For fifty-seven and a half minutes, the Houston Texans worked hard to erase a lot of bad memories in Foxboro. They went toe-to-toe with defending Super Bowl Champions and using an outstanding front seven of their defense and an up and coming rookie quarterback who frustrated and flummoxed the Patriots defense, they were in a position to win for the first time in New England up by a score of 33-28.
But the Patriots have Tom Brady and as he showed in February, he’ll be a 60-minute man and beyond. And he was at his very best once again when the chips were pushed into the middle of the table. Brady and the Patriots offense took over at their 25-yard line with 2:24 to go and actually went 85 yards thanks to a penalty that pushed them back to the 15-yard line. Facing a second and twenty, Brady went to Rob Gronkowski two times to get the key first down. Later facing a third and eighteen, he hit a strike to Danny Amendola.
Then the beauty to Cooks, a high-arcing pass that Brady dropped right into the bucket from 25 yards out with just 23 seconds to go for another improbable comeback win. But those seem to happen with such regular occurrence that sometimes we forget how special they are. Cooks had his man beaten cleanly and had to wait for the ball to come down, making a great catch while catching a forearm to the head and doing a great toe-tap to stay in bounds.
Brady described the play to the press after the game as he did a great job to look the safety off to give Cooks a one-on-one shot and he delivered.
“They were playing a two-high defense and we got Cookie behind the corner,” Brady said. “We had Danny going up the middle of the field, so I tried to stare down the middle and then put it up and didn’t really see the end of it until I saw it on the scoreboard. It was close, and then they reviewed it. I’m glad we got the two-point play. It was a great win. Got to play to the last second.”
Brady finished 25-35 for 378 yards with 5 TDs and 0 Interceptions for a ridiculous passer rating of 146.2 despite being under pressure most of the day. Cooks finished with 5 catches for 131 yards and two big touchdowns.
As we said in our pregame matchups, this was the reason the Patriots brought Cooks in this spring. Houston took away the middle of the field on those short/intermediate routes but Cooks with Hogan, now give the Patriots the speed to challenge opponents on the perimeter. And as good as Houston’s front seven is, their secondary was being ripped by Brady when he had time to throw.
His first completion of the day was a 44-yard bomb to Cooks on third down which set up a short Brady to Gronkowski touchdown pass. He also had a 42-yard score where he ran a post and then easily outran the coverage to the end zone. Brady also hit Hogan for two scores a 7-yarder and a 47-yarder which were ridiculously wide open.
Other observations include:
Watt Off the Score Sheet But Was a Big Influence: Texans’ DL J.J. Watt may not have gotten a sack in the game but don’t think for a second that he wasn’t influencing things. The Patriots doubled him on nearly every snap, and on plays that they didn’t he was chipped by Gronkowski on the way into the passing routes.
The first two plays of the game Watt dropped runners for a loss and on the pancake sack by Jadeveon Clowney, it was all set up by Watt. He bull-rushed LG Joe Thuney and shoved him into the back of Nate Solder’s legs sending them both tumbling. Clowney then had a clear path to Brady’s blind side and pancaked him to the ground.
Just because Watt didn’t register a sack doesn’t mean that he wasn’t influencing things out there. The Patriots were doubling him for a reason. I thought he played a very solid game.
Patriots Showed A Lot But Didn’t Come After Watson: Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia bluffed a lot, frequently putting ten men up in the box, practically daring QB DeShaun Watson to throw. But without the benefit of rewatching the tape yet, they didn’t blitz him much, if at all. And Watson hung in there, and for the most part had plenty of time to throw. When he didn’t, he bought time with his legs, showing an amazing ability to escape and deliver the ball.
Watson finished 22-33 for 301 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Although he had a couple of balls sail on him, he was pretty accurate for the most part. He had really only one bad throw, his first pick was a throw right to Stephon Gilmore.
Heat Took it Out on Both Teams: The unnaturally hot day was more akin to an August training camp practice than it was to a late September game with temperatures on the field over 90 degrees. Gilmore had to leave due to heat issues in the second half but did return. His absence left the team short for a spell. WIth Eric Rowe out, it left the team with Malcolm Butler and Jonathan Jones on the outside.
With that thought, both Butler and Gilmore played pretty well today. The main issues with the secondary were once Watson broke free from the pass rush it invariably means someone is going to get open downfield.
Situational Football Fail Early in the 4th Quarter: After the game, Bill Belichick spoke to the press about how the team in the final few minutes, excelled in situational football which was true. However early in the fourth quarter, the team had a situational failure that nearly cost them. On their first possession of the quarter, the Patriots faced a third and one and they rushed up to the line and tried to snap the ball quickly to catch the Texans off guard, a run to Mike Gillislee.
The Patriots have been going to the well one too many times with that particular strategy and teams aren’t going to fall for it anymore.
Facing a Houston Texans team with Bill O’Brien, Romeo Crennel, Mike Vrabel, Larry Izzo and Wes Welker on the coaching staff who have all been part of so many Patriots games where they used that strategy….it wasn’t going to fool them. The Texans were ready and easily stuffed the play. Josh McDaniels should have known that, taken his time and gotten the first down. That was a big momentum swing the other way. With that being said….
Defense Has a Long Way to Go: There is no other way to sugar coat this one…the defense has a lot of work to do. Thru three weeks, this unit lacks a finish and they get passive at times, as they always have, against running QBs. Watson resembled anything but a rookie for much of the game on Sunday and there remain many issues to fix.
Oh, and there is another running QB coming to Foxboro next Sunday. Cam Newton looked awful against the same New Orleans defense that Brady scorched last week. He threw for only 167 yards, no touchdowns, and three picks on Sunday. Somehow, I don’t see a continuation of those type of numbers next week.
Running Game Stuck In Neutral: Before the game, too many people were looking at the stat sheet and saying the Houston run defense was weak, after their Week 1 debacle against Jacksonville. We pointed out here, that was more of an anomaly and running was going to be an issue for the Patriots. And unfortunately, we were correct. The running game never got untracked and the first two possessions of the fourth quarter ended with the team failing on third and one …twice. That is unacceptable and needs to get fixed. The offensive line was getting no push on those plays. The team rushed 20 times for just 59 yards.
While the Texans have one of the best front sevens in football, the Patriots have come up short in five short yardage plays already this season, three against Kansas City and the two against Houston. While Marcus Cannon was out and Nate Solder has been playing hurt, it is more of an offensive line issue than one with the RBs, especially Mike Gillisllee.
Gronkowski Has a Big Game: Questions were around all week if tight end Rob Gronkowski would play this week after tweaking his groin in New Orleans, despite him saying numerous times that he was good to go.
Well, he played… and was his typical Gronk self. He scored the first touchdown of the game on a pass from Tom Brady and finished with 8 catches for 89 yards. He had two big catches on the final drive got the team going.
And he is an outstanding blocker, the team frequently either kept him in to help buy Brady time or had him chip J.J Watt on his routes. But he showed no signs of being injured from a week ago and was a key part of the big comeback win.
Amendola was Money Again: I don’t know how many times we’ve written here to don’t judge Danny Amendola strictly by his stats because they’re usually always at a big point in the game and when the team needs it the most. Sunday he was at it again.
We looked to him this week to take some of the pressure off of the outside wide receivers and he did that. While he had just three catches for 48 yards, his 27-yarder from Brady on the big third down and eighteen call was immense and set the table for Cooks’ game-winner.
Amendola also resurrected the return unit which had zero yardage last week. He had two big punt returns for 53 yards which flipped field position and set the team up in both cases. With Julian Edelman out for the year, players have to step up and Amendola did his job …once again on Sunday. He isn’t the biggest guy on the field, but he’s clutch and has arguably the surest hands on the team.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 2017 Patriots Season Bill Belichick Brandin Cooks Chris Hogan Danny Amendola Deshaun Watson Dion Lewis Houston Texans Jadeveon Clowney JJ Watt Julian Edelman Malcolm Butler New England Patriots NFL Patriots Patriots edge rushers Rob Gronkowski Tom Brady