The Patriots got off to a slow start in Houston, allowing a deadly combination of sustained drives and explosive scoring plays that put them into an early deficit, then New England compounded their own problems by turning the ball over multiple times. The result? A Houston lead that the Patriots had to chip away at throughout the game.
But New England would do just that, scoring on four-straight second-half possessions in the fourth quarter, including a game-winning field goal at the end of the fourth quarter that gave the Patriots' their second win of the season, 25-22.
With the comeback win, the Patriots climb to 2-3 on the season, earning the kind of close hard-fought victory that has eluded them in recent weeks.
Here's are the key takeaways from a much-needed win for the Pats in Houston.
Mac-curate start, inconsistent middle, clutch end
Despite the defensive miscues and turnovers, Mac Jones had another solid start for the Patriots offense and should've produced points on all three of the Patriots' first drives. But instead of 21 points, the offense put up just nine to start the game, with Jakobi Meyers' drop on the last drive before the half costing New England a potential big play.
It was a decent start for the rookie quarterback, who again showed good accuracy on his initial passes. However, Jones' accuracy and decision-making would wane in the middle of the game, culminating on the first drive of the second half as his first pass would be picked off and Houston would quickly take advantage of the turnover on the scoreboard.
Despite having to settle for field goals on two straight drives after the interception, Jones would find his red zone stride, hitting Hunter Henry in the end zone for a touchdown on third down that tied the game in the fourth quarter.
Jones would cap off the game with a game-winning drive that included some help from a roughing the passer penalty, but also a clutch 3rd-and-6 conversion. For the game, Jones finished 23-of-30 for 231 yards with a touchdown and an interception in picking up the second win of his career.
Slow start on defense, key stops at end
Allowing an 18-play, 79-yard touchdown scoring drive to open the game, one that ate up over 10 minutes of clock, was not the start that the Patriots defense was hoping for. J.C. Jackson's pass interference penalty on the first third down of the drive loomed large, as Houston's balanced attack had early success. Unfortunately, it was just a sign of things to come as the Patriots' defense couldn't come up with critical plays early on.
It looked like the Patriots defense would bounce back on the second drive, immediately getting to third down but Davis Mills' pass was misjudged by both Jackson and Devin McCourty, and Chris Moore high-pointed the catch and broke loose for a 67-yard touchdown. After allowing a methodical drive on Houston's first possession, the Pats were burned by a big play on the second.
The Texans would also convert three fourth-down plays in the first half, as they allowed the Patriots just three possessions in the opening frame, including two fourth-down conversions on the final drive that ended with a field goal. Getting a red zone hold was a positive end of the dreadful first half for the Pats D, but they allowed 237 yards in the first half and didn't do much outside of holding Houston to field goal before the break.
The problems would continue in the second half, coming off of a Mac Jones interception, the Texans took just two plays to hit the end zone again, using a flea-flicker for their second big-play score of the contest. It was a big situation, coming off a quick change, where the offense needed some help but the defense couldn't come through.
The defense would turn around late in the second half, forcing back-to-back punts and then getting a missed field goal from the Texans that opened the comeback door.
Sloppy Play Continues
After a missed extra point by Nick Folk on the first touchdown, Damien Harris would lose a fumble in the red zone for the second time this season, costing New England points. The ball security issues by the Patriots' running backs this season have been major, game-changing problems.
Mac Jones' interception on the first possession of the second half continued the Patriots' problems, as the team would turn the ball over right out of halftime for the second time in three weeks. After an ugly start by the defense to begin the game, the offense followed suit in the second. This whole season thus far has felt like a game of whack-a-mole with the bad plays.
The consistent self-defeating mistakes through five games have been a big problem for New England.
Patriots get to 2-3
It wasn't pretty and many of the same problems that have haunted the Patriots all season long continued to be a problem, but they kept fighting and found a way to pull out their second win of the season. Mac Jones continued his rapid acclimation to NFL life, going through many ups and downs in the contest that were in many ways representative of how his season has gone through five games.
2-3 isn't anything to celebrate, but with the way 2021 has gone for the Pats, we'll take it. There is still plenty to clean up, but this could be the kind of win that gets the team on track.
The New England Patriots take on the Houston Texans in Week 5 at NRG Stadium on Sunday, October 10, 2021.