Tom Brady may be 41 years old to open his 19th NFL season, but he still showed the world that he and not Houston rising star Deshaun Watson was the best quarterback on the field at Gillette Stadium Sunday afternoon.
Despite all the questions about his offensive line and wide receiver corps, Brady led New England to a 27-20 victory in a game that the home squad controlled pretty much throughout following Watson's fumble on a botched read-option exchange on the Texans first offensive snap.
But Brady was far from flying solo in terms of contributions for Bill Belichick's squad, as New England got complementary efforts in pretty much all facets of all three phases to essentially cruise to the 1-0 start.
On the third play after the turnover Brady turned the mistake into a touchdown on a 21-yard pass to Rob Gronkowski, a connection that would do Houston in for all four quarters.
It was far from perfect, as Houston kept things close late with a little assist from some Patriots mistakes. But it was a victory, which is really all that matters in the uncertainty of opening day.
There is no doubt, Belichick seemed relatively happy with his team's opening day effort even with the mistakes.
"It's always good to get off to a good start in the opener," Belichick said. "I thought our guys played competitively.
"There were a lot of good things in every area, and then there were things we have to work on."
Brady was a little bit less positive about the performance.
"We made enough plays. We have to eliminate the turnovers. We have to do everything better," Brady said. "We have to string more good plays together in order to score more points.
"I don't think we played anywhere near what our capabilities are. I think it's good to win."
Before turning the page to the Week 2 trip to Jacksonville for an AFC title game rematch with the Jaguars, here are some of the personnel highs and lows from the victory over the Texans.
Check out photos from the Patriots regular season opener against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, September 9, 2018.
Rob Gronkowski – Despite recording his first lost fumble since 2012, which came following a 25-yard reception, the big tight end was the focal point of the Patriots productive passing attack. Gronkowksi opened the season with seven catches on just eight targets for 123 yards, including the 21-yard touchdown. Gronkowski once again proves himself one of the truly elite weapons in the game.
Tom Brady – The G.O.A.T. picked up 2018 where he left of as the MVP a year ago. Though there were few questionable tosses, Brady finished completing 26 of 39 throws for 277 yards with three touchdowns and one interception for a 102.2 rating. His turnover came on a deflected pass intended for a crossing James White. Brady had time to work and he got the job done, even if he thinks the offense left a lot of plays on the field.
Pass defense – Last we saw the Patriots pass defense it couldn't get off the field in the Super Bowl loss to the Eagles. The unit looked much improved against Houston. The pass rush showed some spark in its controlled scheme against Watson, finishing with three sacks and a dozen QB hits. The coverage married up well with the work done up front.
Trent Brown/Pass protection – Brady wasn't really touched until he was sacked for the first time with 10 minutes to play in the fourth quarter. Other than a couple hiccups at right tackle, including LaAdrian Waddle struggling with J.J. Watt in rotational reps, the line more than got the job done in what many thought was the key matchup in the contest. The new left tackle Brown seemed to be quite comfortable on that side in his new home, throwing a variety of different blocks at Jadeveon Clowney and the others he dealt with.
Stephon Gilmore – New England's No. 1 cornerback spent most of the afternoon matched up with DeAndre Hopkins and for the most part got the better of the battle. Gilmore came down with his first interception of the season on a ball thrown up for grabs in the back of the end zone in the first half. He did have a couple holding calls that aided the Texans late touchdown, but overall Gilmore had a really solid day. Hopkins had a very quiet eight catches for 78 yards.
Phillip Dorsett – As Brady and the Patriots look to find reliable options at the receiver position, Dorsett was essentially perfect in the opener. To open his second season in New England, Dorsett caught all seven passes thrown his way for 66 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown late in the second quarter. It's the type of performance that will earn Dorsett more opportunities moving forward and more trust from Brady.
Kickoff coverage – Despite solid kickoffs all afternoon to within a yard of the goal line either way by Stephen Gostkowski, the Patriots allowed the Texans to have an average drive start of the 35-yard line. Tyler Ervin had a 31.2-yard average on his five kickoffs. All five resulted in possessions outside the 25, including three at the 30 or beyond. Joe Judge's troops need to clean up the kick coverage.
Run Defense – The one area of the defense that struggled a bit was against the run. Overall Houston ran the ball 34 times for 167 yards. Lamar Miller led the way with 20 attempts for 98 yards with a long run of 31 yards. Three Texans runners had runs longer than 13 yards, including Watson. Alfred Blue had five runs for 36 yards including a ground score. Danny Shelton's arrival and Dont'a Hightower's return are supposed to tighten up the run defense, but it didn't work out that way consistently against the Texans.
Riley McCarron – The first-year player got the call-up from the practice squad this week and was active for the opener. But his performance was less than ideal, especially on punt returns. His big mistake was on a muffed return turnover that led to a Texans score in the fourth quarter. It was a bad decision and a bad physical play all in one, with the ball bouncing off his face. McCarron also had a questionable decision to catch another punt at the 6. He did not catch a pass and was one of many Patriots to jump offside in the red zone, a flag that technically went to Joe Thuney. Not a great New England debut for the young receiver/returner.
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