When the Patriots ran:
For the second week in a row the Patriots running game was largely held in check but made some big plays that turned the tide. The first was a brilliantly-executed naked bootleg where Jacoby Brissett scooted around right end for a 27-yard touchdown. Then LeGarrette Blount reprised his role as The Closer and stomped on the Texans grave in the second half. After 1.6 yards per carry in the first half he picked things up after intermission. He had four efficient runs to start the third quarter as the Patriots marched to a field goal. But even then he had 55 yards on 18 carries for a 3.1-yard average after three. Then he finished things with a 41-yard touchdown run and wound up with 105 yards on 24 carries to up his average to 4.4. It was his second touchdown of the night and the added balance made life easier on the inexperienced Brissett. It wasn't always pretty but New England racked up 185 yards on 39 carries (4.7 avg.) as a team and that kind of production will win a lot of game.
When the Patriots passed:
Brissett was asked to manage the game rather than trying to exploit the Texans secondary and he accomplished that feat. He missed on a couple of deep throws and was victimized by a drop or two but overall he was composed and did enough to keep his team in control. Brissett finished 11 of 19 for just 103 yards but he didn't turn the ball over and had some impressive sideline throws that kept the team in advantageous situations all night. Julian Edelman grabbed four balls for 38 yards while Danny Amendola had two key catches for 23 yards, both of which resulted in first downs. The rookie handled the pressure well, pulling the ball down when his first read wasn't available and he did a nice job protecting the lead he was given early on thanks to the Texans turnovers. Again, the numbers weren't sparkling but considering the situation the fact that he avoided the kinds of mistakes that can lose games was enough to earn the edge.
When the Texans ran:
It was clear from the outset that Texans coach Bill O'Brien wanted to establish the run and try to play a field position game by making Brissett engineer long drives. The strategy backfired all night as the Patriots seemed to invite Lamar Miller to try to grind out a victory and Houston never got in rhythm offensively as a result. Miller had his moments but managed just 80 yards on 21 carries for a lowly 3.8-yard average. He was called on three times on third downs in the first half – once on third-and-eight – and managed to convert only one. It was a curious decision to try to slug it out with a Patriots team that given the situation at quarterback was more than willing to avoid a shootout. Jamie Collins made sure O'Brien tactics had no chance, finishing with a career-high 14 tackles while controlling the front seven all night long. Houston put up decent numbers with 109 yards on 27 carries but rarely ventured into Patriots territory and never came close to denting the scoreboard.
When the Texans passed:
Perhaps the reason O'Brien was so cautious was his lack of faith in his quarterback. Brock Osweiler never looked comfortable and missed several makeable throws during the game. He completed 24 of 41 passes for 196 yards and tossed a bad interception to Collins, who was sitting underneath in a zone and easily broke on the ill-advised throw. He was victimized by a couple of drops by rookie Will Fuller but Osweiler never was in command of the Texans shaky attack. He was flustered by a pass rush that wasn't really all that heavy, sliding into trouble on more than one occasion. Jabaal Sheard shook off a couple of lackluster performances to open the season and recorded the Patriots only two sacks of the night, but the story was the improvement in the secondary. The Patriots used three safeties with Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon playing deep while corners Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan did a much better job in coverage. Patrick Chung worked on tight ends and occasionally third wideout Jalen Strong. Cyrus Jones saw his most extensive action on defense and fared well. The coverage was much tighter than it had been in previous weeks.
For all of the success the Patriots had in the other phases, none approached the level of domination on display in the kicking game. Ryan Allen was as valuable as any Patriot, punting seven times and managing to have six of those wind up inside the 20. He forced fair catches at the 4, 10, 10, 11 and 14 while having another kick downs at the 5. That forced the Texans to move the ball a long way and they never came close to doing it. Stephen Gostkowski had three touchbacks but also had three kicks returned, and two of those resulted in Houston turnovers. Brandon Bolden knocked the ball loose from Charles James and Harmon recovered while Nate Ebner turned the trick against Tyler Irvin and Jordan Richards fell on it. Both fumbles resulted in short-field touchdowns for a Patriots offense that needed the boost. The lone blip on the radar came when Jones was returning punts. He was an adventure on all three – he ran into traffic and was bailed out by a penalty on one, lost the ball while on the ground on another and fumbled on the third. He'll need to improve his ball security if he expects Bill Belichick to continue using him in that area. But the special teams play overall was a huge aspect of the victory.