It’s shocking to think this is the same Patriots team that somehow knocked off the Buffalo Bills in Week 7. The team that beat the Bills must have somehow caught lightning in a bottle because the version that showed up on Sunday looked terrible on all levels.
Offense, defense and special teams—it was all bad for the Patriots.
They had an opportunity to save the game late, but a pass from quarterback Mac Jones bobbled off of JuJu Smith-Schuster’s hands and turned into an interception for the Commanders to close out the game.
It was a completely fitting ending for this version of the Patriots. Here are the studs and duds from the game for New England after their 20-17 loss to the Commanders:
Hunter Henry: STUD
Hunter Henry put an end to a six-game touchdown drought against the Commanders on Sunday. More importantly, the Patriots finally cashed in on a takeaway from the defense, with the touchdown following a forced fumble from Jahlani Tavai.
— NFL (@NFL) November 5, 2023
There was a point when Henry was considered Jones’ most dependable receiving target, but there hasn’t been much in the way of production between the two in recent weeks. But they changed that narrative this week with a beautiful touchdown connection in the second quarter.
Adrian Phillips: DUD
The Patriots had the Commanders dead to rights late in the first half, and then Commanders quarterback Sam Howell shockingly converted a first down on a 3rd-and-23 with his legs.
Safety Adrian Phillips had an opportunity to bring the quarterback down, but he missed a key tackle that could have led to more points for the Commanders, if not for a clutch interception by safety Kyle Dugger.
TAKE IT YOURSELF, SAM!
— Washington Commanders (@Commanders) November 5, 2023
Missed tackles have been an ongoing issue for the Patriots defense in recent weeks, and those issues showed up again in the worst way possible for Phillips.
Ja'Whaun Bentley: STUD
Even in defeat, linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley was the MVP of this game for the Patriots. He racked up a team-high 13 tackles and two sacks defensively to help keep the team in the game.
Bentley’s continued growth into more of a leader for the team has been one of the true bright spots for the Patriots this season. It would be great if that effort could have been repaid with a victory, but the team wasn’t good enough to hang enough points on Howell and company to win this one.
Myles Bryant: DUD
Myles Bryant got cooked like a Thanksgiving bird by Commanders wide receiver Jahan Dotson.
— NFL (@NFL) November 5, 2023
Howell did a tremendous job of extending plays and hitting receivers with impossibly tight windows. But this was a play where Dotson blew past Bryant from the start and gave his quarterback an open look over the top.
Bryant has been better than he typically gets credit for being on the field, but this was one of those plays that makes a hardened critic want to bang their head against the wall.
Jahlani Tavai: STUD
Jahlani Tavai has been one of the most underrated defensive players all season. The veteran linebacker has quietly been one of the Patriots’ most reliable playmakers on defense, and that continued to show in Sunday’s game against the Commanders.
With the Patriots trailing 10-0 early, Tavai came up with a much-needed forced fumble on Commanders running back Brian Robinson Jr. to set the New England offense up with good enough field position to score their first touchdown.
Without that play, there was a chance the game could have gotten away from the Patriots quicker.
Jalen Reagor: DUD
Patriots fans must be growing tired of seeing receivers drop passes, but that’s what happens when a team hasn’t invested in the position like it needs to in the offseason.
Jalen Reagor was the latest to let an absolute dime of a deep throw from Mac Jones slip through his fingers.
Jalen Reagor – Really good at the little things, not so good at the big things pic.twitter.com/lmNP10pzGU
— Ben Brown 🌻 (@BenBrownPL) November 5, 2023
Those are the sorts of plays that keep a player like Reagor on the field, but he has consistently missed them throughout his NFL run, which has caused many to sour on his first-round draft status.
If anything, it was proof that the Patriots need more reliable playmakers in that spot.
Rhamondre Stevenson: STUD
Patriots running back Rhamondre Stevenson was patiently knocking on the door until he finally kicked it down with a 64-yard rushing touchdown in the second quarter.
It has been an up-and-down season for the third-year rusher with some of the struggles along the offensive front. But there’s no questioning his ability to trample a defense into the dirt with the ball in his hands.
However, there was more of a display of speed than brute force against the Commanders.
— NFL (@NFL) November 5, 2023
The defense got caught sleeping, and all Stevenson needed was an open lane to blow right past them and take the ball to the house.
Mack Wilson: DUD
Linebacker Mack Wilson Sr. didn’t help matters by giving the ball back to the Commanders after lining up offsides on special teams late in the game. Washington possessed the ball 15 minutes longer than the Patriots, and it was mostly due to the team allowing drives to continue after backbreaking penalties.
None were more crushing than Wilson’s offsides penalty, which is something that should never happen in that position. Granted, he wasn’t the only special-teamer making mistakes, but his was the biggest gut punch of them all for the Patriots.
Brenden Schooler: DUD
Brenden Schooler was vocally upset at the officiating after receiving two flags on special teams in the game.
Brenden Schooler went from handing a football to Belichick on the sideline last year to doing this on the sideline this year pic.twitter.com/c51NhdDjA5
— Michael Hurley (@michaelFhurley) November 5, 2023
But then again, he also put himself in positions he had no business being in.
On one of the holding penalties, the defender flopped when engaged with Schooler, but the infraction came on a play were Patriots returner Demario Douglas let the ball roll into the end zone.
There was no reason for Schooler to even be locked up that tightly on a play where the ball wasn’t even being returned.
JuJu Smith-Schuster: DUD
The three years and $33 million that the Patriots invested in wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster has been a complete bust. We’re late enough in the season to label this as one of the biggest misses in Bill Belichick’s career as the de facto general manager in New England.
Smith-Schuster landed on this week’s dud list after dropping a pass that hit him in the hands that would have extended a potential game-winning or game-tying drive for the Patriots.
The Patriots already had a proven third-down receiver in Jakobi Meyers, but Belichick opted to go with Smith-Schuster instead. It’s a decision that continues to haunt him in the worst possible ways.
Kyle Dugger: STUD
In one of the worst years for a Bill Belichick-coached football team, Kyle Dugger is one of the few players that continues to make plays on a weekly basis.
He played spoiler to an offensive drive late in the first half by the Commanders that would have likely ended with a touchdown or field goal. The veteran defensive back was able to come away with an interception to ruin an attempted Sam Howell touchdown throw.
📺: FOX pic.twitter.com/OUhTdOmHF5
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) November 5, 2023
With Dugger playing in a contract year, he has already done more than enough to prove he’s worthy of a long-term investment from the Patriots.