When the Patriots ran:
LeGarrette Blount enjoyed one of his best outings of the season, picking up 53 yards on 10 carries while carrying several tacklers for some extra yards. Unfortunately he injured his hip and was forced to cut his night short. Brandon Bolden took his place as the lead back and ran hard, tacking on another 51 yards on 16 carries. His numbers weren't great but a lot of his work came late when the Patriots were simply running out the clock. New England piled up 31 carries and picked up 116 yards for a less-than-impressive 3.7-yard average, but the Patriots consistently found some yardage on the ground and that often allowed Tom Brady to stay out of difficult long-yardage situations. That in turn allowed the Patriots to convert 7 of 16 (44 percent) third downs against the best third-down defense in football.
When the Patriots passed:
Brady was back to his highly efficient self in completing 22 of 30 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns. While he did get sacked three times and took some big hits, the protection was better and that was especially true against J.J. Watt, who was held without a sack. Rob Gronkowski returned and made an immediate impact with four catches for 87 yards and a touchdown. His presence opened up the offense a bit despite the fact that he took part in roughly two-thirds of the snaps. With Brady more comfortable he was able to work the ball to Danny Amendola (six catches, 46 yards) and Brandon LaFell (five catches, 32 yards), although the latter still had trouble holding onto the ball. Keyshawn Martin was a factor early, catching three passes for 23 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter. It wasn't the type of overall production the Patriots routinely posted early in the season, but given the onslaught Brady has faced in recent weeks it was a more reasonable facsimile of what the passing game has been with short and intermediate passes keeping the clock and chains moving.
When the Texans ran:
Houston came into the game minus their only true NFL-caliber running back in Arian Foster, who is out for the season with a torn Achilles. But against a rush defense that has struggled in recent weeks the Texans tried to establish the run a bit early and aside from one big play they were unable to do so. Jonathan Grimes shot through a big hole off right tackle and rumbled 37 yards on Houston's third series of the night, helping the Texans to a field goal. He finished with 53 yards on seven carries so he managed just 16 on his remaining six attempts. Chris Polk was shut down to the tune of 34 yards on 11 carries (3.1-yard average) while Bill O'Brien's attempted wrinkles managed very little as well. O'Brien has wide receiver Cecil Shorts as well as the running backs line up in the Wildcat on a number of occasions and the Patriots front was ready. Jerod Mayo stuffed Shorts (two carries, 0 yards) on one third-down play and he enjoyed a strong night with 8 tackles, 7 of which were solos. Houston averaged 4 yards per carry as a team with 87 yards on 22 attempts, but almost half of that came on one run. It was a nice bounce back effort for the front seven after two weeks of less-than-stellar play.
When the Texans passed:
Logan Ryan turned in one of the best games of his career as his work in doubling DeAndre Hopkins was critical for the secondary. Hopkins finished with just three catches for 52 yards on six targets. He did race past Ryan and Duron Harmon for a 40-yard gain in the fourth quarter but otherwise was blanketed effectively by the third-year corner. Brian Hoyer had some opportunities for big plays but was either unable to get the ball to Nate Washington or was victimized by some critical drops by Ryan Griffin. Washington torched Malcolm Butler for a 49-yard gain but the ball was underthrown and allowed Butler to prevent a touchdown. Later the same thing occurred and Butler was able to prevent the completion altogether. Hoyer (11 of 22 for 155 yards) was also under duress for the entire second half as he was sacked five times and fumbled twice. The pressure – specifically from Jabaal Sheard (two sacks, two forced fumbles) – never allowed Hoyer to get comfortable and the secondary took advantage with some tight coverage. It was perhaps the best defensive effort for the Patriots all season as Houston finished with 189 yards of total offense, seven first downs and just two field goals.
If not for a fumble by Martin on a punt return this would have been a flawless bounce back game for Joe Judge's special teams. Martin was very effective returning punts in the first half, averaging better than 15 yards on three attempts to help the Patriots field position. He had a 21-yard effort that allowed New England to start near midfield on one drive and then had a 12-yarder late in the half that put the ball at the Texans 41 to set up a back-breaking touchdown. Ryan Allen was also solid, averaging 44 yards on six punts including three downed inside the 20, one of which went to the 3 and preceded the Patriots final drive of the first half. Meanwhile Shane Lechler was awful with some low, short kicks that led to returns. After Martin's muffed punt, Amendola took his place and executed three fair catches in the second half. Stephen Gostkowski knocked in another pair of field goals (from 43 and 49 yards) and had touchbacks on all but one kickoff. It was a return to normalcy for a group that faced some heat after the debacle against Philadelphia a week earlier.