FOXBOROUGH — The Redskins didn’t offer much in the way of resistance at Gillette Stadium on Sunday. Still, the Patriots were tested during their 27-10 victory.
Starting the game without linebacker and leading tackler Jamie Collins (who was out with an illness), left with no extra offensive linemen after a first-half head injury sidelined Sebastian Vollmer, then losing versatile running back Dion Lewis in the second half to a knee injury, the Patriots were forced to juggle their lineup and adjust on the fly.
Enough was done, with Tom Brady throwing for 299 yards, LeGarrette Blount rushing for 129, and Brandon LaFell adding 102 receiving yards. Throw in a pair of turnovers forced by the defense, an early recovery of a surprise onside kick, and no sacks allowed by the dictionary definition of a makeshift line, and the Patriots put together a workmanlike victory on a challenging day, remaining perfect at 8-0.
“You put us anywhere, in any situation, we’ll figure out a way,” said Brandon Bolden, who came in after Lewis’s injury and iced the game with an 18-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter. “That’s what you saw out there today. Anything can happen. A lot of stuff happened out there, but everybody was ready. Everybody was waiting, and if your name got called, you had to step up and do what you had to do.”
There was no better example of that than on the offensive line. Already thin because of injuries that kept Marcus Cannon (toe) and Tre’ Jackson (knee) out, the Patriots were left with no reserves after Vollmer went down. It meant Bryan Stork, making his season debut, would have to play, and he had snaps at center, guard, and tackle. Cameron Fleming moved from right tackle to left, a position he had never played, ever.
How effective were the patchwork pass protectors? They blocked well enough to spring Blount for a season-high rushing total, and kept Brady clean. The game plan changed, and it’s an area the Patriots will need to address with the mounting injuries, but the line was good enough, on a day when it seemed they were picking their position to play each series out of a baseball cap on the sideline.
“You just hope for the best, and then obviously with [Vollmer] going down, it puts a lot of strain on those guys. A lot of guys scrambled to figure out exactly what we’re going to do,” said Brady, who completed 26 of 39 passes, with two touchdowns and just his second interception of the season. “They played really hard, so I’m proud of them.”
Lewis joined Vollmer in the locker room when his knee buckled without being touched on a third-quarter carry. He walked off under his own power, but did not return. Bolden, Lewis’s replacement, capped the Patriots’ scoring with 11:28 remaining in the fourth quarter. It was the first touchdown of the season for Bolden, who came into the game with just eight touches.
“You never want to see a guy go down, especially in your position group. To see Dion go down, it was very tough. Me and LeGarrette looked at each other, we were the first two on the field. It’s a hard thing, I’ve had my own knee injury,” said Bolden, who had four touches against the Redskins (12-yard rush, three catches for 27 yards). “I was already ready. [Running backs coach] Ivan [Fears] tells you every day, ‘You never know. Stay ready, stay ready, stay ready.’ Today it happened, and I was ready to go.”
The Patriots did not disclose the severity of Lewis’s injury. A CBS report said the team believes it is an MCL sprain.
Bolden’s score put the game out of reach, although the way the Redskins (3-5) played, even a small lead seemed safe. They dropped seven passes, and had fewer than 200 yards of offense until their final drive, which produced a touchdown with 25 seconds left, on a pass from Kirk Cousins (22 of 40, 217 yards) to tight end Jordan Reed.
New England couldn’t have scripted a better start to the game, scoring a touchdown on a 13-play, 84-yard drive, with Julian Edelman taking a swing pass from Brady for the final 8 yards.
The Patriots then caught the Redskins — who were coming into the game off their bye week — off guard on the ensuing kickoff, with Stephen Gostkowski squibbing an onside kick to the right side. The ball bounced off Redskins receiver Ryan Grant and was recovered by Patriots linebacker Jonathan Freeny near midfield. It didn’t lead to a touchdown — Edelman lost a fumble, actually, one of two Patriots turnovers — but did send a message that the Patriots wanted to assume control of the game against a 14-point underdog as soon as they could.
An interception by Logan Ryan on the Redskins’ first offensive play did lead to a Patriots touchdown, with Blount scoring from 5 yards. Barely 10 minutes into the game, the Patriots had run 24 plays to the Redskins’ one, and enjoyed a 14-0 lead.
There were some anxious moments to come, all related to injury. But the Patriots took care of business, and reached the halfway point of the season still perfect, even after getting knocked around on Sunday.
“We had to call on a lot of people, some who haven’t played a lot for us or haven’t played in some of the positions that they ended up playing today and did a good job,” coach Bill Belichick said. “Good to win.”