The Patriots comeback attempt against Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans fell short, closing out a disappointing 27-20 loss that dropped the Pats to 4-6 on the season and put a significant damper on any playoff hopes the team might've had after knocking off the Ravens last week.
New England had few answers for Watson in the game, watching the Houston quarterback throw for 344 yards and two touchdowns, while doing themselves no favors with seven penalties for 55 yards. The Pats run game never got loose on the Texans' poorly ranked run defense, instead relying on Cam Newton's arm to mount a comeback attempt after Houston established a 21-10 lead at halftime.
As usual, the Pats made a push, holding the Texans to just two field goals in the second half, while putting up 10 points but yet again this season they couldn't make the final play to pull it out.
Here's everything that stood out from a disjointed performance that featured too much sloppy play and too many mistakes to get a third-straight win.
- The Patriots defense got the kind of start they needed with a nice stop on 3rd-and-3 to force a punt on the initial series. Lawrence Guy made a key stop on second down with Chase Winovich setting a strong edge, as the Pats continued to spin the dial on defense with some new twists including John Simon off the ball and using both Terez Hall and Ja'Whaun Bentley as inside 'backers. Carl Davis was employed as an interior pass rusher on third down and got some good push that didn't allow Deshaun Watson to step into his throw, which faked out even the cameraman on the broadcast. Any time this Patriots team can start the game by forcing a punt, it's a big boost for them.
- The offense got a big play on the second play of the game, a 34-yard screen pass to James White that got things started, followed by a 17-yard pass to Damiere Byrd. They'd use all their backs on the drive, including a nice third-down pick up in the red zone by Rex Burkhead, who continues to deliver in key spots. Damien Harris would finish things off with a nine-yard touchdown run, his second of the season and the Patriots second offensive touchdown of the season in the first quarter. Harris had 25 yards on the drive as New England executed an excellent start on both sides of the ball and grabbed an early 7-0 lead.
- Watson would start to heat up on the Texans' second drive, hooking up with Brandin Cooks for 44 yards, then converting a 3rd-and-10 for 22 yards to Jordan Akins. He'd finish the drive with another laser-guided pass, this one a three-yard touchdown to Randall Cobb. The Patriots secondary was off just enough on the second drive and it took just six plays for the Texans to go 73 yards for the tying score.
- A hurried incompletion and a near-interception, followed by a quickly-snuffed-out screen pass made for an uninspired final three plays of a five-and-out for the Patriots on their second possession, though Harris added on 11 more yards to his total on the day with two good carries initially. Houston had a nose for what New England was trying to do in the passing game on those three-straight plays.
- The Texans would take a hit, with both Cobb and Kenny Still unavailable on their next drive, but Watson would continue with his hot throwing arm, finding Fells again for 16 yards. Kyle Dugger once again stood out with a big hit and tackle on one play, as the rookie continues to show up with physicality. A holding penalty would cost the Texans a 17-yard third-down conversion, as Chase Winovich drew the call. It backed Houston up and forced a punt. It was a nice response by the Patriots defense.
- New England's offense would get things started again on the next drive with an end-around to Damiere Byrd and then Newton getting a conversion on third down with a designed run. They'd follow that up with a 20-yard gain on a Burkhead-to-Newton-to-Meyers passing play as the Pats dipped into the trick plays early on. But an iffy N'Keal Harry offensive pass interference penalty would set them back and stall the drive out. James White would still pick up enough yardage on 3rd-and-17 to set up a 45-yard field goal by Nick Folk that put New England back up 10-7. It was Folk's 16th-consecutive field goal as the veteran continues to provide needed consistency.
- Jordan Akins continued to give the Patriots problems, converting a 3rd-and-4 on the Texans next drive with another 25 yards. Watson would find Cooks for another 21 yards on the next play as Houston continued making big downfield passing plays. Watson would run it in for the go-ahead score, going through Bentley and Devin McCourty on the play. It was an eight-play, 75-yard drive with the Texans facing just one third down. The Patriots had few answers for Watson's attack, with the big plays being the biggest problem. Even with the Patriots rushing just three or four players, Watson was still able to pick apart the secondary. He started 11-of-15.
- After a New England three-and-out and a whopping 59-yard punt by Jake Bailey, the Texans got the ball back with 2:20 left in the half. Last week, J.C. Jackson shut down a promising Ravens drive before the half, reversing a trend of poor late-second-quarter defense this season. With poor tackling the Patriots would regress this week, highlighted by another 24-yard completion to Akins that got the Texans inside the red zone. The Pats defense could just never finish Watson off, as the pressure never seemed to affect him and he calmly picked them apart for most of the first half. Houston would commit three different penalties on the drive, but it wouldn't matter, with Watson throwing another touchdown pass to close out the half with a 21-10 lead.
- It was a great start to the game for the Patriots with a defensive stop and then an offensive touchdown, but from there Houston fully took control of the first half. Defensively, they had no answers for Watson (241 passing yards), and offensively they were unable to build of their early success on the ground.
- The Pats didn't set a good tone with a holding penalty call on N'Keal Harry on the first play of the second half backing them up 10 yards. It was Harry's second penalty of the game but he'd pick up two catches on the next two plays to set up a makeable 3rd-and-1, but Rex Burkhead was stopped short and hit directly on his knee. It looked like a significant injury for Burkhead, who was having one of his best seasons as a Patriot. After a difficult first half, somehow things got even worse at the start of the second.
- Badly in need of a stop, the Patriots defense came through on the next drive, forcing their first three-and-out of the day. It looked like the Pats were headed to their own three-and-out, but Cam Newton found Damiere Byrd for 30 yards on 3rd-and-10 to keep the team's hopes alive. Just a few plays later, Newton would hook up again with Byrd, finding him downfield for a 42-yard touchdown. It was an outstanding catch by Byrd, grabbing his first touchdown as a Patriot and it came at a critical time, closing the score to 21-17 when it felt like the Texans were about to run away with it.
- The Texans would overcome a holding call on their next possession, getting a conversion on 3rd-and10, as Watson put together back-to-back passes to Will Fuller for 13 and then 22 yards as he resumed picking apart the Patriots defense with big passing plays. But the Pats would hold inside the red zone, getting a third-down stop from their own 18-yard line. A Texan field goal would extend the lead to 24-17 Houston as the third quarter wound down.
- Donte Moncrief picked up his first catch as a Patriot, a nice drive-starting 15-yard catch-and-run, but the Pats rushing game continued its cold streak, forcing them to lean into Newton's throwing. He'd find Byrd for 19 yards to keep things moving and then run a receiver screen to Byrd on a big third down that saw him squirt through all the tacklers and make the conversion, adding to the impressive career-best day for the wide out. Byrd would pick up another conversion on the drive, 16 yards on a 3rd-and-9 but the Pats would also take the first two sacks of the game on the drive, with the second one stalling the drive out at the Texans 18-yard line. Nick Folk would make the 36-yard field goal to close the score to 24-20. It was a needed scoring drive for the Patriots, one that lasted 16 plays and went 65 yards.
- Down four points halfway through the fourth quarter, the Patriots defense needed to get a stop on the ensuing Texan drive. But Houston would reel off two big plays with Will Fuller to quickly get into New England territory, with catches of 14 yards on third down and then taking a slip screen 20 yards. For the second time in the half the defense would come up with a stop in their own territory, with Houston making a 46-yard field goal to put their lead back up to seven at 27-20.
- The Patriots would get a chance to tie the game with four minutes left in the game, down by a touchdown. They'd quickly face a 3rd-and-10 and Newton would find Jakobi Meyers for a huge first down. Meyers was quiet in this game, but he still found a way to contribute in the big spot. They'd get another first down on a tough catch by N'Keal Harry, putting them inside field goal range. After an Isaiah Wynn injury, Newton would have his third-down pass batted at the line by J.J. Watt, setting up a final 4th-and-4, where instant pressure would force a scramble then incompletion under duress. They wouldn't get another chance, as Houston closed out the game and the win, 27-20.