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Patriots Unfiltered Thu Oct 21 | 11:55 AM - 02:00 PM

Game Observations: Patriots overcome adversity, then Texans 

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Were this a normal week, we'd be focused predominantly on whether or not the Patriots could bounce back from last weekend's emotionally-charged loss to Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Bucs. Initially, that's exactly how we on the outside looking in approached it.

Then, New England's offensive line and defensive backfield started falling apart due to injuries and COVID-19 protocols. With four of five starters missing on the O-line, New England was forced to pluck three players from the practice squad Saturday and rely on other backups to plug the holes.

In Houston, the coaching staff settled on a line consisting of (left to right) Justin Herron, James Ferentz, David Andrews, Ted Karras, and Yodny Cajuste, who was not only making his first start, but also his first appearance in an NFL game. Only Andrews, one of the team's co-captains, occupied his normal spot.

Herron had been playing right tackle in place of Trent Brown, whose calf injury landed him on IR this weekend. But with left tackle Isaiah Wynn on the reserve/COVID list and Cajuste making his NFL debut, it seemed safer to put a more experienced player on rookie Mac Jones' blind side.

Ferentz, the most experienced lineman on the practice squad, was a sensible choice to replace left guard Mike Onwenu (on the COVID list with Wynn), while versatile interior backup Karras was an obvious fill-in for ailing Shaq Mason (abdomen) at right guard.

Ironically, not only was this patchwork offensive line NOT a liability, it was a primary reason why the Patriots were able to mount a furious second-half comeback win. Of course, some atrocious Texans special teams performances – two missed extra points, a missed field goal, a kickoff out of bounds, and a 0-yard punt disaster – plus questionable clock management decisions by Houston's coaching staff also contributed mightily to New England's cause.

Meanwhile, in another ironic twist, it was the Patriots' most experienced defensive backs who made some crucial mistakes that gave the Texans an early lead and momentum. Let's go into further detail with these observations:

* * *

Just a forgettable first half from a New England defensive perspective, starting with the game's opening possession. Houston, led by their rookie QB, Davis Mills, mounted their longest drive (in terms of game clock elapsed) in a decade. Davis moved the Texans 79 yards in 18 plays, chewing up more than 10 minutes, or two-thirds of the first quarter.

Houston got some help from a J.C. Jackson pass interference penalty, but as a unit, the Patriots also gave up pair of third downs, plus an 8-yard pass on 4th-and-2.

The Texans converted 5 of 9 third downs throughout the first half, as well as a trio of successful fourth-down attempts.

* * *

Two players in particular struggled during the first half: Jackson and safety Devin McCourty. The duo combined to surrender Houston's second TD, a somewhat ill-advised heave by Mills, but receiver Chris Moore (fresh off the practice squad a day earlier) out-reached Jackson, who was actually in decent position to make a play on the ball. McCourty over-pursued and ran out of bounds momentarily, allowing Moore to outrace both chasing defenders to the end zone. Jackson would later commit a defensive holding penalty on the goal line against receiver Brandin Cooks.

* * *

Going back to those fourth-down failures for a moment, on a 4th-and-1 from Houston's own 42-yard line, Mills threw the same pass, a slant, this time to receiver Brandin Cooks over Jackson, that he did earlier in the game when McCourty couldn't defend a similar throw on fourth down.

On a 4th-and-2 during the second quarter, Mills connected on a 40-yard completion thanks in part to a McCourty missed tackle. Mills threw for 202 first-half yards.

* * *

Edge rusher Matt Judon once again proved one of the bright spots on D. Judon sacked Mills twice in the red zone during the waning moments of the first half, giving him 6.5 QB takedowns on the season. He already has more sacks in the first five games than last year's New England sack leader, Chase Winovich (5.5).

* * *

In the end, the Patriots' secondary did a fine job of limiting Cooks, who entered the game as by far the most productive Texans receiver. He finished with just three catches for 23 yards.

* * *

While the defense was having its early issues, on the other side of the ball, Jones looked especially sharp throwing the ball in the first two quarters, thanks in part to solid protection from his brand new personnel group of O-linemen. Throughout the game, he got away with a couple of errant throws that were either dropped by Texans defenders or, when his normally clutch receiver Jakobi Meyers dropped an easy one, Houston committed a penalty that nullified the play.

At the start of the third quarter, Jones had a sloppy moment with an INT almost immediately that set the Texans up with excellent field position. It led a short time later to a flea-flicker touchdown pass by Mills to receiver Chris Conley. Overall, though, Jones looked in good command of his offense, particularly in the latter stages, when he was running some no-huddle plays, and didn't look at all flustered while trying to help his team come from behind in the second half.

A few times, he had to scramble out of the pocket and displayed good awareness of his surroundings. His touchdown pass to tight end Hunter Henry was a well-placed throw over the heads of a couple of Texans defenders. In addition, Jones only suffered one sack in the game, a credit to the performance of his offensive line.

* * *

Mac Jones on the day

Table inside Article
Attempts Completions Yards Sacks/Yards TD Long INT
30 23 231 1/5 1 24 1

Incompletions vs. HOU

Table inside Article
Total Throw Aways Overthrows Underthrows Batted Passes Drops Passes Defensed INT
7 2 0 0 0 0 4 1

Incompletions in 2021

Table inside Article
Total Throw Aways Overthrows Underthrows Batted Passes Drops Passes Defensed INT
55 6 12 6 3 5 18 5

Rollercoaster of a day for the ball carriers behind Jones. Starter Damien Harris had a strong start, epitomized by his touchdown carry that answered Houston's long opening drive. On the Wildcat play, Harris took the direct snap and was met by a Texans defender at the line of scrimmage, but kept his legs moving to drive himself through the would-be Texans tackler. However, later, Harris would lose his second fumble of the season in a critical situation, as he was about to cross the goal line for his second score. Harris eventually had to be pulled, perhaps because of a chest injury that was later reclassified as a rib issue. Harris would return briefly in the fourth quarter, but the second half belonged mostly to veteran Brandon Bolden and rookie Rhamondre Stevenson. The latter made his first appearance since fumbling in Week 1 and carried 11 times. Though his yardage only amounted to 23 total yards, he picked up a couple of important first downs in the process.

* * *

It's becoming clear that Jones has a reliable stable of pass catchers, including the aforementioned Henry and Meyers, wide receivers Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor, and tight end Jonnu Smith. These five are beginning to look comfortable being on the field together and getting open for their young quarterback.

* * *

After his heartbreaking miss at the end of last week's Tampa game, kicker Nick Folk missed his first PAT of the game, but later recovered to drill a pair of 52-yard field goals along with the game-winning chip shot to close out the victory. He's been around long enough to know how to bounce back – psychologically more than anything – from bad plays like these.

* * *

During the second half, third-stint linebacker Jamie Collins blitzed and got himself a sack in his first appearance since being re-signed earlier this week. Otherwise, a quiet day for Collins, but a positive contribution nonetheless.

* * *

Powerful Play/Player of the Game presented by Enel

An absolute head-scratcher of a decision by Houston to try to draw New England offside with a pretend fake punt backfired on the Texans. Seemingly comfortable up 22-9 and with the Patriots having issues, Houston punter Cameron Johnston ran up to the line of scrimmage to simulate a shotgun quarterback, then backed up a few paces to receive the long snap. He didn't get back deep enough, however, and booted the ball off the helmet of a teammate. It wound up rolling sideways, out of bounds at the original line of scrimmage for no gain. The excellent field position helped Jones and the offense move into position for Folk's second 52-yarder of the afternoon, thus giving life to an otherwise lethargic Patriots team.

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