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Patriots vs. Texans: Fan Notes from the Game

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Notes, musings, and observations from the New England Patriots’ 36-33 victory against the Houston Texans

Houston Texans v New England Patriots


Nobody saw this one coming, it’s safe to say. New England, at home, against a team they have historically dominated...this game had convincing Patriot win written all over it.

But - that’s why we watch. If things went the way they were supposed to, football would be a very boring sport indeed. But the last thing I would use to describe that game was boring. It took all 60 minutes and yet another Tom Brady 4th quarter comeback drive to do it, but the Patriots pulled out a 36-33 win over a surprisingly effective Houston Texans. A lot of positives to take away from this game, but more than a few red flags as well. We’re already almost a quarter of the way through the season, and so it’ won’t be long until it’s too late to say “it’s too early.”

  • Once again, a massive thanks to Paddy’s Pub on 5th Ave and 13th St. in Park Slope, Brooklyn. This is my first year in a very, very (very, very) long time setting foot outside on a Sunday during NFL season, and there are significantly worse places to watch a game than a bar where there are great drink specials, free hot dogs, free wings, and this past week, meatballs! If you’re ever in the area, come on by.
  • This is the last you’ll hear from me on the National Anthem all season - if you want to combine sports and politics and use the platform sports provides to advance a political agenda, go for it - more power to you. If you’d like to see sports and politics completely separate and see sports as your chance to escape from the real world for a while and want to ignore the politics completely, go for it - more power to you. I’m personally in the latter category, but if you’re in the former group, then rock on. Other people may have a different take on all of it than you, and that’s fine. Just do you and let other people do them. Back to football.
  • It took until Week 3 for the Patriots to win a coin toss and defer. About damn time. 1PM games where the Pats defer are my happy place.
  • “By deferring, the Patriots want to put their defense out on the field and test Deshaun Watson right off the bat.” After hearing Tony Romo’s astute analysis and legitimate coverage last week, it’s certainly refreshing to have Dan Fouts’ insight and hard hitting nuance back.
  • Seriously - I had forgotten what a complete moron that guy is and I absolutely love him for it. A few of my favorites from yesterday’s game:
  • “They’re going to go for it on 4th down here, and of course if they don’t get it, they turn the ball over on downs.”
  • “Brady’s going to try and get rid of the ball quickly, because if he holds onto it for too long and the Texans get to him, that will result in a sack.”
  • Just once, I would like to be as awestruck as Fouts was when a deflected pass, intended for Chris Hogan on New England’s opening drive, bounced in the air before falling incomplete. He just couldn’t fathom how a football could spend any time in the air. It was amazing to him, and I don’t think I’ve ever been that impressed in my life.
  • And perhaps one of my favorite moments of the game was where Fouts gushed about how open Danny Amendola was all the time, and on the very next play Tommy B hit a wide open Chris Hogan for the score and you could actually hear Fouts’ gears turning, trying to figure out if Amendola was Hogan and Hogan was Amendola so he could pat himself on the back.
  • JJ Watt, man...what an animal. When he’s not Instagramming himself flipping tires in the middle of the woods at 3AM with the hashtag #stayhumble or raising upwards of $30 million for disaster relief, he’s busy being the best d-lineman in the game. I still don’t think he’s ever sacked Tommy B, but you can’t have it all.
  • That defensive line in general for Houston is absolutely absurd. Watt, Clowney, Mercilus...I really want to get on the offensive line for having a...let’s just call it, but I don’t know how much of it is on them vs. how much of it if just the fact that they were up against a superior talent group.
  • On our pregame show, Rich Hill and I predicted an offensive strategy that featured lot of short passes to James White and Danny Amendola, very little Mike Gillislee, and few deep shots to Brandin Cooks. Their first drive was a few Gillislee runs and a deep shot to Cooks. Aren’t you guys lucky to have us?
  • Speaking of Cooks... I’m going to harness my inner Fouts and say that Brandin Cooks, by catching the ball and scoring two touchdowns, really helped this Patriots team win the game. There’s a lot to go back and break down this week regarding how he was utilized, but it looks like he was most effective lined up on the outside where he could run the option route - a pattern in which a receiver has two different cuts, and he makes one based on the looks he’s getting from the safety. It’s much harder to defend, but it also requires the QB and WR to be on the same page at all times, lest the quarterback think he’s going to zig when he ends up zagging.
  • The three biggest plays of the day for the Patriots all went to Cooks - the deep pass on their opening posession, the playaction post route for the TD, and the final pass of the game. All three had Cooks lined up out wide with the choice to cut in or take it outside, and each time he made the correct read and Tommy B hit him in stride. Nowhere to go from here but up.
  • Nowhere, that is, except for The Blue Tent. New England was unable to avoid its Siren call this week, but who knows how long they can resist.
  • Houston’s secondary was surprisingly tight in coverage. I figured New England defenders would have no trouble getting separation on the corners, but they played a little off at the line and tried to funnel everything into the middle of the field where it was more congested. Overall, it was incredibly effective.
  • A surprisingly small number of blitzes from the Patriots yesterday. You’d figure with a rookie QB, there would be more complexity to the defensive packages. I imagine Watson’s mobility was a big factor into that decision.
  • Which is as good a time as any to talk about Deshaun Watson, who had himself one helluva game yesterday. Aside from some surprisingly accurate passes, what he was able to do with his legs is nothing short of remarkable. That said, I’m getting damn sick of seeing this happen to the Patriots, who seem to be completely incapable of bringing down mobile QBs as they scramble around in the backfield. That’s not to take anything away from Watson’s abilities, but the number of times over the years the front four has had a QB dead to rights 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage, only to have him run an extra 50 yards back and forth across the field and find a wide open man for a huge gain leads me to believe that QBs of that mold are just going to keep on doing what they do against this defense.
  • Whenever a player falls on another player’s leg in the pile, I’m always amazed that the leg doesn’t just snap straight off. That some guys come right back out onto the field is mind boggling.
  • Anybody see that play late in the 1st quarter where Dion Lewis got boxed out of the huddle and couldn’t find an opening to sneak in? He kept trying to muscle his way through a gap, but all those big dudes didn’t even know he was there. That might be why Clowney sacked Tommy B on the ensuing play.
  • That Stephon Gilmore pick was all Deatrich Wise. Beat his man off the edge and caused Watson to panic a little. As Patriots fans know all too well, a throw while stepping back rarely ends well.
  • At this point, Wise is the best player along that defensive line, which is great for him and not great for everybody else. I’m trying to think of a player on that D who keeps defensive coordinators up at night, and I can’t think of one.
  • At the moment, the centerpiece of the defense is Kyle Van Noy, who has played every single possible snap for the Patriots. Cassius Marsh is seeing a lot of reps as well. I’m currently trying to think of a defense anchored by Van Noy and Marsh playing deep into January and having a tough time doing it.
  • If I’m Matt Patricia, I’m not waking up in the middle of the night in cold sweats at the thought of this defense - but they’re making it harder to fall asleep. They’ve given up multiple big plays each game so far, they aren’t getting pressure on the quarterback, and tight ends continue to pose a problem. I just can’t help but wonder if there are just holes in the D talent-wise that will need to be filled elsewhere, which means we could very well be seeing a trade coming before too long.
  • As to who to trade...the obvious candidates are Malcolm Butler and Dion Lewis, perhaps together for an impact pass rusher. But since that’s the obvious choice, that means those two are safe.
  • I used to like the song “Sweet Caroline” quite a bit. Then some hipster douche in a Hyundai decided to sing it in traffic and now it makes me want to break something.
  • I wish that DeAndre Hopkins trade went through. Oh well.
  • On the TV to my left at Paddy’s what was supposed to pass for a football game between the Jets and the Dolphins. Every time I looked over, someone was punting. Good old AFC East.
  • How about those Bills, though, taking out Denver? If the NFL’s latest plan to increase league parity is to just make sure every team is kind of terrible, they’re doing a great job so far.
  • In addition to three straight weeks of the defense surrendering big plays, that’s three straight weeks of Nate Solder getting embarrassed by whoever his assignment is. The whole O line laid an egg yesterday, but the Brady fumble for six from Clowney was on him and Brady took way too many shots from his blind side. Something needs to change and it needs to change now.
  • In 2015, the Steelers decided on a defensive strategy that focused on not covering Rob Gronkowski. Houston seemed to embrace a similar strategy, just with Hogan.
  • If you’re ever taking a test, and on that test is the following question: how many times can the Texans call a QB draw right up the middle on third down before the Patriots catch on and adjust? Just know that the answer is infinity.
  • Admit it: every single person here saw a big dude with a 7 on his jersey make the catch, take a huge hit, and lie motionless on the ground, and you all thought it was Gronk. Then you found out that the injured person was Jacob Hollister and you all breathed a huge sigh of relief. How can you sleep at night?
  • Brandin Cooks’ first TD as a Patriot should look familiar to the Texans, as it’s basically the same play the Pats burned the Texans with with another Brandon, of the Lloyd variety, a few years back. The only difference between that play and this one was that Gronk got the pull block and Cooks cut his route off a little early, knowing he was faster than everyone on the field.
  • Why the Patriots ran a draw on 3rd and 1 for no gain makes absolutely zero sense. Not only that, but why the Patriots suddenly seem unable to convert on short yardage makes zero sense as well.
  • Although...they had LeGarrette Blount last year and he couldn’t pick up two yards on 3rd and 1 to save his life. So there’s something going on here.
  • One thing I don’t have any confidence in when it comes to this team, at least not at this point, is the defense coming up with a big play when they need one. That was an area where the 2016 Patriots excelled; when they needed a play, they got one. So far this season, there just hasn’t been anything that leads me to believe the Pats will come up big when the game is on the line. I’d love to revisit this note in a few months and feel like an idiot, but I don’t know...this team doesn’t have any teeth. They ended up making a stop when they needed one to force a Texans field goal late when a TD would have iced the game, but it shouldn’t have gotten to that point. Somebody needs to step up and get mean.
  • Were I a fan of any other team, I probably would have spent the entirety of my Fan Notes waxing poetic about how my quarterback was able to engineer a 77 yard drive to win the game - but at no point during yesterday’s game did I think for a second that the Patriots were going to lose this one. It sounds horrible and conceited, I know...but there was just never a doubt. Even when Tommy B got sacked and then hit and they were facing a 3rd and 18, I just knew that Amendola was going to Amendola his way into a huge catch and set up the game winning score.
  • Along those lines, I don’t want to hear anybody talk about how overrated Danny Amendola is ever again. In baseball, closers get paid a buttload of money to throw about 12 pitches a game. Danny Amendola gets paid a buttload of money to convert 3rd and 15 plus and score historically crucial touchdowns and 2 point conversions. if you have a problem with that, you can go kick rocks.
  • I don’t understand how Cooks was a), able to get so open, b) make that grab with the safety barreling down on him, and c) land with both feet in bounds like that before falling to the ground while maintaining possession. And I’m OK with that. The whole play reminded me of Kenbrell Thompkins against the Saints in 2012 - just big players making big plays when a big play was needed.
  • Don’t be too surprised if, in a few weeks, I’m on here saying that the 2017 Patriots are capable of beating, and being beat by, every team in the NFL. Right now they’re kind of like that super hot guy or girl in high school - getting by just fine on their looks for now, but they’re going to need to get themselves a personality real soon before it all comes crashing down.

The Patriots have another home game coming up against the Carolina Panthers, who are absolutely decimated by injuries at their skill positions and just goth throttled by the same Saints team that the Patriots spanked in Week 2. That said, Cam Newton is a mobile quarterback who is more than capable of running circles around Patriots defensive linemen while he waits for a receiver to get open, so next week’s game could end up looking very much like this one’s.