Skin of their teeth
Mayo pickoff gives Patriots narrow victory
LANDOVER, Md. - Around Gillette Stadium, there’s another phrase that’s uttered almost as often as “it is what it is,’’ and that’s “at the end of the day.’’
At the end of the day yesterday, as the Patriots made the short flight home, they had a win, the franchise’s first on the Redskins’ home field.
The Patriots stand at 10-3 after their 34-27 victory, but for the second straight week it felt a little hollow, as they struggled against a team - and quarterback - that they shouldn’t.
And once again, defensive players in particular were lamenting that their effort was good enough this time, but won’t be against many other teams, especially in the playoffs.
But it was the defense that came up with the game-sealing play, when Jerod Mayo plucked a tipped ball out of the air near the goal line for his second interception in as many weeks. The offense came onto the field, Tom Brady took a knee, and New England was able to breathe a sigh of relief.
“Well, it’s good to be 10-3,’’ said coach Bill Belichick to begin his news conference. “I was real proud of our defense to come up with a stop there on that last drive. That was big, [as were] a couple of other ones in the second half.
“I thought we had our moments there all the way around, some good, some not so good. Luckily we made a couple more plays to come out on top. Good to be 10-3.’’
Redskins receiver Santana Moss was the goat, not once but twice. He had a touchdown taken off the board when he was called for offensive pass interference, and it was he who bobbled Rex Grossman’s pass that led to Mayo’s interception two plays later.
“[We] converted some big third downs and kept moving the ball, and all of a sudden we are in position to tie the game or go for 2 and win it,’’ Grossman said. “It’s just frustrating to play well and move the ball and then be in the position to win the game. To have it go the other way is frustrating.’’
That Washington had that chance at all was thanks to a rare end-zone interception of Brady.
New England had driven to the 4, and on third down Brady looked to Tiquan Underwood. Josh Wilson made a good play and secured the interception, the first for Brady since the loss to the Giants Nov. 6.
Instead of the Patriots going up by 10 or 14, the Redskins got the ball back with plenty of time.
When the Patriots’ offense went back to the sideline after the failed possession - New England scored just one touchdown in four red-zone trips - Brady and offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien engaged in a shouting match, with O’Brien being pulled away by receivers coach Chad O’Shea.
However, a few minutes later Brady and O’Brien were sitting next to each other on the bench, engaged in a far more civil discussion.
“I threw a pretty bad interception, so he wasn’t happy about it . . . I deserved it,’’ Brady said.
New England’s defense, which Grossman had on its heels for the first three quarters, forced a three-and-out on Washington’s first possession in the fourth, but gave up two third-down conversions on the second.
The third third down the Redskins faced resulted in Mayo’s interception.
“I think Tracy [White] made a great play on the ball and kind of separated the man from the ball and it just popped up and fell into my hands,’’ Mayo said. “You know, it was good enough today, but it probably won’t be good enough any other week. We have to continue to improve and hopefully that happens.’’
The defense also started the game well, with Andre Carter drilling Grossman in the back, forcing him to fumble the ball in the end zone. Vince Wilfork pounced on the loose ball and held on for dear life for his first career touchdown.
However, in between the fumble and the goal-line interception, the Patriots saw an anemic offense score fairly easily on them. Last week, the Colts’ 24 points tied their season high, and yesterday it was the Redskins, who came into the day averaging just 16.8 points, 27th in the NFL.
The Redskins had 20 points at the half, the first time since the Week 12 loss in New Orleans two years ago that the Patriots have given up that many points in the first two quarters.
The game was tied, 20-20, at the half, with Rob Gronkowski again playing a large role. The second-year tight end was the only pass catcher Brady needed on a two-play drive. First, Brady found Gronkowski for a short pass that he turned into a 49-yard gain, realizing he wasn’t downed by safety DeJon Gomes, getting up and escaping sideline tackles by Gomes and Reed Doughty and staying inbounds, then finally stumbling forward a few steps after Wilson dived at his knees.
Redskins coach Mike Shanahan challenged the play, but it was confirmed.
On the next snap, Brady looked to Gronkowski again, with an 11-yard scoring pass that was too high for defenders but not the 6-foot-6-inch Gronkowski.
Gronkowski spiked the ball then chased after it, realizing he wanted to keep it (it was his record-setting 14th receiving touchdown of the season, the most ever for a tight end).
“It’s cool to get a record and everything, but it really doesn’t matter,’’ Gronkowski said. “We got the team victory. We got the W and that’s all that matters.’’
Gronkowski added a second touchdown in the third quarter.
Underscoring the need for improvement, Belichick did not give his players a “Victory Monday.’’ They will be at Gillette today for a full day of film review and meetings.
Tim Tebow looms on Sunday, and the Patriots haven’t won in Denver since 2003.