Harris Hits: Week 13 win vs. Patriots

It’s been 10 long years.

The Texans beat the Patriots at NRG Stadium on the final week of the 2009 season and hadn’t done it before or since. They suffered through countless trips to Gillette Stadium for regular season and playoff games and the result was the same each and every time, regardless of the venue: a Patriots win. Then Sunday night happened and the Texans took home a 28-22 win over New England.

Here are my Harris Hits from the win.

There were plenty of heroes on the night, but one that comes right to mind is cornerback Bradley Roby. He came out of the win over Kansas City with a hamstring issue that set him back for a significant amount of time. But when he had been on the field during the season, things were just different, in a good way. He locked down receivers, could track fast receivers down the field, match/mirror cuts and really play well in coverage. So on Friday, when the status report came out and it was clear he was IN, I was stoked and y’all saw why.

His interception was a brilliant piece of football IQ, toughness and playmaking. He saw rookie N’Keal Harry break on the in-cut, read Tom Brady’s eyes and made a play on the ball. I think he was more upset that he didn’t get it in the end zone, but the damage had been done. That play set a tone for the rest of the ballgame. Roby and his cover mates were in the hip pocket of Patriots receivers for the entire night.

After the Patriots went right down the field to start the contest with a 69-yard drive, I felt like it could be a long night. Then the Texans went 3-and-out for just the 11th time all year. (Patriots did force four three-and-outs on the night, nearly half of the Texans total for the whole year to that point). Then, Roby struck and changed the game on the spot. When I told him in the locker room that the Texans hadn’t beaten the Patriots in 10 years, he was amazed. He had done it a few times in Denver, but he was super excited to do it here in Houston, where he has fit in exceptionally well.

Oh and the interception that he had in the second half that was overturned by a flag? Not even close. He was interfered with more than it was holding on him. But the stripes saw it otherwise and took away what would’ve been his second pick on the night, and second as a Texan.

The Patriots came to Houston with a +19 turnover margin and left with a +18 turnover margin. The Texans didn’t turn the ball over as Roby’s interception was the only turnover on the night. That said, the Texans defensive backs had multiple opportunities for interceptions. Vernon Hargreaves III had his hands on a deep throw to Julian Edelman but couldn’t hang on. Justin Reid also had his hands around a Brady pass but couldn’t reel it in. Tashaun Gipson Sr. made a tremendous break on a pass down the field but he collided with a Patriots receiver and couldn’t bring it in. The fact that they were in position to make those plays, though, was a huge feather in the secondary’s camp.

Johnathan Joseph had one of the most important pass breakups in his career on the 4th-and-1 in the third quarter. The Patriots had marched from their own seven into Texans territory at the Houston 42-yard line in the third quarter. Down 14-3, Bill Belichick decided to go for it, just needing 36 inches. When Brady came to the line of scrimmage, the Texans seemed to anticipate a sneak, which Brady typically executes flawlessly. With the middle supremely clogged, Brady dropped to throw and found Mohamed Sanu who had Joseph in his hip pocket crossing from right to left. Brady threw the ball so well that Sanu was the only one who could’ve caught it. But, as he was bringing the ball into his body, Joseph chopped at it and knocked it incomplete. The Texans then answered with a six-play touchdown drive that put them ahead 21-3.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen national writers make a comment about the Texans pass rush or, in their opinion, lack thereof. There have been plenty of local writers/radio hosts wonder aloud whether the Texans could still get pressure on the quarterback. Well, Sunday night provided some answers for those willing to listen to the question. Brady was sacked three times with Jacob Martin racking up 1.5 sacks on the night (after coming up with a sack on Jacoby Brissett in the previous game). He also drew a holding penalty on a Patriots offensive tackle. Furthermore, Brady was hit 10 times in this game as well. D.J. Reader continued his excellent season with four quarterback hits, a tackle for a loss and a team high seven tackles (as an aside, Reader is as good as any interior player in the league, right now... believe that!)

Bill O’Brien talks frequently with me and Marc Vandermeer about “spinning the dial” on defense. What he means by spinning the dial is to consistently mix up the rush, scheme and coverage for opposing offenses. Sunday night was the 100 percent epitome of spinning the dial in every aspect. Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel called on every single active defensive player on the roster throughout the night and they weren’t just cameo appearances, either. Eddie Vanderdoes was activated on the 53-man roster on Saturday and he gave the Texans tremendous effort and a decent number of snaps. Brandon Dunn was excellent, yet again, even though he gets no credit at all for his work. It was truly a defensive effort from RAC all the way down.

Heading into this game, the Patriots had surrendered just 80 points to teams not named the Baltimore Ravens. They had allowed just four passing touchdowns through 11 games. The Texans DOUBLED that number to eight after this matchup. Deshaun Watson threw three and he caught the other one “thrown” by DeAndre Hopkins.

Let’s talk about that touchdown, the trick play touchdown, if you will. It’s going to be one that overshadows whatever else happened during this game and for good reason. Watson took the snap and handed to running back Duke Johnson who then handed it to Hopkins. When I saw Hopkins with it, I could see Watson running alongside him. Instinctively, I just yelled “PITCH IT!” because I’ve always been an option fan and ran a bunch of option when I coached. I just didn’t think that was the design of the play until I saw the replay. Initially, I thought Watson was just in the area as a result of him getting out of the way after handing it off. Then, I saw it on replay and it was genius as it seemed to build off of Hopkins’ run against the Jaguars in London. LOVED it!

It was clear that Patriots defensive backs struggled mightily with the Texans receivers. The one matchup everyone really wanted to see was Patriots star cornerback Stephon Gilmore vs. Hopkins. There were more than a few moments when Hop really had his way with anyone the Patriots put on him, but when he caught a pass or two on Gilmore during a drive, the Patriots cover corner got highly frustrated. Hop has a way of doing that to corners trying to cover him all game long. He had five catches but they were hugely important as the first four receptions went for first downs.

Johnson was outstanding throughout the game as he tied Hopkins for the team lead in receptions (five) and also had a touchdown catch, the first for the Texans on the night. He also pounded the rock nine times for 36 yards. It was not a ground-and-pound sort of game. It was a Duke kind of game as he sliced his way through the Patriots defense throughout the night.

So, keeping track of the Patriots-Ravens-Chiefs-Texans round robin this season... the Ravens finished 2-1 with wins over New England and Houston with a loss to Kansas City. The Texans finished 2-1 with wins over New England and Kansas City with a loss to Baltimore. The Chiefs are 1-1 with a win over Baltimore, a loss to Houston and a game left with New England. The Patriots are 0-2 with losses to Baltimore and Houston and a game left with Kansas City next week.

On the night, the Texans had eight passes defensed against Tom Brady and his merry band of pass catchers.

One of the Texans’ best offensive plays of the night went for no yards and it was a vital play on the 13-play, 88-yard drive. Watson went back to pass and he got heat from linebacker John Simon. It appeared Simon had Watson completely wrapped up for a sack, but somehow Watson wiggled out of it and threw incomplete. Watson avoided a massive loss with that Houdini escape. What’s even more interesting on that play was that Sunday night’s referee Tony Corrente was the official on Sunday night. Why does that matter? He was the official that called Watson in the grasp on his touchdown pass to Hopkins in Week 7 at Indianapolis. That negated a Watson-Hopkins touchdown connection, but this time Corrente allowed Watson the opportunity to get loose and Watson obliged by making a play just getting out of the sack attempt. On the next play, Watson hit Jordan Akins for 19 yards and a Texans first down. Five plays later, the Texans increased their lead to 14-3 on a Darren Fells touchdown reception.

It was a special night. I’ll cut it here so we can start getting ready for the Broncos coming to town next weekend. See ya then, everyone.

Houston Texans take on the New England Patriots at NRG Stadium for the twelfth game of the 2019 NFL season.

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