LANDOVER, Md. — Tom Brady’s first interception in more than a month led to a screaming match on the sideline.
That’s how perfection-driven the New England Patriots are. On a day when tight end Rob Gronkowski is simultaneously strong and nimble while setting an NFL record, on a day when the defense again makes just enough plays to compensate for all the yards it allowed, on a day when a 34-27 score vs. the Washington Redskins meant a fifth straight victory, it was Brady who had to be calmed down after a rare fourth-quarter mistake.
With the Patriots leading by seven, Brady tried to find Tiquan Underwood at the back of the end zone and was instead picked off by Josh Wilson with 6:30 remaining. The Redskins then began a march downfield that could have sent Sunday’s game to overtime — even as Brady sat on the bench and exchanged words with offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien.
“I threw a pretty bad interception, so he wasn’t happy about it,” said Brady, who completed 22 of 37 passes for 357 yards with three touchdowns and his first interception since Nov. 6. “And there was probably a long line of coaches and players that were pretty (upset) at me after that, but Billy got to me first. He let me have it; I deserved it.”
And yet Brady had a 107.6 rating and upped his career touchdown pass total to 294, moving ahead of Warren Moon (291) into sole possession of sixth place all-time. Brady also surpassed the 4,000-yard mark for the fourth time in his career.
But the Patriots (10-3) have such high expectations that a miscue in a close win over a struggling team like the Redskins (4-9) gets the juices flowing between player and coach.
“We’re both pretty emotional guys,” Brady said.
Gronkowski, meanwhile, caught six passes for a career-high 160 yards and set the NFL single-season mark for touchdown receptions by a tight end. His 14th was an 11-yard grab that moved him ahead of Antonio Gates (2004) and Vernon Davis (2009), and No. 15 was a 24-yard scoring strike in the second half.
But it was the play immediately before No. 14 that everyone will remember.
Gronkowski made a diving catch, got up, dragged DeJon Gomes and Reed Doughty a few yards and escaped while tiptoeing along the sidelines. Gronkowski tiptoed again when hit by Wilson and stumbled ahead to complete the 49-yard gain.
“That play was right in front of us,” New England coach Bill Belichick said. “He did a great job there, getting the ball off the ground, breaking a couple tackles, staying in bounds — he had almost no room to work with on the sideline. … He’s a tough guy to cover, a tough guy to match up on.”
But the Patriots didn’t have the game won until they caught a couple of breaks at the end of Washington’s final possession. The Redskins drove from their own 20 to New England’s 5, but Santana Moss’ catch at the goal line was negated by a pass interference call on the receiver, and then Moss tipped a pass into the hands of linebacker Jerod Mayo to save the day for a New England defense that ranks last in the league in yards allowed — and one that can’t keep cutting it this close come playoff time.
“You kind of don’t want to give up those yards in the first place,” Patriots safety James Ihedigbo said. “But at the same time, we’re going to bow our necks once we get down there, and say, ‘Hey, they’re not getting in the end zone.’”
The Redskins (4-9) amassed a season-high 463 yards but lost for the eighth time in nine games. Already playing without tight end Fred Davis and left tackle Trent Williams — both suspended for the rest of the season last week for violating the NFL’s drugs policy — Washington lost another offensive starter during pregame warm-ups when right tackle Jammal Brown injured his right groin.
But it was the officiating that had the Redskins steamed. In addition to the crucial flag on Moss, linebacker London Fletcher was whistled in the second quarter for a personal foul call that appeared particularly egregious. The referee announced that Fletcher hit a late-sliding Brady with a forearm to the head, but Fletcher’s arm clearly hit the quarterback in the chest.
Coach Mike Shanahan said he thought the call against Fletcher was “horrible.”
“We don’t get no calls around here, man,” Moss said. “You guys have been covering us for a long time. Y’all see what goes on out there. We blow our breath on one of the doggone guys over there and it’s a penalty. Our quarterback gets killed — and you just almost hit somebody that’s a quarterback and we get flagged. So a lot of stuff goes on. But I guess we’ve got to play against a team and the ref.”
Notes: The Redskins were the only current NFL franchise New England had never beaten on the road. … Roy Helu (126) became the first Washington rookie to run for 100 yards in three straight games. … Patriots WR Wes Welker became one of three players in NFL history with four 100-catch seasons, joining Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison. … Redskins FB Mike Sellers hyperextended his right elbow. … The end zones were marked “Army” and “Navy,” leftovers from the game the stadium hosted a day earlier.
Joseph White can be reached at http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP