yard punt in the first quarter that was well-covered by Brenden Schooler and Matthew Slater. He later blasted a 52-yarder that resulted in a loss of three on the return thanks to Cody Davis, Schooler and Slater. 

But then the wheels came off. Baringer hit a touchback from midfield. Douglas lost two yards on a punt return when it looked like Schooler missed a block. Baringer may have out-kicked his coverage to help allow a 14-yard return on a 60-yard punt. Schooler was flagged for a face-mask penalty on the subsequent punt-return. Schooler picked up a holding call later in the quarter.

The most egregious error was Mack Wilson aligning offsides to give away a free first down and allow the Commanders to keep possession late in the fourth. Washington ran three more plays before giving the Patriots back the football to attempt their comeback.

Belichick said on Monday he wasn't sure if Wilson was aligned improperly. Slater said different crews handle that kind of call in different ways, with other crews perhaps opting to let a player know if he's in a questionable position before the snap.

Regardless, that penalty could have ended the game had the Commanders been more effective draining the clock. The Patriots actually picked up two penalties on that snap. Ty Montgomery's hold was declined. Rough day. 

Defensive line: B-

Not this group's best day. But not their worst. 

Deatrich Wise seemed to get out of his lane to allow a long first-down scramble to Sam Howell in a third-and-24 situation. And on the first touchdown drive for Washington, with the Commanders going with a fullback iso-style play-call, they were moved to the tune of a six-yard gain.

On their next touchdown drive, they got hit with a similar play for 12 yards and a run up the gut for seven. On a second-and-seven snap, Howell hit a 24-yard completion when he had loads of time to throw so their pass-rush up front wasn't perfect, either.

But this unit showed up in spurts. Wise, Christian Barmore and Lawrence Guy all had stuffs near or behind the line of scrimmage. Wise had a sack and two additional pressures, while Davon Godchaux notched a pressure of his own. Barmore, meanwhile, came up with five of his own pressures to go along with two batted passes at the line. 

Linebacker: B+

Jahlani Tavai's forced fumble was one of the plays of the game for the Patriots, putting them in prime position to score their first touchdown of the game.

Ja'Whaun Bentley came up with two sacks, a run-stuff, and he made a tackle short of the sticks on third-and-11 that forced a punt. Anfernee Jennings recorded a tackle for a loss and a pressure. Josh Uche recorded a hit off the edge, and Uche doesn't get dinged here for the Brian Robinson touchdown that put the Patriots down 10-0 (more on that later). 

Not a completely clean day. Jennings was flagged for an offsides penalty. There were two missed tackles on a 12-yard Washington screen in the third quarter, and Bentley missed a tackle on a 12-yard run. But this unit wasn't the issue Sunday.

Secondary: D

Let's start with the Commanders touchdowns. 

On Robinson's run, it looked like Jabrill Peppers may have gone too far up the field and too far wide in order to build the kind of wall the Patriots are looking for in the running game.

If you watch Uche, who dips inside and away from the play, you'll notice that Deatrich Wise does the same thing. That, to me, makes it seem like a call from the sideline. Peppers may have needed to be elsewhere in order to protect that gap on the edge. 

On the Jahan Dotson touchdown grab, it looked like Myles Bryant played an odd technique. He aligned in press coverage despite the Patriots apparently playing Cover 0 -- with no deep safety. Typically with that kind of call on, defensive backs play well off their man-to-man assignments understanding that they don't have help.

Whether or not Bryant was wrong -- or perhaps there was a safety who should've been there who wasn't -- can be up for debate. No debating it was a back-breaking play from the secondary. 

Then there was the tackling. Kyle Dugger missed one in the first quarter on a seven-yard gain on first down. Dugger and Jack Jones both let up after missed tackles by Adrian Phillips and Jalen Mills on Howell's 24-yard conversion on third-and-forever. Screens hurt this unit (10 yards on first down, nine on second down) late in the first quarter and on the first play in the second. Late in the third quarter, the secondary couldn't corral Terry McLaurin on a long catch-and-run that went for 36 yards. 

Jack Jones sat the entire first quarter and gave the team little once he got into the game. He was on the scene for a third-and-10 conversion and a second-and-10 14-yard gain before halftime. He was also beaten on a would-be touchdown late in the second quarter, but Dyami Brown couldn't secure Howell's accurate strike. On the same drive, Mills lost his assignment for another would-be score that Howell missed.

Dugger's pick at the end of the first half was a gift from Howell but a positive play. Bryant made a late-game tackle on third-and-eight that forced a punt (and was followed up by the Wilson offsides call). Peppers had a pass breakup on a late Howell throw.

But those weren't enough to raise this group's grade to anything better than a "D."

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