New England needed a last minute, Tom Brady-engineered drive to topple the Houston Texans 36-33 at Gillette Stadium on Sunday afternoon. While the home team’s defense left a lot to be desired – giving up 417 total yards and six scoring drives of over 40 yards – their offense weathered Houston’s pass rush to narrowly collect their second win of the season. Apart from the X’s and O’s, this weekend of football will be remembered for the various pregame stances by participating players. For the Patriots, some players stood, arms interlocked – while others knelled, arms interlocked – for the playing of the National Anthem.
Brandin Cooks’ acrobatics in the game’s final minute put the Patriots in the lead for good
Photograph Michael Dwyer via AP, published by spokesman.com
Nine Observations from Game Three…
1. Receiver Brandin Cooks lead New England with 131 receiving yards, including touchdowns of 42 and 25 yards.On the 25-yard game winner late in the 4th quarter, Cooks got between corner Kareem Jackson’s and safety Corey Moore’s zone coverage for a toe-tapping, instant iconic image for 2017. In the 3rd quarter, Cooks beat corner Johnathan Banks’ off-man coverage (man-to-man, with a seven-yard cushion at the line) with an in-cut when safety Andre Hal bit on a fake over the middle.Earlier in the 1st quarter, Cooks caught a 44-yard fly pattern up the left sideline over Banks, again against off-man coverage.
2. Over the past two games, Tom Brady has completed 75% of his pass attempts, throwing for 825 yards and eight touchdown.Against the Texans Brady averaged nearly 14 yards per to his wide receivers:Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan (two touchdowns), and Danny Amendola.For his efforts, Brady won back-to-back AFC Offensive Player of the Week award.
3. Danny Amendola returned from the concussion protocol to make significant contributions in game three.In the 1st quarter he returned a punt 33 yards to midfield, setting up the Patriots’ first touchdown; in the 2nd Amendola pulled in a third-and-10 conversion that set up the team’s third touchdown; and in the game’s final minute he converted a third-and-18 attempt for 27 yards, setting up the game winning play to Brandin Cooks.
4. New England running backs Mike Gillislee, James White, and Dion Lewis were held to 2.8 yards per carry by Houston’s defense.LaAdrian Waddle filled in for Marcus Cannon (injury scratch) at right tackle, and clearly the coaches steered clear of outside runs:Calling runs between the guards 13 times and runs to the outside only seven times.
5. The Texans’ defense collected five sacks, made another four QB hits, and forced three quarterback fumbles in the contest. Notable contributions by linebacker Whitney Mercilus (one strip-sack off a stop-and-go speed move against left tackle Nate Soldier), defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (one of two sacks collected when J.J. Watt knocked down Nate Soldier on a two-man game), defensive lineman Christian Covington (one sack over center David Andrews on a switch game with fellow lineman Brandon Dunn).
Trey Flowers, and the rest of the Patriots’ defense, struggled to contain rookie Deshaun Watson
Photo by Matthew J. Lee (Getty Images) and published by The Boston Globe
6. Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson was impressive in his second NFL start:Throwing for 301 yards and two touchdowns.Watson also ran eight times for 41 yards – three times converting first downs on third down runs.
7. On play personified the Patriots’ struggles with the Texans’ quarterback:With five minutes remaining in the 4th quarter, defensive lineman Malcolm Brown blew past center Nick Martin to nearly sack Watson on his own 11 yard line.As the quarterback regained his feet, defensive lineman Adam Butler – who had pushed by left guard Xavier Su'a-Filo – almost toppled Watson at the 11 yard line. At the 14 yard line, Kyle Van Noy and Lawrence Guy nearly collided in an attempt to bring down Watson, before the Houston quarterback found running back D'Onta Foreman up the right sideline for a 31-yard first-down conversion.
8. Patriots’ linebacker Kyle Van Noy (in on 11 tackles) has played every defensive snap over the first three games (per ESPN Boston).In the 2nd quarter, the linebacker brought down tight end Ryan Griffin in the open field for no gain.Recently acquired defensive end Cassius Marsh (in on five tackles) collected a strip sack midway through the 3rd quarter.Trey Flowers (in on six tackles) was created with a sack on the Texans’ first drive (three quarterback hits and three hurries).
9. For all the defenses’ breakdowns, one play saved the game. Inside of three minutes, down by two points and facing a third-and-one on their own 18 yard line, the Patriots countered the Texans’ 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, and three wide receivers) with their goal line defense.At the snap, defensive tackle Alan Branch pushed right guard Greg Mancz into the backfield while defensive tackle Adam Butler stood up center Nick Martin.Linebacker Kyle Van Noy rushed the pile and helped bring running back Lamar Miller short of the first down marker.
…And One Comment about Game Four
After game three, Patriots’ cornerback Malcolm Butler called Deshaun Watson an "up and coming Cam Newton." If that’s the case, New England’s defense is in for another rocky ride in game four. Until the Patriots’ defense begins limiting big plays (17 this season) and reducing opponent points’ scored (31.7 for worst in the NFL), they can hardly be considered Championship contenders.