When the Patriots ran:
The Patriots made a concerted effort to run the ball at various times in the game, particularly when Houston's pass rush was causing problems. Pretty much every time that happened the Houston front was up to the task. Mike Gillislee was once again held in check, picking up just 31 yards on 12 attempts for a paltry 2.6-yard average. Other than some select runs here and there, the Patriots offensive line was unable to open any holes for the ball carriers and New England managed only 59 yards on 20 attempts, which is slightly below 3 yards per carry. The Patriots needed that balance considering the heat Tom Brady was facing, but at no time in the game was the production on the ground good enough to slow down the Texans vaunted pass rush.
When the Patriots passed:
Brady's numbers were other worldly – 25 of 35 for 378 yards and five touchdowns and a passer rating of 146.2. Despite those insane totals, the Texans had the edge in this matchup until the game's final drive. That was due to the immense pressure the Houston front applied all afternoon, sacking Brady five times, causing three fumbles – one of which was turned into a Jadeveon Clowney touchdown – and otherwise frustrating the Patriots offense for long stretches. But big plays were ultimately Houston's undoing as Brady connected on deep balls of 47, 44 and 42 yards, two of which resulted in touchdowns. Oh, and Brady also marched his team 75 yards in eight plays in the waning seconds to pull out the victory. The big plays allowed New England to overcome the pass protection issues, which were widespread across the offensive line, which was without right tackle Marcus Cannon. Clowney, Whitney Mercilus, J.J. Watt and Christian Covington impacted the game throughout, but Brady's ability to connect with Brandin Cooks deep (five catches, 131 yards, 2 TDs) and Rob Gronkowski underneath (eight catches, 89 yards, 1 TD) was the difference.
When the Texans ran:
Houston wanted to run the ball to protect their rookie quarterback and although the Texans didn't make any big plays on the ground the production was there. The Texans racked up 32 carries for 125 yards, averaging just under 4 yards per carry. That's solid production considering the amount of attempts, and Lamar Miller was efficient with 56 yards on 14 carries to provide some balance. Deshaun Watson did some damage as well, picking up 41 yards on eight carries, most of which were designed runs and not scrambles. The Patriots front did have some occasional success, coming up with a pair of stops on third-and-ones, one late in the first half and another at the end of the game. But overall Houston was able to do enough on the ground to stay out of long-yardage situations and the Texans offense was effective as a result.
When the Texans passed:
Fee expected Houston's offense to approach 20 points let alone top the 30-point mark but that was case on Sunday and Watson was a major reason for that. The rookie was brilliant at times, completing 22 of 33 passes for 301 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, the last of which came on a desperation Hail Mary on the final play. Watson's mobility was a problem as he escaped danger several times, but he also moved his team in conventional fashion as well, which was a bit of a surprise. His touchdown throws came on typical routes down the seam where the rookie delivered the ball on time and on target. He made good decisions throughout and didn't force the ball to DeAndre Hopkins as he'd done previously. Hopkins still led the way with seven catches for 76 yards on eight targets, but Watson hit seven other receivers as well. Tight end Ryan Griffin finished with five grabs for 61 yards and a touchdown while Bruce Ellington added four for 59 yards and the other score. Watson did have bouts of wildness and misfired on a couple of potential daggers late, but overall the Texans passing game was effective.
Danny Amendola returned to the lineup and provided a lift in the punt return game, taking his first attempt back 33 yards to the 49 and later added a 20-yarder to the 30. The first set up the game's opening touchdown and allowed the Patriots to play with an early lead. Otherwise it was a stalemate in the kicking game. Houston's Ka'imi Fairbairn made all four of his field goals and seven of his eight kickoffs into the end zone, six of which went for touchbacks. Stephen Gostkowski clearly was trying to pin the Texans with his kickoffs, but for the most part the coverage was unable to do so. Tyler Ervin and Jordan Todman returned five kicks and only once were the Texans pinned inside the 20. Ryan Allen and Shane Lechler were effective punting, although Allen's 36-yarder in the second quarter set Houston up at the 44 and led to a touchdown. Overall it was a non-descript day on special teams.