Here's five takeaways from the Washington Redskins' 27-10 loss to the New England Patriots Nov. 8 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.
1.) That wasn't the start the Redskins needed against the undefeated, reigning Super Bowl champions in front of their home crowd.
Washington (3-5) actually won a coin toss to open the game – for just the second time this season – and elected to defer to the second half.
Check out these top photos from the Washington Redskins' 2015 Week 9 matchup against the New England Patriots Nov. 8, 2015, at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.
Accordingly, New England (8-0) marched right down the field on its opening possession, driving it 76 yards in 13 plays and getting in the end zone with a eight-yard pass from Tom Brady to Julian Edelman.
OK, the league's No. 1-rated offense scored on its opening possession. Not a huge surprise.
The surprise came shortly thereafter, however, when Bill Belichick called for an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff. That kick bounced off Redskins wide receiver Ryan Grant and into the hands of linebacker Jonathan Freeny, giving the Patriots the ball right back at their 45-yard line.
Washington's defense would respond, however, as veteran cornerback Will Blackmon earned the forced fumble and the recovery all in one on Edelman, setting up the Redskins' offense with a 1st and 10 from their own 26.
But on their very first play of scrimmage, Kirk Cousins' pass would bounce right off the hands of Pierre Garcon and into the waiting hands of Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan.
Brady and the Pats wouldn't squander this opportunity, as LeGarrette Blount would score a touchdown from five yards out. After the extra point, the Patriots held a 14-0 lead with 4:33 left in the first quarter before the Redskins even had a chance to run two plays on offense.
Prior to Washington's Week 7 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the major talk around the Redskins was about their struggles in the third quarter.
Now, in their last two games, they have been outscored by a combined score of 24-0 in the first quarter. This is an issue they hope to get in front of starting next Sunday against the New Orleans Saints at FedExField.
2. The Redskins' defense had few answers for Brady and the Patriots' offense on third downs – even on third-and-long situations.
New England converted 9-of-16 of its third-down conversions on Sunday (56 percent). It also converted a fourth-down play, a five-yard pass from Brady to Edelman on 4th and 2 on the team's opening possession.
Those third down conversions allowed the Patriots to control the clock. By the game's end, they led the time-of-possession battle 37:05 to the Redskins' 22:55.
"We didn't execute," defensive end Ricky Jean Francois said. "We didn't come out and do what we needed to do to win the game or even just be closer in the damn ball game. We didn't do what we needed to do to win, we didn't play Redskins football."
Perhaps most disappointing for the Redskins' defense on Sunday was how successful the Patriots were in 3rd-and-long situations.
For example: the fourth quarter began with the Patriots facing a 3rd and 8 from the Washington 43-yard line. But Brady found his favorite target, tight end Rob Gronkowski, for 12 yards and the first down.
The Patriots would score seven plays later on an 18-yard pass from Brady to running back Brandon Bolen.
"They played some good ball," linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. "The thing that stands out to me about them is they're not necessarily these robots that are unbeatable, they just do the little things well all the time. They don't beat themselves. They're consistent and they execute the game plan and that's exactly what they did today."
3. Several drops by receivers clouded what could've been a terrific game from Kirk Cousins.
Cousins' final stat line – 22-of-40 (55 percent) for 217 yards with a touchdown and an interception each – could've looked much better had the Washington receivers not dropped at least seven passes on the day.
Garçon's drop that led to an interception on the Redskins' first play certainly stands out, but several other receivers had trouble holding on to the football for various reasons on Sunday vs. the Patriots.
"Yeah, more than we're used to having," Cousins said after the game, when asked about the drops. "All these guys can catch the ball; they got natural hands. I'm not worried about it. Just a tough deal today, but something that they'll be able to bounce back from, they all have good hands."
Though the team was down in the second half, Cousins got into a bit of a rhythm throwing the ball in the third and fourth quarter, particularly on intermediate routes to wide receiver Jamison Crowder (six catches, 50 yards) and Garçon (four catches, 70 yards), who had the longest reception of the day on a 36-yard conection. Andre Roberts also had a nice 18-yard catch.
And, though it was in garbage time, Cousins continued to show off his skills in goal-to-go situations, hooking up with Jordan Reed for a three-yard touchdown with 25 seconds remaining in the game.
The score was Reed's fourth of the season and he has now registered a touchdown reception in consecutive games for the first time in his career.
4. The Redskins' run defense struggled once again.
Blount had his way against the Redskins' defense on Sunday, rumbling and tumbling his way for 129 yards on 29 carries (4.4 yards per rush) and a touchdown.
But several other Patriots runners had success in spurts, including Bolden (one rush for 12 yards), Danny Amendola (one rush for eight yards), and Dion Lewis, who had 14 yards on four carries, with a long of nine yards.
Gruden said the Patriots put the Redskins in "quite the predicament" by utilizing several two-tight end sets, giving them an advantage up front at times.
"We have to do a better job (against the run)," the second-year head coach said. "No question."
The Redskins' first two games of the season featured an impressive run defense, but they have struggled at times since, particularly since their Week 5 matchup against the Atlanta Falcons. In the past four games, Washington has allowed 748 rushing yards, or an average of 187 yards per contest.
It's an issue that the Redskins know needs fixed immediately. How they do that, exactly, is up to the leaders of the defense.
"First it needs to start with players, because the coaches can talk to us till their blue in the face but if we don't stop the run, a QB doesn't need to put the ball in the air if they don't want to," Jean Francois said after Sunday's game. "Today Tom is going to be Tom – you are going to put the ball in the air anyway – (but) if they really wanted to, they could of just left it on the ground. Blount and Lewis were working."
5. DeSean Jackson's back – now it's time to get him back in a rhythm.
The Redskins were glad to see the return of Jackson on Sunday, after he missed the previous six-plus games with a hamstring injury.
A countdown of the top-10 images of wide receiver DeSean Jackson during the 2014 season.
His official stat line against the Patriots won't wow anyone – three catches for 15 yards – but it was important to get the veteran out of Cal out on the field in a game setting so that he can begin to work on getting a rhythm with Cousins and the offense.
A big point to remember: Jackson missed the entire preseason. He then went down with a hamstring injury on the first pass thrown his way Week 1 with the Miami Dolphins. Working his way back in might take a little time.
"Haven't been out there in a while," Jackson said after the game. "Gotta get back to used to seeing No. 11, I guess, but tough one today."
Cousins did try to find Jackson deep a couple times throughout the game on Sunday, and the two will continue to work on their timing. Their next opportunity is next Sunday against the Saints.
"Ah man, you know, I definitely will want it a lot more," Jackson said. "You know, being able to be a big-play player and do some things to help my team win. But, once again, being a big-play receiver, you don't always get the looks you want to get because the defense, the plays, the quarter, you never know how it goes. You have to stay ready."