One thing we learned right away on Sunday is the fact there’s nothing like the start of the regular season, which saw the Patriots open up the 2018 campaign with a hard-fought win over the Texans at Gillette Stadium.
Fans who were on hand for this one were treated to some big plays and players who emerged with some terrific moments on Sunday and here’s a quick rundown of what we came away with.
1) Defense Did a Great Job of Getting Pressure on Watson – If Sunday’s match-up against Houston is any indication, Patriots fans should be feeling pretty good about what the 2018 season has in store for this football team defensively. They held the Texans to a dismal 2-of-11 (18%) on third down and did a great job of getting pressure from the outside, with Deatrich Wise and Trey Flowers each putting the heat on Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson. They sacked him three times but forced a fair amount of errant throws, which saw Watson finish just 3-of-12 (25%) on first down and kept them in long yardage situations.
Overall, Watson finished the afternoon completing 17-of-34 (50%) for 176yds with 1TD and 1INT. That’s a significant change from how he fared last year, which saw him pass for 301 yards along with 2 touchdowns and credit New England’s defense for doing a much better job this time around.
Watson downplayed New England’s pass rush after Sunday’s win, blaming himself for not getting rid of it quicker and not on the offensive line.
“Really nowhere, I was just holding the ball too long,” Watson told reporters after the game when asked where he sensed most of the pressure the Patriots were putting on him. “So that was on me, not the offensive line. You can’t block forever so I have to get the ball out quick and continue to try to get the ball into the skill players’ hands and let them make plays.”
2) A Breakout Game For Dorsett – With Julian Edelman sidelined, one of the biggest questions coming into Sunday’s match-up was whether or not someone other than Rob Gronkowski or Chris Hogan would step up and make the key plays to keep the offense moving. Phillip Dorsett ended up being that guy and it’s amazing the difference a year makes in seeing Dorsett in the offense.
The veteran wideout, who New England acquired last season in the Jacoby Brissett trade, played extremely well, looking smooth and running incredibly precise routes as he and Tom Brady put on a clinic against Houston’s defense. It was a nice change from last season when many of the passes thrown his way were fruitless deep attempts down the field that often came up empty.
The two were a perfect 7-of-7 when Brady targeted Dorsett, with the receiver finishing with 66-yards along with a touchdown. One other impressive total was the fact 6 of those 7 receptions (including the touchdown) were all first downs including a perfect 2-of-2 in the red area.
“Yeah, Phillip did a great job, got some opportunity and then came up with the plays, came up with the catches,” Brady told the media after the game. It’s kind of what he’s been doing all camp, all spring and it was good to see it show up today. So, we needed it. We need everybody who’s out there to make plays. We’re not out there to punt, but we’ve got to string more good plays together in order to score more points.”
3) Nice Start For Rob Gronkowski – With Edelman sidelined, one of the obvious choices for Brady to lean on is Rob Gronkowski and the veteran tight end came up big on Sunday, including in a couple of big situations.
The big tight end finished the day with 7 receptions on 8 targets for 123-yards and made some noise early, with Brady hitting him on a beautiful back-shoulder throw on 3rd-and-12 from the Texans’ 21-yard line, which saw Gronkowski make a tremendous leaping grab in-between two defenders while showing some incredible body-control after he managed to turn around as he landed and then crossed the pylon for the touchdown.
It was a nice way to kick off the season and Gronk told reporters after the game that he was surprised to see the ball coming, but was happy with how it turned out.
“Yeah, when I was running up the seam I had two guys on me and when I saw the ball in the air I literally thought first thing, ‘What is Tom [Brady] thinking?'”, said Gronkowski after the game. “When that ball was in the air I had a guy grabbing me and I was just like, “I’ve just got to go for it.” I can’t let them make a play on it, so just went up for it, made the catch. I did make the catch. I don’t know how. When I went to the ground I had it stable in my hand, so it was definitely a catch, but Tom went up to the line really quick just to make sure. We got the play off, which was nice.”
Gronkowski also made another big play late in the first half when he made a diving grab for 28-yards, which replays showed was close after the ball appeared to move around but Brady brought the offense to the line and snapped the football before the officials had a chance to potentially review the play. Five plays later, the Patriots punched it when Brady hit Dorsett in the back of the end zone for a touchdown, putting them up 21-6 at the end of the half.
That’s exactly what you like to see from the star tight end and hopefully, it’s the start of another productive season for him.
Brady took some decent shots from the Texans Sunday.
4) Brady Doesn’t Get Enough Credit For His Toughness – While New England’s offensive line did a good job of keeping J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney away from Brady, when they did get to him, he took some tremendous shots.
Brady saw a couple of big hits, including one that saw him land on his head after getting rid of the football (which saw him shake his head after the play), along with another huge hit on a quarterback sneak where he got hit hard as he pushed up the middle and Houston’s defense dove in to try and drive him back.
This might not sound like a big deal, but all you need to do is look around the league at the number of quarterbacks who were knocked out of action on Sunday to appreciate the type of consistency Brady has provided over the entire course of his career. Brady can talk all he wants about the things he eats and drinks in terms of preparing his body for those impacts, but it doesn’t change how impressive it is that he’s still able to gut them out and weather them after they happen.
Granted, Brady’s never created the drama we saw last night with Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers rode off the field in the passenger seat of a cart after getting banged up thanks to a Bears defender landing on his leg, only to take the field in the second half and lead Green Bay to a come-from-behind win over a Chicago team that spent the entire second half trying not to lose instead of keeping their foot on the gas. Rodgers is being praised for his heroic performance, while Brady has quietly just played through whatever ailments he’s dealt with that many likely don’t even know were there.
Given that many people outside of New England view him as a “pretty boy” and don’t understand what he really brings from this standpoint, he really doesn’t get enough credit for his toughness, along with the ability to not lose his concentration following those hits. Several moments we saw Sunday tend to derail lesser players, which fortunately for fans in New England, doesn’t happen thanks to this key intangible that fortunately, Brady possesses.
5) Allen Remains Clutch – One of the stories during training camp was the punting battle between Ryan Allen and newcomer Corey Bojorquez, which became one of the more interesting storylines of the preseason.
Bojorquez was impressive at times but never saw action during the exhibition games and ultimately was waived and ended up in Buffalo. It worked out in a big way for the Patriots, who saw Allen come through again as the Patriots benefitted from his ability to consistently keep Houston starting drives deep in their own territory.
However, it was Allen’s punt at the end of the game where he pinned the Texans in at their own 1-yard line with 0:43 seconds left to play that proved crucial as it prevented Watson from being able to attempt a Hail Mary to tie the game as his final throw never reached the end zone.
As for Belichick’s decision to let Bojorquez go, Allen’s performance stands out and as usual he remained as consistent as ever. Meanwhile, Bojorquez, who played Sunday for Buffalo, made a critical fumble on a punt Sunday that the Ravens recovered and capitalized on during their 47-3 blowout victory over the Bills.
6) Not a good day for McCarron – Given the Patriots current situation at receiver, Riley McCarron saw himself get activated this week onto the active roster and Sunday left him likely frustrated after he muffed a punt and put his team in a tough situation.
Prior to the play in question, McCarron fair caught three straight punts but it was the fourth attempt where it all came apart. The receiver saw the ball bounce off his facemask, with former Patriot Johnson Bademosi recovering the football at New England’s 16-yard line. Houston would go on to capitalize on the miscue with a touchdown and suddenly were now within 7-points with just over 2-minutes left in the game.
McCarron was rightfully frustrated after the game, wishing he could have that one back.
“I made a stupid play,” said McCarron via NESN.com. “I should have handled the ball. It’s as simple as that. I did not make the decision on a fair catch, obviously, but I know the one I should have made now.”
“I just dropped the ball,” added McCarron. “It’s not a good feeling. I would like that not to happen anymore this season.”
7) Tough Break For Hill – Sunday was also bad for the Patriots from a medical standpoint, with running back Jeremy Hill suffering what appeared to be a serious injury.
Hill fell victim to friendly fire after Rob Gronkowski fumbled following a 25-yard reception and Houston recovered, but not before James Develin came in to try and make the tackle on Texans defensive back Kareem Jackson, who had recovered the football.
As Develin dove to attempt the tackle, he caught Hill in the back of his leg and Hill immediately started writhing around on the ground, grabbing his leg and the replay showed that his knee bent extremely awkwardly, which signaled it may have been serious.
Hill left the game and went into the blue medical tent before later being taken to the locker room.
To take it a step further, Hill Tweeted “God’s Plan”, which while cryptic, certainly shouldn’t have fans feeling confident that we’ll see him again this season. It’s one of those things you never like to see, especially early in the season, but best wishes to Hill in his recovery.
The Patriots will now just have to regroup and move on as they get set to head down to Jacksonville to take on the Jaguars next Sunday at 4:30pm ET.
Posted Under: 2018 Patriots Regular Season