For the second straight meeting between the teams, the Texans (1-2) came to Gillette Stadium and very much made the Patriots (2-1) work to win. But in the end, Tom Brady and company once again indeed pulled out the win, this time a 36-33 nailbitter.
Looking to pull off the upset led by upstart rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson, Houston actually held the advantage 20-14 midway through the second quarter. Trailed just 21-20 at halftime. And led 33-28 late in the fourth quarter.
But while the youngster Watson very well may be great someday, Brady is great right now. Brady took over with 2:24 to play at his own 25-yard line looking to put up yet another historic comeback in front of the home crowd. Eight plays later he hit his newest weapon, Brandin Cooks for the 25-yard go-head touchdown.
It was far from the prettiest day for the Patriots on either side of the ball. Brady dealt with plenty of pressure from the vaunted Texans front, including a strip sack that led to a Jadeveon Clowney 22-yard touchdown.
Defensively the Patriots let Watson pile up 417 yards and a surprising 33 points for a team that had just one touchdown in each of the first two weeks.
The offensive line. The pass defense. The running game. There will be plenty to work on coming out of this victory. The Patriots are more a work in progress than the powerhouse most expected heading into the new season.
But New England has a winning streak and something to build on.
As Brady put it, "No matter how you get it, you have to figure out how to win the game. We have to keep stringing them together. We have to continue to make improvements."
Before turning the page to next week's visit from Cam Newton and the Panthers, here are some of the personnel highs and lows from the victory over the Texans.
Brandin Cooks –People have been waiting for the speedy big-name offseason addition to have a breakout game. It came against Houston. Cooks hauled in a 44-yard reception on a tough catch to set up an early touchdown. He later clearly drew the attention of the Texans secondary on a 47-yard catch-and-run touchdown for Chris Hogan, who found himself almost uncovered. He displayed his speed with his own 42-yard catch-and-run score. Cooks then had the biggest play of the day with the 25-yard toe-tapping touchdown to win. Cooks finished with five catches for 131 yards with two touchdowns and a two-point conversion after the final score.
Rob Gronkowski –A week ago, Gronkowski looked like he was back being his own physical, dominant self until he left with a groin injury that scared hell out of Patriot Nation. Despite not practicing last Wednesday Gronkowski looked no worse for the wear against Houston from the first snap to the final whistle. He had a game-high eight receptions for 89 yards including a pretty touchdown in the corner of the end zone. On the game-winning drive, New England turned to the big man facing second-and-20 from the 15. Gronkowski picked up 8 and 15 yards on the two catches to jumpstart the comeback win.
Tom Brady – It wasn't a perfect day from TB12 under the hot sun. He fell victim to a couple strip sacks, including one that led to the TD. He had a scary throw late toward Cooks that could have ended the comeback drive with a would-be interception. But, at the end of the day, Brady put up big numbers and game-winning production against a good defense. Brady finished completing 25 of 35 passes for 378 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions for a 146.2 rating. It was the first 300-yard passer allowed by Houston in 30-plus games. Brady celebrated last week's AFC Offensive Player of the Week Award by putting up a performance that could earn him the honor yet again. Apparently, this is 40!
Devin McCourty/pass defense –**The Patriots have three Pro Bowl talents in the back end, including McCourty, yet the secondary struggled once again. McCourty was late to help on an early touchdown to Bruce Ellington. He got beat by tight end Ryan Griffin for a touchdown in the back of the end zone. He got beat badly by Stephen Anderson in the end zone later, only to see Watson miss the third-down throw. The defensive backfield is struggling coming off a game in which it allowed a raw rookie passer to throw for 301 yards. New England has allowed opposing passers a combined rating of 112.9 rating through three weeks while completing 68 percent of their passes. Not good enough.
Nate Solder/pass protection – Solder was notable before the game as he was not on the field for team warmups due to what he called personal stuff that he downplayed. He was notable in a very negative light in the second quarter when Whitney Mercilus beat him easily for a strip sack that was returned for a touchdown by Clowney. The rest of the line wasn't much better most of the day. Brady was sacked five times, fumbled three times, was hit on eight plays and was clearly affected by the rush. Though the fill-in start from LaAdrian Waddle didn't let it all fall apart, the line failed to meet the challenge of the Texans impressive front.
Mike Gillislee/run game –* *With Brady under significant pressure, the Patriots tried to establish the run at times against Houston but never really hit a stride on the ground. Gillislee had 12 rushes for 31 yards for just a 2.6-yard average with a long run of just 8 yards. Early in the fourth quarter Gillislee had consecutive runs of 4 and 5 yards before getting stuffed on third-and-1. The short-yardage failures have been an issue for the newcomer and his line. But overall the Patriots run game, including the holes opened by the offensive line, just weren't good enough against the Texans and really haven't been good enough for the first three weeks.
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