FOXBOROUGH – It bears repeating. Roger Goodell obviously went after the wrong guy.
Given more limitations and restrictions than a PGA pro giving a handicap to some duffer, Bill Belichick still won. To paraphrase Rush Limbaugh, it seemed like he had half his brain tied behind his back just to make it fair. The Houston Texans are not that bad. But Belichick is that good.
Whatever superlatives were stated following the Week 1 win at Arizona, tear them up and throw them away. Time for some new ones. The Patriots went out and shut out the Texans on Thursday night at Gillette Stadium, 27-0. This now must rank as one of the most amazing regular season wins of the Belichick Era, and perhaps in franchise history. The Brady-less Patriots are now 3-0, 3/4ths of the way through Tom Brady’s suspension, and the team looks better than ever.
Brady sits at home with wife Gisele and kids, but the Patriots look as good without him as they would with him. Belichick designed a perfect game plan for Jacoby Brissett, the defense once again handled Houston at home like they always have done, and the Patriots are now one win away from surviving the Brady suspension unscathed, with a home game a week from Sunday against Buffalo the one remaining game without their future Hall of Fame quarterback.
This amazing win is even more amazing given how many coaches on the Houston side have ties to the Patriots. Head coach Bill O’Brien, offensive coordinator George Godsey, defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, all of them served under Belichick. Linebackers coach Mike Vrabel, special teams coach Larry Izzo, all former Patriots. And the best Houston defensive player of the evening? Who else but Vince Wilfork, making his first Foxborough visit since leaving the team following the Super Bowl XLIX win.
With all this Patriot familiarity on the Houston sideline, they still lost 27-0. These are smart, capable men who simply got beaten by perhaps the all-time best. Again, these are high quality coaches and former players. And Belichick beat them 27-0 without Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo, with a third string quarterback and a wide receiver as backup QB.
All the Patriot touchdowns were of the rushing variety. LeGarrette Blount scored two of them, including a most enjoyable 41-yard gallop off left tackle in the fourth quarter. Brissett managed the offense perfectly, with no bad throws, no interceptions, and no bad decisions.
Brissett had the other rushing touchdown, one that will relegate him to folk hero status. Following a fumbled kickoff, the Patriots took over at the Houston 22. After a false start on Marcus Cannon, it was first and 15 at the 27. Brissett took the snap and play faked to Blount going to the left. The entire defense bit on the fake, and Brissett took off on the right side wide open. He made it to the five-yard line when he had to sidestep Andre Hal, and he did so and dove into the end zone. It made it 10-0 Patriots at the time. It looked like a high school option play, and Crennel nearly had a heart attack screaming at his defense after the play.
The 27-yard run was the longest touchdown run by a Patriot quarterback since Steve Grogan in 1976 on a Monday night against the Jets.
Given a short week to prepare, Belichick and Josh McDaniel gave Brissett a plan he could work with. The passes Brissett threw were of the safe variety, with the option of simply overthrowing the ball if the man wasn’t open. His longest completion was a first quarter slant route to Malcolm Mitchell which was 27 yards thanks to a nice run after the catch. Danny Amendola had two catches, but both were third down conversion grabs, one of them a 16-yard catch on third and 15. Brissett finished 10 of 19 passing for 103 yards. Julian Edelman, Brissett’s backup, had 4 catches for 38 yards.
Brissett became the first rookie Patriot quarterback to win his first start since Grogan in 1975, a 24-16 win against the 49ers. The only other rookie quarterback to win his first career start for the Patriots was Jim Plunkett, who beat Oakland 20-6 in 1971.
Blount had his second straight 100-yard game, finishing with 105 yards on 24 carries and two touchdowns. Like last week against Miami, he was stuffed early but finished strong when the Houston defense tired and began to allow holes to open up. Like he did as a Patriot, Wilfork was stout against the run and proved that he can still play like he always played in these parts.
Some unsung heroes in the game are the Patriot offensive line and punter Ryan Allen. Once again, the plan was to take away J.J. Watt, the perennial All-Pro. Watt had one key tackle, while Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus never got their names called for the entire game. Brissett was well protected for most of the game, and the line allowed only one sack, by Bernardrick McKinney.
Allen, meanwhile, had one of his best punting games as a Patriot. The average drive start for Houston on punts (not kickoffs) was the 11-yard line. Allen’s last two fourth quarter punts put the Texans at the five and four yard line respectively, helping to ensure the shutout. Belichick could be seen on the sideline yelling attaboys at Allen after his last punt.
Brock Osweiler, who helped ruin the perfect Patriot season last year at Denver, didn’t have nearly the night he had last November. He finished 24 of 41 passing for 196 yards and one interception. DeAndre Hopkins had four catches for 56 yards, with some of his catches being of the acrobatic variety. Lamar Miller had 80 yards on the ground, he being the most productive on offense for Houston.
Belichick pulled even with former Packers head coach Curly Lambeau with his 226th win as head coach. He trails only Don Shula, George Halas and Tom Landry. That’s some pretty good company for His Hoodiness.
But best of all, Belichick continues to take this Brady suspension and seemingly flip off Goodell and the entire NFL. It seems no matter how handicapped the Patriots are, they still win. With both Brady and Garoppolo not available, and a rookie quarterback making his first ever head start in a short week, it is proud redemption for Belichick, for Bob Kraft, and for all of Patriot Nation. For all the mud and slime that the NFL tried to put all over the Patriot brand with the ridiculous handling of the DeflateGate situation, if the Patriots can pull off a win next Sunday against Buffalo, the Patriots will finally come out of this embarrassing situation smelling like a rose, and not Goodell or the NFL shield.
If all Goodell wanted to do was to punish Brady, so be it. But if it was the Patriots that Goodell wanted to punish, it has been proven again that Brady wasn’t the guy to go after. Whatever was proven, thought to be proven, or found to be “more probable than not”, when all is said and done, the Patriots emerge victorious in the end, and that is definite and not probable.
Brady need not worry about his job security. He will reassume full helmsmanship of the Patriot ship when he is able to return in Week 5. And when he does, the team will go from great to greater.
Because he will be back, the best quarterback running the show on the field, with the best coach on the sidelines behind him all the way.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary