On the bus to the airport, KTRK Sports Director Greg Bailey asked if I had seen that coming. By "that" he meant a 27-0 trouncing in Foxboro that was ugly in every respect. I said in no certain terms that I thought this Patriots team was better than people believed, but no, I didn't see this team leaving here with quite this feeling after a tough loss. The old saying, "(bleep) happens"? That's fairly apropos for this one. Nothing went right at all and that led to a demoralizing loss heading into the mini-bye. Here are some observations from the evening.
- Take a look at the stat sheet. I know, I know, I rarely, if ever, do this, but stay with me. Nineteen first downs for the Texans to 15 first downs for the Patriots. Two hundred and eighty four yards for the Texans to 282 yards for the Patriots. Texans converted four of 15 third-down opportunities, while the Patriots only converted 29 percent, four of 14. The Patriots threw for only 97 yards. That sort of stat sheet wouldn't imply 27-0. Then, go down to the turnover column and the points off turnover column. Zero and zero for the Texans. Three and 14 for the Patriots. Ball game.
- Now, I'm not saying had the Texans not turned those two kickoff returns over to the Patriots on a short field it would've won the game. Not saying that at all. The game could've, and would've, played out much differently, though. That said, the Patriots defense just wasn't going to yield at all. Not one inch. The Patriots gave up six points in eight quarters to the Texans over the last two years and no touchdowns.
- I went on Patriots.com on Tuesday and I listened later to it. Before my segment on the show, the host John Rooke said that if the Patriots could get past this one with the Texans and TB12 came back with a vengeance, this team had the look of 2007 all over again. I chuckled a bit at the thought, but after seeing them last night, I'm not inclined to chuckle anymore. Buffalo is the last of the four games without Brady and then Brady comes back for the fifth game against Cleveland. Brady. Edelman. Amendola. Gronk. Bennett. Blount. That group is going to be scary as can be as the season wears on. And, that's just on offense.
- Benardrick McKinney had the best game of his career with 16 tackles, a sack, a tackle for a loss and one quarterback hit. In fact, those were the only stats generated in the sack, TFL and quarterback hit category.
- Back to McKinney, he seemed to be the one player to match the explosiveness and physicality of the Patriots offense all night long.
- The other player that was stellar on defense was Vince Wilfork. In his return to Gillette Stadium, he was outstanding. Purely outstanding. He had seven tackles and played the best I've seen him since he got to Houston. He beat a double team early in the game to tackle LeGarrette Blount for no gain that was vintage Big Daddy. That man showed up to play on national television in front of a nationwide audience, but he also gave the Patriots fans a glimpse of what the man can still do.
- The Gillette Stadium video crew played a wonderful tribute to Wilfork on the first Texans defensive series. The place went bonkers when they showed him on the screen. He saluted them before the first play and then played his guts out. I was proud of him and happy he's on our side. More players needed to follow his lead on Thursday night and didn't.
- The kickoff return fumbles were brutal. I think what made the first one, in particular, so galling is that two plays after that recovery, Pats quarterback Jacoby Brissett took a run around right end for a 27-yard touchdown. That gave the Patriots a 10-0 lead and allowed them to play from ahead all night. Brissett didn't have to make one tough throw. He didn't have one pressure moment. He just was able to do enough to leave the Texans in the rearview mirror and keep them there.
- The second kickoff return came after a Patriots 6:41 drive to start the second half. Sudden change situation for the second time on the night with the score 13-0. The Texans offense hadn't seen the field for about 30-35 minutes of real time - end of the half the Patriots had the ball, halftime, and then that 6:41 drive. Then, the fumble and STILL the Texans could've escaped major danger if Johnathan Joseph had been able to hang on to an interception in the end zone. If he'd have snagged that one and kept it a two-score game, a fluke touchdown could've spiced things up. But, the Patriots were just not going to let the Texans do anything offensively anyway, so perhaps all the bad plays are out of the system by the time the Titans arrive two Sundays from now.
- Patriots do-it-all defender Jamie Collins had 14 tackles and just might be the best defensive chess piece in the league. He might be the only player in the NFL that can play every position on the defense and I'm only half joking that he could play cornerback. I can't say enough about what a stud he is.
- Here's what's going to happen to this Texans offense going forward - physical press corners with two high safety help until they can run the ball well enough to force one of those safeties into the box. The Patriots honestly didn't do anything that the Texans hadn't seen, to be honest. They played a ton of two-man for much of the game and the Texans couldn't take advantage of it. The other aspect is how physical cornerbacks Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler were with DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller. Those two grabbed, clutched, shoved, whatever all night long, and for good reason, and got away with it. Hop was frustrated with it, as he got no referee to see it his way throughout the night. Furthermore, this is a copycat league especially with teams in the division that will want to know how to beat the Texans offense. The Chiefs put the blueprint on tape and the Patriots followed it to a T.
- Tight end Ryan Griffin had the best game of his career catching a career high eight passes for 52 yards. Being from Londonderry, New Hampshire, he wanted nothing more than to walk out with a 'W', especially as his Dad is a huge Patriots fan (not when the Texans play them though). Griffin had a tough game against the Patriots last year and rebounded with a strong performance in the passing game on Thursday night.
- Rob Gronkowski played only 14 snaps and had only one target. Had you told me back in April that Tom Brady wouldn't play and Gronk would have one target and no catches, I'd have told you the Texans would've won going away. But, it didn't quite work that way.
- This mini-bye is coming at the right time for a number of players; they need a few days off and they'll get them this weekend. But, playing the Patriots and the Chiefs back-to-back within five days of one another isn't good for the body. It's not like a glass of milk, if you know what I mean. (Milk apparently does the body good.)
- Patriots quarterback Jacoby Brissett must've felt like a kid in a candy store. At NC State, he had no weapons to speak of to help him. In addition, other than Patriots rookie guard Joe Thuney, who protected Brissett at State, he didn't have great protection in college either. Thursday night? Different story. He's throwing to Julian Edelman. He's handing the ball off to LeGarrette Blount. He hit Danny Amendola for key throws on third down. He'll return to his backup status in two weeks, if not next week, but he put some good tape out there for a quarterback desperate team in the future.
- By the way, Brissett was the first rookie to start for Bill Belichick in New England and the second to start for him, period, since 1995 when Eric Zeier started four games in the disaster that was the 1995 season in Cleveland. He also was the first rookie since 1993 to start a game for the Patriots. The last one was Drew Bledsoe. Ironic that it happened 15 years to the day that Drew Bledsoe took a massive hit from Jets linebacker Mo Lewis, which opened the door for one Tom Brady to take over for the next 15 years.
- The immediate reaction after the game from a national media base wasn't positive, to say the least. On the bus to the airport in Providence, I did what I always tell myself not to do - get on Twitter after a game. I failed that step of the process. Judging from the thoughts of many, it's going to be a rough ten days getting ready for the Titans and the questions this team will have to face. But, win that first division game of the year and the Texans are 3-1, which many didn't think they would be. Last night could be a pivotal moment for this team in how it responds to adversity, or it could be a precursor that leaves a stain as we enter October. My gut says the Texans will bounce back with a vengeance, but they just need to play a clean game against Tennessee at NRG Stadium to remain undefeated at home in 2016.
- Drew Dougherty said to me after the game in our postgame interview that there was really no pivotal moment in the game to swing any momentum back to the Texans. I couldn't have agreed more. After the first kickoff return fumble, the game went one way and never swung back.
There's not much more to say about this one. Fumbles. Drops. Bad tackling. Missed opportunities. It was a frustrating night, but the nice thing about September is that there's always more football to be played. See ya next Sunday, everyone.
Check out the best photos from Gillette Stadium as the Texans take on the Patriots.