Surely, the defense had three forgettable quarters before then. But it was proud to close out the win at Washington. Linebacker Jerod Mayo hauled in an interception on the shadow of the goal line that sealed the victory with 20 seconds remaining in regulation.
"It meant a lot, but at the same time, we feel like it shouldn't have ever gotten to that point," Mayo said. "We've got to continue to improve and eliminate the big plays and things like that. Hopefully, it's better next week."
The defense failed to preserve a tie game in the final drive of New England's loss to Buffalo in Week 3, and it lost a lead with 15 seconds to play against the Giants in Week 9. Last week's fourth-quarter meltdown against the Colts spurned the finishing mantra that was echoed throughout Gillette Stadium during the entire week leading up to Sunday's game against the Redskins.
That's why the Patriots' defensive players were happy to accomplish the goal.
"That's big," Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty said. "We've been talking about finishing, playing 60 minutes."
For a moment, it looked like the 34-27 lead would disappear. After Tom Brady's interception in the end zone, the New England defense allowed the Redskins to advance the ball to the Patriots' 5-yard line, but the Redskins couldn't punch it in. Adding to it, Washington head coach Mike Shanahan said after the game that he was considering the possibility of going for a two-point conversion if the Redskins found the end zone.
But the drive halted on third-and-goal at the 9-yard line when quarterback Rex Grossman's pass jumped out of the hands of wide receiver Santana Moss — due to linebacker Tracy White's timely hit and his effort to pull on Moss' arm as he tried to corral the bouncing ball — and into Mayo's arms.
The Patriots were prepared for that look, too, which led to Bill Belichick's decision to leave his timeouts on the board. Belichick was confident with the defense's play call, and he said was cautious to use a timeout because he didn't want the Redskins to adjust to New England's personnel.
The Patriots practiced how they'd defend that situation throughout the week, particularly with Moss' crossing pattern, and they were excited with the execution of their zone scheme on that play.
Of course, that's because it led to the victory.