Ten months after Deshaun Watson's 2017 campaign ended with a knee injury, he returns to lead his team back to New England. It was in Tom Brady’s house where he and the offense first demonstrated what they are truly capable of. In the sequel, they’ll need to hit their highest gear early if they are going to start the season the way they want.
People keep telling me that Brady doesn’t have the same weapons. Or that the Patriots are dealing with changes on the offensive line. And this is coming from folks who are covering this thing from both sides of the field.
This is the 18th season of the Brady-Belichick era. They’ve been through a lot of changes. In the last four years alone, they’ve overhauled 78 percent of their position players. This is while winning Super Bowls. Change is not something they are unaccustomed to.
The roster of Patriots players who have taken the field since New England started winning Super Bowls could probably fill an entire conference. Yet it all somehow feels similar because the coach and the quarterback have remained the same.
And it’s those two men the Texans need to be the most concerned with. They are the ones who consistently make sure the Patriots not only outscore the opponent, but do it in abundance.
If you make a big deal out of the Patriots starting 2-2 last season, fine. But remember that in those two losses, they scored 27 and 30 points, respectively. And, yes, they lost the Super Bowl to Nick Foles and the Eagles. But they managed to put up 33 points that evening.
This is not like many other NFL games in which a lead is to be cultivated, nurtured and sailed into the harbor. The pedal has to be pressed all the way down, all afternoon.
There will be games this year in which Deshaun Watson can let it rip early and the Texans can ride a developing ground game and stout defense into the finish. This is not one of them. Brady is The Terminator, and he will not stop until the clock hits zero.
The good news is you’re likely seeing the Texans go into Foxborough with their best defensive talent ever. Yes, the 2012 team was outstanding. But that was their first time in that environment, against a better Patriots offense. And the Texans offense didn’t help them out enough.
This group has three players left from the 2012 unit. However, the bulk of them were there last year and in the 2016 matchups. They know the lay of the land. It’s the fourth trip to Massachusetts in the last 33 games. That’s double the visits to any division opponent in that span.
You’ll notice that even though the AFC East foes don’t beat the Patriots much in Foxborough, they do give them close contests. The environment doesn’t phase them anymore, just Brady and his band of point-scorers.
Speaking of which, the Texans hit Brady hard last season. They sacked him, stripped him and there’s no doubt that Tom was feeling the effects of Time after the game. Yet he still managed five TD passes and most importantly, the win.
Please don’t talk to me about offensive changes. He’s seen plenty. The Texans have to find a way to at least slow him down and get Watson and the attack going early and often. Then we might be talking about a first-ever win in a place that’s been fruitless and heartbreaking for Houston.
This is their best shot yet. The Texans prepare for their latest invasion about as fully loaded as you could expect. Here’s hoping this is a breakthrough afternoon.
Photos: Practice Check-In
Take a look at some of the best shots from Thursday's practice presented by Houston Methodist as the Texans prepare for the Patriots.