Boy, that couldn't have really gone worse. The offense couldn't get on track and it couldn't find any consistency at all. The defense made some plays but gave up some important yards at key times.
Here are my observations and they're not pretty.
- The atmosphere to start the game was flat out electric but it took a while for the Texans to calm down and really settle in. The defense was overaggressive at times and a step slow at others. I saw Bill O'Brien walk over to the defense during the second quarter after a stop, just reminding them to just relax and play.
- Jadeveon Clowney thrived under the spotlight of Sunday Night Football. He finished with two sacks and a myriad of dynamic plays. If there's any positive to take out, it's that the second year outside linebacker is taking that next step. His burst and explosiveness were evident throughout the night. The sack he had in the third quarter when he burst through left tackle Sebastian Vollmer was as impressive as anything we've seen from him this year.
- My buddy Lance Zierlein texted me after the game and said "that tackle and end stunt with JJ (Watt) and Clowney is near unstoppable." Clowney's second sack came from that T/E game and it was brilliantly done. That's exactly what Bill O'Brien envisioned and noted as such during an episode of Hard Knocks, if you recall. "90 and 99" is the way he put it and there were moments tonight when I had that "90 and 99" feeling.
- Vince Wilfork completely powered through rookie Tre Jackson early on the Patriots first drive of the game. Jackson was on roller skates and Wilfork then made the tackle on 2nd and 8 for no gain. Then, he turned to the Patriots sideline with a message for them after he made the play.
- The Wildcat may have run its course in its current configuration for the Texans. It was effective for a couple of weeks, but the Patriots surely weren't caught off-guard in the slightest. The first time Cecil Shorts III took a direct snap, Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich played the power read perfectly. He slow played the pull-keep read and was in perfect position on Shorts III when he pulled to follow Xavier Su'a-Filo through the hole. That was impressive.
- That said, had Shorts III handed the ball to Akeem Hunt, the former Purdue star would've run for a while. It's a tough read to make for quarterbacks that work on it daily. It's equally as tough because I'm sure that the Texans don't work on that as much as needed to make that read properly each and every time. College quarterbacks have to rep that in practice for hours to get comfortable with how, when and why to make the right keep or pull read.
- Nothing went right on the night and when that's been the case in the past, we could always count on punter Shane Lechler setting up opposing offenses with poor field position. But, the future Hall of Fame punter didn't have a great night punting the ball and the frustration was clear on his face on the sideline all night long.
- Throughout training camp, I was asked why Keshawn Martin stayed on the roster for as long as he did. I often said there's something there, I'm just not sure if he's going to ever show it. Well, he finally did but it was, unfortunately, for the Patriots. His fumble on a punt return cost him the opportunity to return punts the rest of the night, but he set the Patriots up with solid returns earlier in the game and spun Kevin Johnson around for the first touchdown of the night.
- I'm not totally sure what would've happened on the long pass from Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski in the first quarter had Whitney Mercilus not tripped and fallen down. But, as much as I didn't like seeing a linebacker on 'Gronk' 1-on-1, Mercilus was in great shape on the coverage until he tripped. He matched Gronk's cut and was right in his hip pocket. Then he fell, which left Gronk wide open...unfortunately.
- I said early in the game that the team needed time in the first quarter to calm down and get into the game. That was evident on the Patriots first touchdown when Watt hit Tom Brady WAY late. It wasn't necessary at all but that didn't really cost the Texans. Later in the game, Duane Brown threw Dominique Easley to the ground as if he were a junior high player. When Easley hit the ground, Brown looked to finish the former Gator. The problem was that Easley was 35 yards away from where the ball was being completed to Akeem Hunt. Luckily, Brian Hoyer found Nate Washington later down the field on 3rd and 18 for a big first down, so THAT penalty didn't come back to haunt the Texans. However, it was clear that the two star veterans were amped up and it cost them a pair of 15-yard penalties.
- The key point in the game, in my opinion, was a three play sequence. After the Texans failed to make a fair catch at the 15 yard line or so, Patriots gunner Matthew Slater downed the ball at the Texans three-yard line. Then, on third down, Hoyer couldn't connect with Ryan Griffin for a first down. If Hoyer made a better throw and Griffin held on, then the worst case scenario was that the Texans go three more plays, force the Patriots to use all their time outs and punt from a much more advantageous situation. But, the incompletion stopped the clock, Shane Lechler was forced to punt from the back end line, the Patriots didn't need to use any timeouts and they eventually took possession at the Texans 41-yard line with three minutes left in the half. At that point, they were already in field goal range, but they went after big points and found them to end the half.
- That TD catch by Gronk showed how different the Patriots are with him and without him. He pushed off something fierce but then again DeAndre Hopkins has pushed off on a few TDs this year as well. The crux of the situation was that the Texans should've never been in that situation to begin with, in all honesty.
- When Hoyer couldn't connect with Griffin on that third down throw, the score was 10-6. The next snap the offense took the score was 20-6. One completion could've helped change that but if Ifs and Buts were candy and nuts, we'd all have a Merry Christmas.
- How far has technology come in a short time? When Bill Belichick started in coaching, NFL coaches didn't have functioning VCRs. Last night, during one of the time outs in the game, I looked across the field and saw him spend the entire time-out with the side judge, showing the official something on Belichick's Microsoft Surface. I'm not sure at all what he was aiming to prove or show, but driving home last night (or early this morning), I thought about how technology has changed coaching and that was a tremendous example.
- On the first play after the Patriots made it 10-6, the Texans put 21 personnel on the field and the Patriots countered by moving Patrick Chung into the box to make it an eight man front. What I loved about it was the fact that the Texans still ran at the Patriots. J.L Grimes burst through the right side for a huge gain that helped set up Nick Novak's second field goal of the night. IT may have been the best called, best executed offensive play of the night.
- The Patriots last drive before halftime was a killer and Tom Brady came up with two huge throws on third down - one to Martin and one to Brandon LaFell - that put them in position to throw the fade to Gronk for the touchdown.
- The Patriots running backs may not be well known and they're not going to Canton. However, all three guys they played last night - James White, LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden - ran as physical as any group the Texans faced this season. On one run in the third quarter, Bolden was hit by Jared Crick one yard deep in the backfield. Bolden carried Crick and about four or five Texans for a five-yard gain. Blount had significant yardage after first contact. White is going to be a weapon as he gets more opportunities, especially in the passing game.
- Perhaps the most frustrating offensive drive of the night followed the Patriots field goal to make it 20-6. Chris Polk started the drive with a strong nine-yard run, setting up a 2nd and one. On the next play, the Texans dialed up a deep ball to Nate Washington. The O.G beat Patriots corner Malcolm Butler by three or four yards, but Hoyer couldn't get enough mustard on it to get it to Nate on the fly. On the next play, Hopkins expected a back shoulder throw and Hoyer threw it deep. Incomplete. On the next play, Hoyer threw a gem to Ryan Griffin down the seam but as Ryan hit the ground, he lost the rock. Big plays were there for the making but no one was able to make one at a key moment in the game.
- If the Texans had been able to keep it a close game, the pass rush would've won out. Even with three pass rushers, the Texans lit up the Patriots front. Whitney Mercilus whipped Patriots center Bryan Stork with spin moves and some great hand usage (windshield wiper as I'd call it) to get loose up the middle. I mentioned Clowney earlier. Watt got pressure a few times as well against multiple blockers.
- I thought Clowney's first sack in the third quarter would help flip field position, but it really never materialized. He blew through two blockers and sacked Tom Brady at the five-yard line. However, Patriots punter Ryan Allen hit a rocket punt out of the end zone to keep the Texans on the other side of the 50.
There's more, I'm sure, but my blood pressure can't handle watching the game again. I'm going to leave well enough alone. It was rough. Offensive execution wasn't great. The Patriots ate up the spotlight; they've been there. They'll learn from this; I just hope it happens before Sunday in Indianapolis.
See ya then, everyone.
Check out some of the best pregame shots from Sunday night's game against the Patriots.