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Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski take field as Patriots lead Texans with 13-10 halftime score

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The Patriots tight end played in a preseason game for the first time since 2012.

The New England Patriots brought their first team offense to face the Houston Texans and didn’t leave many players at home. QB Tom Brady made the start and TE Rob Gronkowski made a preseason appearance for the first time since 2012. WR Brandin Cooks debuted and made a grab for 7 yards, but the big star of the starting lineup was RB Rex Burkhead.

Burkhead had 10 touches for 70 yards and a touchdown over the first 17 minutes of the game, but needed a little pep talk from Brady at the end of the first quarter.

Burkhead made a nice catch trotted back to the huddle with a smile on his face and he gave Brady a nudge, but Brady wanted laser focus from his teammates, even in the preseason.

Burkhead is new to New England, but Brady was quick to remind him that there’s a reason why the Cincinnati Bengals (Burkhead’s old team) failed when it mattered most. Even snaps in the preseason matter a lot.

But Burkhead made it up to Brady with an impressive 22-yard catch-and-run through the heart of the Texans defense to tie the game 7-7.

The Patriots defense stopped the Texans offense and Cyrus Jones had an extremely productive return to set up the Patriots offense with a short field. Tom Brady was done for the day after his second drive, going 6/9 for 67 yards and a touchdown, as was Rob Gronkowski, opening the door for Jimmy Garoppolo and the second-string skill players.

Almost immediately, TE James O’Shaughnessy rolled up on WR Malcolm Mitchell’s lower leg, as Mitchell clutched his knee after every subsequent snap. His health is something worth monitoring.

Garoppolo made a few nice throws, but made a low-percentage wheel route lob to RB Brandon Bolden on third-and-three that was almost intercepted by the goal line to end the drive. K Stephen Gostkowski connected on a 38-yard field goal to take a 10-7 lead.

The Texans responded with a long 10-play drive including a huge grab by WR Bruce Ellington after the Patriots defense left him wide open in the middle of the field. DT Malcom Brown received heavy snaps with the second-string defense, which is notable. The New England defense stiffened by the goal line and held the Texans to a 31-yard field goal and 10-10 score.

Garoppolo and the Patriots second-stringers led another drive to try and take back the league and RB Dion Lewis was the focal point of the drive. Lewis finished the half with 34 yards on 7 carries and 9 yards on one reception. He flashed his old quickness and made his case for snaps with the starters. The Patriots drive stalled after Malcolm Mitchell couldn’t collect a nice pass from Garoppolo, and then Garoppolo whiffed on a screen pass when he threw it a mile over Lewis’ head. Gostkowski hit a 51-yard field goal to take a 13-10 lead.

The Patriots first-team defense allowed Texans QB Tom Savage to look like an All Pro as he completed 8 of 9 for 98 yards and a touchdown. CB Malcolm Butler looked terrible as he allowed receptions all five targets in his coverage for 71 yards and a touchdown.

Hopefully the starting defense will look better with EDGE Trey Flowers on the field- he didn’t play- and with LB Dont’a Hightower, but the Patriots looked bad against an offense that didn’t have WR DeAndre Hopkins.

The Patriots get the ball after the half.