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Five takeaways from Washington's Week 9 win over New England


The Washington Commanders started off the month of November by snapping their two-game losing streak with a 20-17 victory over the New England Patriots. Here are five takeaways from the win, presented by Maryland Lottery.

1. Sam Howell balled out again.

Sam Howell is starting to put together a string of impressive performances.

Like most of the offense, Howell has followed up good games with ugly ones for most of the season. His numbers from Week 9 -- 20-of-45 for 325 yards for a touchdown and an interception -- weren't as strong as those against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 8, but he was just as efficient with the ball, averaging 7.2 yards per completion with a passer rating of 84.

The Commanders' game plan for the Patriots was similar to what it was against the Eagles. They prioritized getting the ball out of Howell's hands quickly with passes closer to the line of scrimmage and a healthy dose of screen plays. Part of that came from the protection, which continues to look better than it has at any other point this season, and the emphasis on getting Howell on the move to avoid pressure.

But Howell was also dropping pristine passes downfield, such as his 19-yard completion to Dyami Brown for a 19-yard pickup. He was also clutch on third-and-long plays, like his 26- and 13-yard completions to Byron Pringle.

On top of that, Howell scampered for 24 yards to convert a third-and-23.

The Commanders have passed the ball more than any team in the league, but to Howell's credit, the young quarterback seems unbothered by the workload. He's now the fastest quarterback in franchise history to surpass 2,500 passing yards through his first nine 10 starts.

2. The defense shut down the Patriots on third down.

While the Commanders were converting 53% of their third downs, the Patriots were running into a Burgundy & Gold wall that was working without Montez Sweat and Chase Young for the first time since trading the players away.

Other than their opening drives of the first and third quarters, the Patriots couldn't manage to keep their offense on the field. After moving down to the Commanders' 39-yard line to start the game, the Patriots didn't pick up a third down until the start of the third quarter. That one, which saw Ezekiel Elliott rush for six yards on a third-and-4, was their last of the day, as the Patriots put up just 106 yards on their final five drives.

Some of that lack of production stemmed from Mac Jones simply missing receivers, but the Commanders should also be credited for coming up with drive-stopping plays. Jamin Davis ended up making one of more clutch plays of the afternoon by knocking the ball away from Rhamondre Stevenson on third-and-6. 

By the end of the game, the Patriots were held to just 25% on third down, which is far below their season average of 39.5%.

Check out the best photos of the Washington Commanders' Week 9 matchup with the New England Patriots. (photos by Emilee Fails/Washington Commanders)

3. The offense didn't let its mistakes get things off track.

Washington has committed brutal mistakes on offense, and in previous weeks, those errors have spoiled leads and put a complete stop to momentum.

Those mistakes were back against the Patriots. Brian Robinson Jr. fumbled the ball at the Washington 25-yard line after helping the Commanders take a 10-point lead, and the Patriots capitalized by scoring a touchdown three plays later. Then, after the Patriots took a 14-10 lead, Howell tossed an ill-advised pass that turned into an interception in the end zone seconds before halftime. 

But rather than let the turnovers lead to more disastrous results, the Commanders stayed calm and got back to work.

Washington responded to a field goal by England with a 33-yard touchdown pass from Howell to Jahan Dotson to tie the score at 17. On the ensuing drive, Washington got to the New England 11-yard line before kicking a 30-yard field goal to retake the lead, 20-17.

Washington still needs to take better care of the football, but being able to stay on track despite giving up two turnovers is a sign of growth from the offense.

4. The Commanders' rookies came up with big plays.

Washington's rookie class made its mark on the team's win over the Patriots.

That starts with Emmanuel Forbes Jr., who started the season at the top of the depth chart but has seen limited playing time after a rough patch of giving up explosive plays. The first-round pick got more opportunities in Week 9 and played noticeably better with three tackles to go with two pass breakups. One of those deflections came on third down, as he worked against Tyquan Thornton to force an incompletion in the first quarter.

There's also running back Chris Rodriguez Jr., who didn't get a carry but still made plays in special teams. With 11:10 in the fourth quarter, he tackled Demario Douglas for a loss of two yards on a punt return, pinning the Patriots at their own 5-yard line.

And there was the game-sealing play from Quan Martin on the Patriots' final drive of the game. He was in the right spot to catch a deflected pass that was intended for JuJu Smith-Schuster, effectively ending the game with 30 seconds left.

Not only were those plays critical to the outcome of Sunday's game, but they also showed progress in the development of Washington's younger players.

5. Can Washington start a run to stay in the hunt?

Washington has been on a roller coaster this season. Good games have been followed by bad games, making it hard to predict what version of the Commanders will show up on a weekly basis.

The Commanders played well in a close loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. On Sunday, they went on the road against a struggling opponent and got their first road win over the Patriots in nearly three decades.

It would track for the Commanders to go on a run in the next few weeks. They usually play their best football around this time of year, and it's helped them stay in the hunt for playoff contention. Perhaps it's possible that Washington will do the same in Year 4 of Ron Rivera's tenure.

For now, however, Washington is focused on playing one game at a time. Next up is a trip to Seattle to take on the Seahawks, and should the Commanders win, it'll bring them back to .500 for the first time since Week 6.

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