25 observations: Texans vs. Patriots

On the way home, I was watching the Packers-Bengals game and CBS play by play star Jim Nantz was rifling through some of the top games of the day. He got to the Texans-Patriots game and said…

“The Patriots win a WILD one in Foxboro.”

There are a lot of words to describe the three and a half hours we spent in Massachusetts on Sunday afternoon, but WILD is probably the most apt description of all. That certainly won’t comfort the players, me or any other Texans fans in the slightest, but was the word wild apropos? Oh definitely. Gut punch? Certainly. Grueling? Oh yeah that too.

Here are my observations from the Texans 36-33 loss to the defending champion Patriots.

  1. I’m just going to say this right off the top. I was miserable after the game, as were many of you. The team? Oh man, it was a quiet locker room. That said, it was the best NFL game I’ve ever seen live. Back and forth all day long. The rookie against the legendary GOAT. Big plays all day long. Just tremendous individual efforts on both sides. It’s honestly just a shame that the good guys couldn’t walk off the field with a W.
  1. Rookies had been 0-5 when facing the Patriots coached by Bill Belichick in Gillette Stadium. It nearly became 1-5 with the performance by rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson. He made one play after the next. I think my favorite play of the day was in the fourth quarter when he avoided four different Patriots before lofting one down the sideline to D’Onta Foreman for a big first down as the clock wound down. It may not have actually been four different Patriots because he made a couple of Patriots miss twice. Watson had the Patriots fans shaking their heads all the way to the end.
  1. He finished with two interceptions, one of which was earned. He threw one to Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore that the Patriots turned into a touchdown shortly thereafter, but the second one was on the last second Hail Mary. Either way, no one will remember the interceptions and perhaps not even the numbers. I just know that New England fans held their collective breath every time he took a snap from center. Every. Single. Time.
  1. Throughout the game, the Texans offense showed a number of different wrinkles to confuse the Patriots defense and it worked beautifully. That unit was under siege all day long and it never really got comfortable until there were all zeroes on the clock. I’ve seen that unit over the past few years out on the field literally laughing through the game because they were so in control of the game. On Sunday, they were far from confident.
  1. Having receiver Bruce Ellington back was a much needed addition for this offense. One of Watson’s great throws on the day was his first touchdown to Ellington. The former Gamecock star receiver ran a post to the middle of the field and held on when the safeties collapsed on him. He then made a tremendous hands catch on a key third down in the third quarter. Down 28-20 on 3rd and seven, Ellington dove for a catch with a Patriots defensive back draped all over him. It was a catch that the Texans absolutely needed and you talk about impressive, wow, heck of a play. What I loved about the touchdown catch more than anything else was after the game when I talked with Ellington and I asked him about it. He turned and looked right at DeAndre Hopkins and said “it’s because of him.” Patriots safety Devin McCourty was in the middle of the field but moved over to help on Hopkins, leaving Ellington one-on-one for the touchdown.
  1. Using Ellington on the reverse, even though it didn’t result in a gain, and on ghost motion in the backfield kept the Patriots from pinning their ears back and sprinting after Watson.
  1. Oh, before I move on from Ellington, his touchdown celebration was LOVELY. He dropped the Rock’s People’s Elbow on the poor football. Oh, it was good and very creative too. CAN YOU SMELL WHAT THE BRUCE IS COOKING?!?!
  1. Hopkins has 21 receptions on the season, seven in each game, but he’s responsible for at least 10 positive plays in the passing game each week, drawing pass interference, holding or illegal contact fouls. He even took a low shot from Stephon Gilmore on the sideline and my heart went up into my throat. Thankfully, Gilmore was flagged for it as he should’ve been and Hopkins got back up and finished the game.
  1. Running back D’Onta Foreman forced a few of the Patriots into business decisions when he was toting the rock. In the fourth quarter, in particular. The rookie from Texas had two big catches that put the Texans in scoring range after both. Foreman and Lamar Miller are going to be a tough combination for teams to stop as the year continues.
  1. Jadeveon Clowney was MOVING down the sideline on his touchdown return. When he caught the forced fumble in the air, he had a clear path down the sideline. However, Patriots fullback James Develin (Brown University alum) seemed to be closing on Clowney because he had an angle on him. Then, JD turned on the juice and, as expected, Develin lost ground…quickly.
  1. The play, though, was made by Whitney Mercilus who gave a little dip and rip right through left tackle Nate Solder to get to Tom Brady and force the fumble. Mercilus, J.J. Watt and Clowney combined for three sacks, seven tackles for a loss, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery for a touchdown and six hits on Brady. Yet, there are going to be a few plays that they’ll remember more than any others. Watt was right in Brady’s face on his completion to Danny Amendola one play before the touchdown. Then, Clowney hit Brady’s arm on the touchdown throw and kept him from following through. It didn’t matter, unfortunately. These three were as menacing as advertised throughout the game.
  1. Watt’s TFLs early in the game helped get the Patriots out of the run game. The Patriots longest run on the day was eight yards and they finished with just 59 yards on the ground. The Patriots couldn’t block Watt effectively at any point in the game and resorted to holding him throughout. Suffice to say, the Patriots offensive line wasn’t flagged once, unfortunately, for their, uh, habits in controlling Watt.
  1. Defensive lineman Christian Covington made a number of big plays from the interior on the day. He came up with a HUGE stop on third and one when he blew right through Patriots center David Andrews and stopped running back Mike Gillislee. There were times when Covington was unblockable. He made a great hustle play downfield on a Gillislee run, but the play where he defeated Andrews and made the stop on 3rd and one was a Man’s play. He also fought through for a sack, his first of the year.
  1. The old cliche “game of inches” couldn’t have been more true today. Safety Corey Moore had an interception in his hands on just a tremendous play deep downfield with under a minute to play that would’ve ended the game. Brady had to launch downfield with nothing else available to him and he overshot his intended receiver Brandin Cooks. Moore went up over Cooks and snatched the ball out of the air, which was something he didn’t do all of training camp. He worked on the JUGS gun all training camp long and it showed. But, as he landed, it slipped…out…of…his…hands. Inches. Two plays later, Brady threw the game winner to Cooks on the other side of the field.
  1. If it wasn’t clear prior to today, it was crystal clear today why Kicker Kai’mi Fairbairn won the kicker battle this training camp. He nailed each of his four field goal attempts. Almost as important, his length on kickoffs kept Dion Lewis from making any return worth any substance. Remember, Lewis ran one back for a touchdown in last year’s playoff game.
  1. I saw Ryan Griffin in the hallway this week, knowing full well he’s from Londonderry, New Hampshire. It’s not quite a stone’s throw from Foxboro, but every place in New England is relatively close. So, I didn’t ask him whether his family was going to make it to Foxboro, but how many of his family would be in Gillette Stadium on Sunday. He said “50” ticket requests! Then, he gave his family and friends a show. He was on the receiving end on one of the most sensational plays I’ve seen in Texans history when Deshaun rolled to his left and threw all the way back to his right to Griffin for a first down. A few plays later, Watson found Griffin on the sideline on first down on a rollout. Griffin then beat Patriots Pro Bowl safety Devin McCourty down the seam for the Texans final touchdown of the day. Watson threw a dime and Griffin navigated the back of the end zone like a ballet dancer for the touchdown.
  1. Watson’s throw to Griffin for the touchdown? WHOOOOOO, that was a GREAT ball. Watson tried to hit that throw earlier in the game but missed heading into the open end of the stadium. That one, though? Masterful work by both quarterback and tight end.
  1. The Patriots, namely Brady, okay, so, yeah, just Brady was the difference in this game. For as great as the Patriots pass catchers are, the Pats are dead in the water if TB12 isn’t under center on Sunday. He knew full well that he was going to take a pounding, but he also knew that if he held the ball a little longer, like in the playoff game, he could find receivers down the field. He completed six passes of 20 yards or more, including the last two to Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks. This was Brady’s sixth career game with 5 touchdown passes. The pass rush did have him rattled but when he carved out time in the pocket, he put his chips all in and hit more often than not. The GOAT showed why. I told Marc Vandermeer on the bus on the way home that years down the road, when this loss is not so raw for everyone, we’ll tell everyone what it was like to watch the greatest to ever play the game do what he did on Sunday.
  1. Cooks can fly. That dude changes everything for that Patriots defense because of his big play capabilities. That said, he can’t get behind the defense the way that he did for the game winning touchdown.
  1. I’ve seen less clear reviews get overturned than the one on Cooks’ game winning touchdown. They didn’t show it in the Stadium at first, so I just sat listening to those fans go crazy. When head official John Parry announced that it was being reviewed, they finally showed it on the video boards. Immediately, the Texans defenders all pointed to the board when they saw Cooks bobble the ball when he hit the ground. The officials didn’t see it the same way as those wearing white…unfortunately.
  1. I asked Andre Ware at some break in the game what historic player reminded him of Patriots star Rob Gronkowski. I asked because I’ve tried to think of someone for a while and I have no clue. Like myself, he couldn’t think of one either. He’s that unique and a beast in every facet of the game at tight end. That said, he got away with a couple of offensive pass interference penalties, including one in the third quarter that was blatant. He literally shoved safety Andre Hal in the face on his route.
  1. The flip side of that was that Texans tight end Ryan Griffin got flagged after one heck of a flop by linebacker Ryan Van Noy.
  1. I’m still mystified at how the officials picked up the flag on defensive holding on Trey Flowers. The Patriots defensive end just flat out grabbed Tyler Ervin on his way to the flat. I saw the official throw the flag right in front of me. It was at least a second and a half before Deshaun threw the ball to Stephen Anderson. On the broadcast, Andre Ware said it perfectly. As soon as he saw the ref that threw the flag and head official John Parry, he said “I don’t like the looks of this one.” He was dead on. Now, that all said, Deshaun had Anderson open and missed him for a touchdown that would’ve given the Texans a 34-28 lead. Do the math, one final Fairbairn field goal at the 2:24 mark and it’s a nine point lead. So, tough sequence on a lot of levels.
  1. The entire nation looked down on the Texans offensive line after the first week of the season and for good reason that afternoon. However, that unit is improving week in and week out. Look, it’s not perfect, but those guys gave Deshaun Watson time. There were instances when he was standing Brady Statue-esque in the pocket surveying the scene. Now, they opened the gates a few times, but Watson still found a way to get rid of the ball.
  1. Here’s something I thought about on the way home watching the game on my phone…after the Patriots scored to make it 28-20 after the first drive of the half, the Texans defense then held the Patriots to 50 total yards on 15 plays on three drives. And, it was going to finish with four had the defense gotten one key play to go its way on that final drive. It did not, unfortunately.

Well, this one still stings after breaking it all down, but it’ll subside. Then, it’s time for the Titans.

Next Sunday will be as big a regular season division game that the Texans have played in quite some time. Home. Finally. The Texans have been road warriors since July 24th and now it’s time to take advantage of being at home for three straight. But, it’s Tennessee next. Time to defend the home turf.

See ya next week, everyone.

The Texans faced the Patriots in Week 3 at Gillette Stadium.

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