Patriots

Quick observations: Mac Jones throws late interception in Patriots’ 20-17 loss to Commanders

New England fell behind early but responded in the second, then Washington answered and found a way late.

Mac Jones throws against the Commanders on Sunday. Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

FOXBOROUGH — In a matchup between two struggling teams, the Patriots ultimately proved to be more inept than the Commanders.

New England had several chances to tie the game Sunday, but it couldn’t do so in a 20-17 loss at Gillette Stadium that epitomized the season thus far.

With the Patriots past midfield, Mac Jones tried to find JuJu Smith-Schuster, but the ball ricocheted off Smith-Schuster’s fingers and into Jartavius Martin’s hands with 30 seconds left.

“We had a chance there at the end,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “Just couldn’t make enough plays. We obviously had plenty of opportunities along the way that we need to make more out of. Just a disappointing result.”

That was that, as the Patriots (2-7) faltered once more and the Commanders (4-5) escaped. 

Advertisement:

“It’s not like we’re not on the same page,” Jones said. “We’re really close. We’re right there. We’re just a little bit short.”

A fumble gave the Patriots a much-needed boost.

Before the late-game chaos, the Commanders built a 10-0 edge on a 37-yard field goal from Joey Slye and 9-yard touchdown run from Brian Robinson Jr. New England looked lackadaisical and a step slow to start the game.

All momentum was on Washington’s side, until the 10:25 mark in the second quarter, when New England’s Jahlani Tavai forced a fumble and Davon Godchaux pounced on it.

Three plays later, Jones (24-for-44, 220 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) hit Hunter Henry for a 14-yard TD strike to slice the deficit to 10-7 with 9:26 left in the half. It was the first touchdown since Week 2 for Henry, who finished the day with four catches for 39 yards. 

The Patriots kept momentum on their side … for a while.

New England took the lead when Rhamondre Stevenson broke free for a 64-yard TD run. Stevenson eluded two Commanders and continued down the sideline to the house for the longest score of his career.

For a team that has struggled to produce highlight-reel moments for the bulk of the year, it was, quite frankly, a surprise to see.

Washington nearly reclaimed the lead, but Sam Howell threw an ill-advised pass and Kyle Dugger made him pay with an interception as New England preserved a 14-10 halftime lead. Howell moved the ball with more conviction than Jones, but Jones avoided a costly turnover.

Advertisement:

The Patriots showed big-play ability they’ve lacked the bulk of the season in spurts, but they weren’t able to sustain it. New England missed Kendrick Bourne, among other sidelined players.

The Commanders responded to pull ahead, 20-17, through three. Ryland nailed a 43-yard field goal, then Howell found Jahan Dotson for a 33-yard tear drop and Slye tacked on a 30-yard field goal.

“I think defensively, we had our moments,” Belichick said. “But, overall, there’s a lot of things we need to do better.”

Demario Douglas was a bright spot.

With the Patriots shorthanded at receiver, rookie Demario Douglas (five catches, career-high 55 yards) stepped into an increased role and largely fared well. 

Douglas, a sixth-round pick out of Liberty, has now caught five passes in two straight games. He was unable to secure a key deep ball Sunday, and he still has plenty of room to grow as a route-runner, but he figures to be an important piece moving forward.

New England had trouble slowing Sam Howell down.

Howell (29-for-45, 325 yards; 1 TD, 1 INT), who entered with the sixth-most passing yards per game in the NFL at 268.3, exceeded that output against the Patriots. 

Outside of the pick late in the half, he was accurate, poised, and effective. On one play, with a hand in his face, he delivered an off-balance, diagonal throw for a first down. He also did damage with his legs, wiggling his way past multiple Patriots on third and 23 and keeping the defense honest.

Advertisement:

“We kept them in the pocket a lot, but there were times where they got out,” Belichick said. “That’s not a good thing.”

The Patriots did manage to stop him multiple times late in the fourth to give Jones and Co. several chances.

Jones found Stevenson for 15 yards, Henry for eight, then Smith-Schuster for 13 to advance to the New England 45 with 1:46 remaining. Jones then hit Smith-Schuster for a 6-yard completion on fourth and 4 with 1:02 left. 

It had promise, but it ended in disaster for New England.

“Turnovers are the biggest issue that we keep running into in every game,” Henry said. “Epecially in crucial situations.”

LIVE UPDATES

4:06 p.m.: Mac Jones throws a pick. Jartavius Murray corrals it, after it ricochets of JuJu Smith-Schuster’s fingertips. That’ll do it. Final: 20-17, Commanders.

3:57 p.m.: It’s been a punt-fest for much of the second half. New England has it, at its own 9, with 2:07 remaining. If the Patriots want to tie it or take the lead, now might be an ideal time.

3:45 p.m.: The Patriots punt, and Washington will start at its own 5, up 20-17, with 5:04 remaining.

3:39 p.m.: The defense immediately answers back, as Ja’Whaun Bentley sacks Sam Howell. Mac Jones and the offense will have another chance with 7:10 on the clock.

3:33 p.m.: Mac Jones and Demario Douglas initially appeared to connect for a 22-yard reception, but the Commanders successfully challenged the call on the field. The fans boo, but it looks like the right call. The Patriots punt it away with 9:28 remaining.

Advertisement:

3:24 p.m.: The Patriots will get it back, down by three, with 11:10 on the clock. New England will start at its own 5, which makes things just a smidgen more difficult.

3:14 p.m.: That’s the end of the third quarter. The Patriots have it near midfield to start the fourth. 20-17, Commanders.

3:07 p.m.: Sam Howell continues to make smart decisions (outside of the pick, of course). Joey Slye drilled a 30-yard field goal with 1:49 left in the third. 20-17, Commanders.

2:52 p.m.: 33-yard TD pass from Sam Howell to Jahan Dotson with 6:51 left in the third. Pretty throw, pretty catch. 17-17.

2:44 p.m.: Questionable roughing the passer call on KJ Henry (to say the least). The Patriots can’t capitalize with a TD, but they do extend their lead on a 43-yard field goal from Chad Ryland with 10:14 left in the third. 17-10, New England.

2:24 p.m.: Sam Howell was ballin’, then he made a poor decision and the Patriots took advantage. Kyle Dugger swooped in and intercepted Howell’s pass in the end zone with nine seconds on the clock. Halftime: 14-10, New England.

2:17 p.m.: Christian Barmore swats a pass on first down and Deatrich Wise sacks Sam Howell for a loss of 13 on second down. On third and 23, Howell eludes multiple tacklers and somehow gains 24 to keep the drive alive. Impressive play, but the Patriots should have had him.

2:01 p.m.: After a Commanders punt, Juju Smith-Schuster hauled in a 20-yard pass from Jones. On the next play, Rhamondre Stevenson broke a tackle and sprinted down the sideline for a 64-yard touchdown to put the Patriots ahead with 6:06 left in the half. 14-10, New England.

1:50 p.m.: Moments later, Mac Jones finds Hunter Henry for a 14-yard touchdown with 9:26 left in the half. Strong catch from Henry in traffic. Chad Ryland adds the extra point. 10-7, Washington.

1:49 p.m.: The Patriots gets the break they needed, as Jahlani Tavai knocks the ball out of Brian Robinson Jr.’s hands and Davon Godchaux falls on it deep in Washington territory.

1:44 p.m.: Another three-and-out from the Patriots. Mac Jones is 6 for 13 for 48 yards. Demario Douglas has looked sharp, but that’s about it. Some boos from the fans.

Advertisement:

1:39 p.m.: Nine-yard TD run from Brian Robinson Jr., and Washington extends its lead with 12:05 left in the half. The drive was 11 plays, 80 yards, 5 minutes, 16 seconds, and Sam Howell looked totally comfortable throughout. 10-0, Washington.

1:32 p.m.: The Commanders lead the Patriots, 3-0, after 1, and are in New England territory again to start the second. Sam Howell is 9 for 12 for 86 yards so far. Jabrill Peppers broke up a pass near the end zone moments ago.

1:20 p.m.: Quality stop from the Patriots defense on third and 1. The Commanders take the lead on a 37-yard field goal from Joey Slye with 3:14 left in the first quarter. 3-0, Washington.

1:12 p.m.: After a Washington three-and-out, New England generated some momentum on its opening drive. Demario Douglas, Rhamondre Stevenson, and Hunter Henry all caught passes for first downs, but the drive stalled when Mac Jones overthrew Tyquan Thornton on fourth and 3 from the Commanders 39. New England is now 3 for 13 on fourth down this season. Still scoreless.

1 p.m.: The Patriots win the toss and defer (shocker). We’re underway.

12:58 p.m.: The Patriots honored the victims of Lewiston, Maine, with a moment of silence.

11:44 a.m.: Mac Jones and Demario Douglas are getting some work in with an hour-plus to go before game time.

11:37 a.m.: Davon Godchaux is rocking Salute to Service cleats.

11:34 a.m.: Here are the Patriots and Commanders inactives:

11:09 a.m.: Wide receiver Demario Douglas is showing his support for those in Lewiston, Maine.

Conversation

This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on Boston.com