FOXBOROUGH — It was the sort of sequence that makes all the hours of grinding on the practice field and studying in the film room worth it, a moment when everything comes together the way it’s drawn up — a play where everyone does their jobs, if you will.
On the opening drive of the second half Sunday, long before the Patriots’ 27-10 win was final, the Redskins marched into New England territory and faced third and 2. Defensive tackle Alan Branch, heeding the advice of linebacker Jonathan Freeny, prepped to split the center and right guard. Washington snapped the ball. Branch broke through the offensive line seemingly unimpeded. As he fell to the ground, he punched the ball loose from Redskins running back Matt Jones’s grip.
New England hounded the ball, defensive end Rob Ninkovich landing on the fumble and safety Patrick Chung landing on Ninkovich.
Fist pumps and chest bumps ensued. That was the case much of the afternoon at Gillette Stadium, where the Patriots’ defense — playing without star linebacker Jamie Collins (illness) — held the Redskins without a touchdown until the final minute, and to just 250 yards overall.
“Helping out at my position, it doesn’t happen very often,” the smiling 6-foot-6-inch, 350-pound Branch said of the forced fumble. “We celebrate turnovers over here, so we definitely celebrated [that play].
“Good call by my linebacker. He told me the right place to go. I went there, and at the end of the day I got the forced fumble because of his call.”
It was one of a number of big plays from a defense that could comfortably be characterized as stout, even considering the quality of opponent. The Redskins entered the game 24th in the NFL in yards per game (340.3) and 21st in points per game (21.1), but fell well short of those marks Sunday.
Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins threw for 217 yards, completing 22 of 40 attempts with one touchdown and one interception. The Redskins rushed for just 37 yards on 15 carries.
Combined with the Dolphins’ 15 rushing yards in Week 8, Patriots opponents have picked up 52 rushing yards — fewer than 2 per carry — the past two games.
Even with a couple of injuries and a few early-season depth question marks, it seems to be coming together in recent weeks for defensive coordinator Matt Patricia’s crew.
“Guys are starting to get comfortable with each other and we’re starting to jell together,” said defensive end Chandler Jones, who picked up another sack for an NFL-best 9½ on the season. “That brotherhood that we talk about, it’s definitely being a factor at this point in the season.
“That shows guys are going out there and having fun. You never want to take the fun away from the game. You see it out there on the field — when guys are having fun, they make more plays.”
They had plenty of fun Sunday, getting a little help from a lot of different places.
Cornerback Logan Ryan came up big on two occasions: an interception in the first quarter, and a pass defensed when Washington went for it on fourth and 11 at the New England 36 in the second. Branch and Ninkovich teamed up for that fumble. Redskins receivers even chipped in with some dropped passes.
The defense helped set the tone early when, in the first quarter and the Patriots already up, 7-0, Julian Edelman coughed it up and the Redskins took possession. On Washington’s first play from scrimmage, Cousins hit Pierre Garcon near midfield, but Garcon tipped it toward the sky. For a moment, as the ball hung there, anything was possible.
“You see the ball up in the air, you’re running to it, then you see everybody else. It’s almost like slow motion,” said Freeny, who with Collins out was sometimes tasked with quarterbacking the defense.
Ryan came down with it for his third pick of the season.
“We practice that. We practice knocking down the receiver and someone getting the ball,” Ryan said. “I saw it and I was going to come down with it. Those are opportunities that you don’t get often, so you try to take advantage of them.
“Tips are gifts for [defensive backs]. I must be doing something right.”