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Week 9 Patriots vs Washington: It Was Garbage Time in the First Quarter

The Patriots were never in any danger against Washington and the odds backed that up.

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

I've been spending a little bit of time this season talking about garbage time. I think it's important to understand the context behind some of the statistics and rankings that are thrown around.

For instance, the Patriots 17th in passing yards against and 2nd in rushing yards against on the year. These numbers are heavily skewed by the game script, where the Patriots get a big lead and opposing teams have to throw the ball in order to catch up. Of course the Patriots have had arguably the best run defense in the league since week 3, but the Patriots also have a top 10 pass defense by opposing passer rating, a better indicator of defensive ability than yardage.

The Patriots rank 5th in points against, but the game against Washington highlighted how not every point is equal. The Patriots were sitting with a 27-3 lead with 11 minutes left in the 4th quarter. No team has ever come back from that deficit. Quarterback Kirk Cousins got the ball with 3:51 left in the game and led an 80-yard touchdown drive using up nearly every second.

The score had no impact on the game, but it's the difference between the Patriots ranking #1 in the league in points against and #5. No team has allowed more garbage time points than New England.

I've been tracking the garbage numbers this year and I've been using 99% as my marker. Once the Patriots have a 99% chance of victory, I consider that Garbage Time. I have also been tracking the 99.9% chance of victory, which I'll call Double Secret Garbage Time.

It turns out that 73 of the Patriots points allowed have come in Garbage Time and 56 points have come in Double Secret Garbage Time. This means that 51% of the Patriots points allowed have come after the game was pretty much decided, and 39% of the points have come when the game was definitely decided.

Also, all ten of Washington's points game in Garbage Time.

Wait, what?

Per Pro Football Reference's probability model, the Patriots had a 99.3% chance of victory after Tom Brady completed the 48-yard pass to Brandon LaFell up the middle of the field on 3rd and 8. By my defined terms, that means that Garbage Time started with roughly 2 minutes left in the first quarter and the Patriots leading 14-0.

It took the Patriots until their first drive of the second half to reach a 99.9% chance of victory and Double Secret Garbage Time, but the outcome of this game was never in question.