There were 5 minutes, 22 seconds left in the second quarter Sunday when the Redskins were in jeopardy of squandering a promising start.
After leading the entire first quarter against the undefeated New England Patriots, the Redskins found themselves trailing, 9-7, and in danger of allowing another touchdown before halftime. The Patriots defense had just recovered a fumble from wide receiver Trey Quinn, giving quarterback Tom Brady the ball on Washington’s 16-yard line.
But facing a 3rd-and-6, Brady was pressured from the moment he began the play, as linebacker Ryan Kerrigan came unblocked around the left edge. Brady heaved the ball to James White towards the front-left pylon of the end zone, but safety Montae Nicholson ran right with him and came down with the interception -- just Brady’s second of the season.
Minutes later, the Patriots again began a drive in the opposing red zone but settled for a field goal and a 12-7 halftime advantage.
“The defense played a great first half,” said quarterback Colt McCoy following the 33-7 defeat. “We couldn’t get anything going [on offense] and they were battling. We turned the ball over deep and they stopped them for a field goal. Those are the things that good teams do.”
The defense knew it was heading for its biggest challenge hosting Brady. While the Patriots do not have a top-10 offense, Brady had thrown seven touchdowns to just one pick and completed at least 66% of his passes in three games. He also had only been sacked three times through four games, which ranked among one of the lowest among starting quarterbacks.
But Brady was not as effective in the first half Sunday, completing 19 of 31. In addition to his interception, Brady was also sacked three times, which equaled his total over the previous four games.
“Anytime you can get sacks is good,” said defensive lineman Jonathan Allen. “But affecting the quarterback is almost more effective than getting a sack. You can force them to overthrow, get an interception. So it’s not all about getting sacks. It’s about playing good team defense.”
Team defense is what caused the interception. The Redskins brought six players on a blitz, leaving Kerrigan to get to Brady unimpeded. The rush forced Brady to throw into double coverage, allowing Nicholson to easily make the grab.
The Redskins had four players record at least a half sack Sunday, including Kerrigan, Matt Ioannidis, Daron Payne and Tim Settle, who recorded the first sack of his career.
“We just stuck to the game plan, and I just worked,” Settle told NBC Sports Washington writer JP Finley. “Kept using power, kept using speed and eventually I got there. It was an amazing feeling to get to him with him being my favorite player.”
The defense couldn’t maintain its momentum in the second half, though, as Brady and the Patriots’ offense scored 21 unanswered points to close out the game.
When asked if the defense felt better with its Week 5 performance, Allen said, “Definitely, but we didn’t put together a full 60 minutes. So, we just have to go back to the drawing board again and see what we can do to get things corrected.”
There have been signs of the unit's potential recently, such as in the second half against the New York Giants on Sept. 29 and the first 30 minutes Sunday. But it has not been nearly consistent enough thus far, and the players are hell-bent on changing that.
“At this point, it’s easy to turn on each other, but you gotta put your head down and grind,” Allen said. “This is the NFL. … At the end of the day, no one cares about your feelings, the coaches’ feelings or my feelings. We have to get it done."
Check out photos of the Washington Redskins during their regular season Week 5 game against the New England Patriots.