Had Sunday’s game against the Texans ended in disaster, the Patriots would have found themselves on the wrong end of losses to two teams that they had previously had success against.
Having beaten Kansas City in the postseason previously, it’s safe to say that very few people expected the Chiefs to come into Foxboro on opening night and hand them one of the worst losses of the Bill Belichick era.
However, even fewer likely expected Sunday’s game to turn into a dog fight against a Texans team that they’ve always handled pretty easily. Considering they also had a rookie quarterback, remarkably this Texans club held their own all the way to the end but weren’t quite able to overcome the fact the Patriots still had Tom Brady, who at the end of the game delivered the knockout blow with a touchdown pass to Brandin Cooks.
Fortunately, the Patriots find themselves sitting at 2-1 after defeating Houston 36-33, which may be a game we’ll end up talking about at the end of the year given the fact it could have playoff implications should the Texans be in the mix next January.
Here are some thoughts from the game.
1) The Texans finally found themselves a quarterback – One thing that can be said for Houston is the fact they’ve consistently had one of the better defenses in the league but they just haven’t been able to get anyone under center to get their offense going. From Brian Hoyer, to Ryan Mallett to Brock Osweiler, they’ve had a host of bad quarterbacks that haven’t panned out, yet somehow, they’ve managed to continue to be a contender in the AFC North.
But newcomer Deshaun Watson proved on Sunday that he may finally be the answer the Texans have been looking for. He went toe-to-toe all afternoon with Tom Brady, finishing just two attempts and three completions shy of Brady’s totals. He made some incredible throws under duress on Sunday, while also escaping the Patriots’ pass rush on multiple occasions where it seemed like they had him dead to rights.
However, in the end he couldn’t quite outplay one of the best in the game and it was Brady who ultimately made the critical throw to put the game away. But while it might be a loss for Watson and the Texans, this is a game that Houston should still walk away with some serious confidence knowing they more than held their own against one of the best. A few plays here or there and this one could have gone differently and as fans in New England know, where a team is in week three is far different from where they’ll be in Week 16.
Should Watson continue to grow in the months to come, it’s obvious that the Texans may be a team that could finally give this team trouble moving forward. If this is the start of their ascension, the rivalry between a club with Patriots roots may finally become one that fans can no longer afford to take lightly.
Gronkowski’s return was big on Sunday.
2) Gronk’s Return Key, But Streak Ends – One of the most positive signs from Sunday was the return of Rob Gronkowski, who left last week’s game with a groin injury and left himself as somewhat of a question mark heading into week three. Gronkowski participated in practice last week and was in the line-up Sunday, piling up 89 yards on 8 catches. Five of his eight receptions moved the chains but he saw an impressive streak come to an end on Sunday. In 2016 all 9 of his third down receptions went for first downs and coming into Sunday’s game, Brady had converted a perfect 5-of-5 (all first downs, including one touchdown) targeting the big tight end. He extended it to 6-of-6 (adding another TD) but on the next one, Gronkowski was stopped short with just a 3-yard gain on a 3rd-and-8, ending his conversion streak at 15-for-15 dating back to last season.
Brady also missed him on a 3rd-and-1 in the fourth quarter, ending what had been a 17-for-17 third down completion streak that also dated back through the 2016 regular season.
3) Amendola’s Presence Was a Big Improvement Both on Special Teams and In New England’s Offense – Having Danny Amendola back in the line-up gave the Patriots a jolt in the return game, with the veteran back returning punts on Sunday against Houston. Amendola had a 33yd return following Houston’s first possession, which got them out to midfield to begin the Patriots’ first offensive series. It proved to be a big help as the Patriots marched 51 yards on 7 plays, with Gronkowski catching a 5-yard touchdown from Brady to put them up early at 7-0.
He was also big in the passing game, catching 3 passes for 48 yards, two of which came on third down. More importantly, his mere presence on the field gives them another key player teams need to account for, and as we saw Sunday, it opens up opportunities for players like Brandin Cooks to be dangerous in this offense.
Gilmore finally had a strong showing Sunday against Houston.
4) Breakout Game For Stephon Gilmore – The Patriots obviously spent a lot of money when they added Gilmore during the offseason and the veteran had arguably his best game as a Patriot on Sunday during the club’s win over Houston.
Gilmore finished the game with his first interception with the team, which came early in the second quarter and was run back 39-yards to the Houston 12-yard line. Shortly after, Brady connected with Chris Hogan for 7-yards out for the touchdown which at the time put the Patriots up 14-10 but given how the game played out, that turnover was obviously critical to their victory.
Overall Gilmore, who was listed with a “groin” injury during the week, finished the game with 4 tackles including one for a loss to go with his interception. He left for a bit due to dehydration but came back and finished the game. It’s a positive sign for a secondary that’s obviously still finding their way, but seeing Gilmore start settling in is certainly a positive sign as we head into week 4.
“We got a lot of work to do,” said Gilmore after the game. “We can get better, watch the film and learn from our mistakes and go from there.”
5) Texans Clock Management At the End Was Questionable – One of the biggest mistakes Houston admitting making after the game was the fact that they settled for field goals too often and simply left too much time on the clock for Brady to go out there and do Brady-like things.
The Patriots took over with 2:24 to go in the game after the Texans kicked a 36-yard field goal to extend their lead to 33-28 and with that much time, Bill O’Brien knew that failing to score a touchdown left too much of an opportunity for Brady to win the game.
“Again it is on me,” said O’Brien. “You can’t kick field goals in the red area and, you know, we had too many field goals down there. And then we leave too much time on the clock. He’s a tough guy to defend…he’s done it for a long time.”
The Texans also blew it when they mishandled the clock on their ensuing possession following a 21-yard pick up to DeAndre Hopkins, failing to call a timeout right away despite the fact that every single fan in the stadium was audibly counting down to the point where you could clearly hear it during the broadcast. Instead, the Texans waited until there was :03 left to play, allowing no chance for a quick throw to move them closer prior to Watson’s Hail Mary, which was a decent throw but ended up being picked off.
O’Brien took the blame on that as well.
“Yeah, I screwed that up. My mistake.”
Fortunately he did and time ran out, allowing the Patriots to walk away with the win.
The Patriots will now get set to take on the Panthers next Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
Posted Under: 2017 Patriots Season