There are missed calls and questionable penalties every week, but Sunday’s officiating was outrageous at times. The flag that had Commanders players and fans around the league talking was a roughing penalty against Henry for, well, what exactly?
In an interview with Nicki Jhabvala of the Washington Post, Adrian Hill, the referee who called it, explained why he penalized Henry for what appeared to be a classic free throw on Patriots quarterback Mac Jones.
“The defender went down with forced contact, chest to chest,” Hill said. “He didn’t do one of those things to take most of his body weight off – an alligator roll or a side release when he was coming in. He came right down with that force on the player.”
The referees also missed a pass interference penalty on a deep pass to Terry McLaurin that fell incomplete and a clear defensive holding penalty on a third pass intended for Logan Thomas. Not all of the missed calls were unfavorable to Washington; Commanders linebacker Jamin Davis got away with a blatant face mask in the fourth quarter.
Hail: Ron Rivera’s challenge
In last week’s loss to the Eagles, Rivera failed to contest an apparent incomplete pass to DeVonta Smith that was ruled a downfield catch. Afterward, Rivera explained that he was waiting to see a replay of the play, which led to a Philadelphia touchdown. In a similar situation Sunday, after a 22-yard catch by Patriots forward Demario Douglas early in the fourth quarter appeared to hit the ground, Rivera didn’t make the same mistake. He threw his red challenge flag and the call was overturned. On the next play, Davis broke up a third-down pass intended for Rhamondre Stevenson, forcing a Patriots punt.
Failure: Patriots special teams
It was a disaster from the opening kickoff, which Antonio Gibson returned for 37 yards, to the bitter ending, which saw Bill Belichick’s team fall to 2-7 with its first loss at home against Washington since. Gus Frerotte beat Drew Bledsoe in 1996. New England’s special teams unit committed four penalties on Commanders’ punts in the fourth quarter, including an offsides call on Mack Wilson that gave Washington another set of downs and forced Belichick to use his final two timeouts before the two-minute warning. New England started its final drive from its own 9 after Brenden Schooler’s holding penalty on Tress Way’s final punt.
Bad day at the office for the Patriots special teams.
— 37-yard kick return to start the game
— Return of -2 yards from Demario Douglas
— Touchback by Bryce Baringer at the Patriots 47-yard line
— Two flags for Brenden Schooler
— Mack Wilson offside penalty
– Doug Kyed (@DougKyed) November 5, 2023
Salvation: Sam Howell’s meteoric journey
Facing third-and-23 at the Washington 44-yard line after taking his first sack late in the first half, Howell dropped back to pass. Finding no one open, he stepped forward, took the ball in as he reached the line of scrimmage and ran. Around the Patriots’ 43-yard line, Howell broke a pair of tackles from defensive backs Jalen Mills and Adrian Phillips, managed to stay upright and rumbled another 10 yards before charging at defensive back Jack Jones as he went out of bounds after the first down marker. This was the longest stretch of Howell’s career.
Failure: Howell’s puzzling interception
Later in the same drive, on first and goal from the New England 5, Howell rolled to his right and threw a pass into the end zone. Jahan Dotson and Logan Thomas were both in the zone, but the ill-advised throw led to an easy interception by Patriots safety Kyle Dugger. At halftime, Rivera told Fox reporter Shannon Spake that Howell got “a little greedy” on the play. “It’s probably one of the worst plays I’ve ever made in my football career,” Howell said., who has thrown at least one interception in each of the last three games. Howell played well off the pick, completing 29 of 45 passes for 325 yards and a perfectly thrown 33-yard touchdown to Jahan Dotson.
Gibson’s role had diminished before he caught five passes for 28 yards last week. He had five more catches for 42 yards against the Patriots and added six carries for a game-high 34 yards, to go along with his long kickoff return. Thanks to Gibson’s contribution and strong running from Brian Robinson Jr., who had 63 yards and a touchdown but also lost a fumble, Washington eclipsed 100 rushing yards for the first time since Week 4.
In the Commanders’ locker room after the game, defensive tackle Jonathan Allen praised Howell, saying he felt the franchise had found its quarterback for the next five to 10 years. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the Patriots’ long-term answer at QB isn’t on the roster. Jones, a 2021 first-round draft pick out of Alabama playing without top receivers Kendrick Bourne (out for the season with a torn ACL) and DeVante Parker (concussion), struggled again. He didn’t take a sack, but he also only averaged five yards per attempt. Despite a defense that has tended to allow explosive plays all season, Jones failed to complete a pass of more than 20 air yards. for the fourth consecutive week.