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BOSTON (CBS) – The New England Patriots defense continued to struggle on Sunday, giving up big plays, big yards, and a big point total on the scoreboard.
But in the end, they came through when it mattered and walked away with a 34-27 win.
With the Redskins driving for a potential game-tying (or game-winning, who knows if Mike Shanahan would have went for two for the win) touchdown in the final minutes at FedEx Field, the Patriots D tightened up in the red zone and put the game away. Linebacker Jerod Mayo was in the right place at the right time as a Rex Grossman pass over the middle went off of Santana Moss’ hands, and went right to Mayo.
After the way their victory over the Colts ended, with a pair of Indy touchdowns in the fourth quarter, Mayo was happy the defense could close the game out. But it shouldn’t have gotten to that.
“It felt good to close it out, but at the same time we feel like it should have never gotten to that point,” Mayo said after the game. “Back to the drawing board tomorrow, hopefully we continue to improve.”
Despite allowing 493 total yards, the Patriots defense held Washington three of their five times in the red zone.
“Red zone, that’s the money down,” said nose tackle Vince Wilfork. “Defensively, you have to raise your level of play. You don’t want to give seven points up, you don’t want to give any points up, but make them kick a field goal. Sometimes we’ve done that, sometimes we haven’t. Red zone, you always have to have a critical play down in that area, because you’re in danger.”
Highs & Lows: Another Close W
“They don’t score, they don’t win. That’s the name of the game,” said safety James Ihedigbo, who had five tackles in the win. “You kind of don’t want to give up the yards in the first place but at the same time we’re going to bow our necks when we get down there and say ‘hey, they’re not getting in the end zone.’ That’s what it’s all about really.”
Mayo’s interception was the second turnover the Patriots forced on the afternoon. In the first quarter with Washington deep in their own territory, Andre Carte was able to get to Grossman in the end zone. Grossman fumbled, and Wilfork fell on the ball for just the Patriots second defensive touchdown of the season. It went on to be a spark for the New England defense.
“Stuff like that it’s you against everyone else trying to fight for the ball. Luckily I got it and it started fast for our defense,” said Wilfork. “It was something we talked about doing as a football team; start fast and finish. I think defensively we started fast, (there was) a little stuff in the fourth quarter but when you finish the game with an interception you can’t complain about that. There are a lot of things we need take from this game and continue to work on, that’s what we’ll do this week.”
The struggles continued for corner Devin McCourty, who was targeted by Grossman on big plays to former Patriots Jabar Gaffney and Donte Stallworth. McCourty did have an interception, but it was called back by a penalty. While his struggles continue, he said it was his teammates that helped him play strong at the end of the game.
“They kept telling me to stick at it, keep playing, and it helped me,” he said. “(I had) a rough patch with some bad plays, stupid plays, and just to come back and help the team make plays at the end of the day was big. That’s what I want to do.”
“It’s an ongoing process, you have to keep getting better towards the end of the season,” said McCourty. “Nobody I think is playing their best football, we still have three more games and we have to try to get better in all those games.”
With three games remaining, the New England defense is hoping they can put it all together before they hit the postseason.
“It’s definitely mixed emotions because we do have the talent,” said defensive end Andre Carter, who picked up his 10th sack of the season Sunday. “There is always the mindset of starting strong, continue to do well in the middle of the game, and finish strong. It’s kind of been up and down.”
“If you want to be a great team, especially down the stretch, you have to put it all on the line,” said Carter.