HOUSTON – The Texans pushed the New England Patriots extremely close but just missed securing the victory at 36-33.
A Corey Moore dropped interception allowed Tom Brady to once again lead a masterful game-winning drive, ending in a spectacular Brandin Cooks toe-tapper for the go-ahead score.
A final Deshaun Watson Hail Mary was intercepted after some iffy clock management, and the Texans failed to beat New England again.
It is encouraging to see the Texans push the Patriots so close, and there are far more positives from the game than negatives. Here are 5 quick takeaways:
Deshaun Watson shines
The rookie quarterback was largely exceptional in his second NFL start, manipulating the Patriots defense with his arm and showing his ridiculous ability to keep plays alive and gain first downs with his legs.
Watson finished 22-of-33 for 301 yards and two touchdowns. He threw two interceptions, but the second came on the last-gasp Hail Mary. His first pick was his worst play, an ill-advised back foot hurl that set up the Patriots for a TD. Aside from that, Watson was outstanding, finishing with eight carries for 41 yards.
Bill O’Brien opened up the playbook and Watson responded, nearly being the first rookie QB to defeat Bill Belichick’s team at home. If Watson continues like this, the Texans have got a young quarterback to build around.
Texans’ offensive line is good enough
The offensive line stepped up, creating holes in the run game and was solid in pass protection too. It gave up just two sacks, and Watson had plenty of time to throw. Breno Giacomini and Chris Clark were better at tackle, and Xavier Su’a-Filo was not horrible. Overall, the Texans rushed for 125 yards, and the group should get some credit.
Introducing Greg Mancz paid dividends. He again impressed. Nick Martin had some shakier moments but is still the best people-mover on the unit. Watson’s mobility of course helped, but there are positive signs going forward.
The defensive front is very good
Jadeveon Clowney’s early-season form would have worried the Texans, but he responded with two sacks, at least one big tackle for a loss and a fumble return touchdown as well as pressuring Tom Brady a number of times. J.J. Watt opened the game with two huge run stuffs behind the line and was unlucky to not have a sack called on a desperate fling away by Brady when he appeared to be down; Whitney Mercilus had the big strip sack for the Clowney fumble return.
Beyond the start trio, D.J. Reader was stout against the run and Christian Covington broke out in the second half, with a strip sack and 3 tackles, including a crucial third-down stop. The team almost entirely shut down the run, forcing the Patriots to throw at a normally stout secondary
The Texans front seven is going to cause offensive lines a lot of problems this year and they showed that against Brady and Co.
Problems in the secondary
The Texans lost Kevin Johnson to injury during the Bengals game, and his absence contributed to a troublesome performance from the defensive backfield. Johnthan Banks was signed to replace him, and the new corner struggled, being beaten downfield early despite being in good position to make a play on the ball. He would later be burned across the field on a long Brandin Cooks touchdown.
It wasn’t just Banks. Andre Hal had a number of lapses in coverage, including two mistakes that resulted in touchdowns, including Cooks’ first score. Marcus Gilchrist and Jonathan Joseph collided on Chris Hogan’s first touchdown to leave the wideout wide open, while Corey Moore dropped a potentially game-sealing interception as the ball was just knocked loose as he hit the ground even though it appeared the safety had it. To add insult to injury, Moore could not prevent Cooks from getting both his feet inbounds on the winning catch in the end zone.
The Texans need to step up in the secondary next week against Marcus Mariota and the Tennessee Titans.
Ka’imi Fairbairn is a good kicker
The Texans opted for the younger Fairbairn over Nick Novak after a strong preseason, choosing Fairborn’s stronger leg and ability to force touchbacks ahead of the veteran’s reliability inside the 40.
Fairbairn was 4-for-4 on field goals with a long of 40 today on the road at Gilette Stadium in front of a vocal crowd. He repeatedly forced the Patriots to take a knee in the end zone, saving a shaky Texans return unit from having to make many tackles on the dangerous Dion Lewis. The UCLA product made all his extra points. Perfect on the season, it appears the team made the right choice in keeping the second-year kicker.