The New England Patriots remain undefeated, thanks to a dominant 33-7 victory over the Washington Redskins on Sunday. The game itself was a tale of two halves for the Patriots, especially on the offensive side of the ball: the unit needed until the third quarter to get going, but it ultimately ended up playing a rather convincing game — just like a defense that again smothered its opponent for most of the day.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, however, and instead take a look at some of the men that stood out during the contest.
Winner: LB Dont’a Hightower
From start to finish, Dont’a Hightower looked like the best player on the field. Coming off a game missed because of a shoulder injury, the Patriots’ defensive on-field signal caller was terrific in the passing and the running game, and set the tone for the entire unit: he was physical, rarely out of position, and made impact plays. The 29-year-old registered 1.5 sacks and four tackles for loss on the day, while nearly registering an interception as well. It was a dominant effort.
Winner: LB Jamie Collins Sr.
Dont’a Hightower was not the only Patriots linebacker to shine on Sunday. Jamie Collins also continues to add to his impressive season résumé — bolstering his case to add the Defensive Player of the Year discussion: not only did he have a 13-yard sack against Washington, he also forced a fumble and recovered another one. Collins, as he has been all year, was always around the football no matter how the Patriots opted to use him.
Winner: WR Julian Edelman
Despite being listed as questionable on Friday’s final injury report because of a chest injury that limited his impact last week, Julian Edelman had arguably his best game of the year on Sunday. The veteran wide receiver finished the day as the team leader in receptions (8) and receiving yards (110) and was his reliable self as a target in the short and intermediate range. Edelman also caught a 6-yard touchdown to answer Washington’s first quarter score.
Winner: RB Sony Michel
After four mostly forgettable games in which he failed to consistently gain positive yards, Sony Michel had a breakout performance in Week 5. The Patriots’ lead back was handed the football 16 times and he finished with 91 yards and a touchdown — his 5.7 yards per carry is a clear improvement over the season-long 2.9 with which he entered the game. Furthermore, Michel also saw considerable action as a receiving option out of the backfield: he caught all three passes thrown his way, gaining 32 yards.
Winner: FB Jakob Johnson
The Patriots’ running game got into a rhythm in the second half, and fullback Jakob Johnson played a big role. The undrafted rookie — who joined New England through the NFL’s International Pathway Program and only was elevated to the active roster due to James Develin being sent to injured reserve — saw considerable action as a lead blocker and looked good in the role. He also registered his first ever touch in the league: in the first quarter, Johnson caught a five-yard pass from Tom Brady.
Losers: The offensive line (OT Marshall Newhouse, OG Joe Thuney, OC Ted Karras, OG Shaq Mason, OT Marcus Cannon)
To be fair, not all was bad for the offensive line on Sunday: the unit looked strong when it came to run blocking in the second half which might be a potential sign of things to come. The pass protection was abysmal at times, however, with Tom Brady under constant duress in the first half: he was sacked three times in the first 22 minutes of the game, and never had much room to step up until the ground game helped lift some pressure off him and the blockers up front. The two tackles and center Ted Karras looked especially shaky in pass blocking at times.
Winner: CB Jonathan Jones
While the Redskins were able to complete some downfield throws, the Patriots’ secondary was again in lock-down mode — with Jonathan Jones standing out as arguably the best among the group on Sunday. While he remains the only top cornerback on the roster without an interception this season, his impact was noteworthy not just because of his tight coverage from the slot: in the second quarter, he also forced a fumble that was recovered by New England.
Winner: DT Danny Shelton
If not for Jamie Collins’ impressive season, Danny Shelton might have a case as the most improved player on the Patriots’ roster. On Sunday, his growth was on display again: not only did he help New England regularly win at the point of attack in the running game — the final stat-line is deceiving because of a 65-yard touchdown run on an end around — the pressure against quarterback Colt McCoy also was significant. Shelton contributed with a 7-yard sack in the first quarter.