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Patriots-Texans: Observations from New England’s 36-33 win over Houston

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Here are our immediate takeaways after the game.

Houston Texans v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The New England Patriots mounted an impressive comeback against the Houston Texans to win 36-33. New England needed a touchdown after trailing 33-28 and quarterback Tom Brady led the team 75 yards on 8 plays before finding Brandin Cooks in the corner of the end zone for a score and the win.

The Patriots showed a much different mentality this game than they did in the opener against the Kansas City Chiefs, where they failed to show mental toughness late in the game. This game could mark a shift in the rest of the Patriots’ season.

Here are my instant observations.

Tom Brady is a magician

Brady finished the game 25 of 35 (71.4%) for 378 yards, 5 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions for a passer rating of 146.2. He was the first quarterback to throw for 300+ yards against the Texans since Blake Bortles (seriously) in week 6 of 2015. He showed impressive control of the football when Josh McDaniels called passing plays and flashed impressive rapport with every target other than Dwayne Allen.

Over the past two games, Brady is 55 of 74 (74.3%) for 825 passing yards, 8 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. His passer rating for those two games is 146.5. One week after posting one of the top five games by a 40+ year old quarterback, Brady put together the best game by a 40+ year old quarterback.

His season-to-date 1,092 passing yards and 8 touchdown passes lead the league and his passer rating of 121.5 ranks third. Brady never left.

Brandin Cooks has found his role in the offense

Cooks collected 5 receptions on 7 targets for 131 yards and 2 touchdowns, along with a 2-point conversion. He has 10 receptions and 2 touchdowns on the year and his 256 receiving yards leads the Patriots. Cooks showed an obvious improvement on the sideline and built his trust with Brady that should be apparent for the rest of the year.

Cooks joins Rob Gronkowski (16 catches, 238 yards, 2 touchdowns on the year) and Chris Hogan (10 catches, 154 yards, 3 touchdowns) as the top three options in the offense, with Danny Amendola (9 catches, 148 yards) and James White (12 catches, 126 yards) the supplementary pieces.

The Patriots can rely on Cooks deep down the field and they’ve also shown they’ll feed him on the sidelines. He’s going to keep getting better over the course of the year.

Patriots still need to work on short yardage situations

The Patriots were 0/2 on third or fourth and <2 yards this week, with Mike Gillislee failing to convert again and Brady not connecting with Gronkowski. This was as the Patriots were trying to mount a fourth quarter comeback and when New England needed to make a play.

On the year, the Patriots are 3/9 on these short down conversions. They’ve also settled for two field goals inside the opposing 10-yard line because they couldn’t trust the offense to convert.

Gillislee is 1/4 on his attempts. The Patriots need more consistency in this situational football.

Offensive line was really bad

The Texans racked up 6 sacks and an additional 5 quarterback hits to go with 7 tackles for loss. J.J. Watt opened up the game with two straight tackles for loss, but “only” had one more for the rest of the game. Jadeveon Clowney had 2 sacks, a quarterback hit, 4 tackles for loss, and returned a fumble for a touchdown.

Nate Solder has played three straight bad outings and it’s reasonable to be concerned. LaAdrian Waddle had a tough job in replacing Marcus Cannon, was actually seemed okay after he settled in. Joe Thuney was thrown around at times, as was David Andrews.

This unit is capable of so much more in both pass protection an in the running game to generate space for Gillislee in short yardage situations. They need to step up more than almost any other unit on the team.

Defense is still giving up big plays

The Patriots gave up a 35-yard play to Texans TE Ryan Griffin on 2nd-and-22, where rookie QB Deshaun Watson should’ve been sacked. They gave up a 34-yard pass to RB D’Onta Foreman on 2-and-7 and a 31-yard pass to Foreman on 1st-and-20, both in the fourth quarter. They allowed a 29-yard touchdown to WR Bruce Ellington.

Those 4 plays of 29+ yards were the most all year (3 each to the Chiefs and Saints), bringing the season total to 10. They allowed just 17 plays of 29+ yards in the entire 2016 regular season.

Everyone deserves some blame. The defensive line for not containing Watson. The linebackers for letting Foreman free. The secondary for letting the receivers open. The entire defense needs to buckle up and soon.