The New England Patriots and Houston Texans played a thrilling back-and-forth contest yesterday. And even though the reigning world champions came out on top, not all was perfect: The Patriots were uneven on both offense and defense at times. Ultimately, though, they were able to get the win and improve to 2-1.
Here are some quick-hit winner and losers of the contest.
Winner: QB Tom Brady
He was under considerable duress throughout the game but, as usual, came through in the clutch: Tom Brady proved once again why he is the NFL's best quarterback by putting the offense on his back when it needed him the most. Brady engineered an eight-play, 75-yard two-minute drill to take the lead late in the fourth quarter. It was a fitting end to a once again magnificent performance (25/35, 378 yds, 5 TDs, 0 INTs) – especially considering the following:
Loser: The entire offensive line
The Texans have one of the best defensive lines in football. However, the Patriots' blockers up front made life too easy for them. No matter if it was the running or the passing game, Nate Solder, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason and LaAdrian Waddle had issues. Overall, the unit was able to pave the way for only 59 rushing yards on 20 attempts while allowing Tom Brady to be sacked five times.
Winner: WR Brandin Cooks
After two relatively quiet games to open the season, first-year Patriot Brandin Cooks had his breakout party against Houston. The 24-year old – happy birthday – finished with five catches for 131 yards and a pair of touchdowns; among them the game winner. Even when he was not catching the ball, Cooks had an impact on the game: On Chris Hogan's 47-yard touchdown, the safety moved towards Cooks to free up space for his fellow wideout.
Loser: Improvisational defense
A lot of Houston's biggest plays of the game came on scramble drills by quarterback Deshaun Watson. The rookie did a great job to buy himself time but was aided by breakdowns on the Patriots defense: No matter if it was the front approaching him too aggressively or backfield getting lost in coverage, the defense had a hard time stopping Watson and the Texans offense in these situations.
Winner: WR Chris Hogan
While Brandin Cooks was the standout among the Patriots' wide receivers, Chris Hogan also played a very good game. The 28-year old finished with four catches for 68 yards and two touchdowns; once again proving himself a capable threat on both short and long passes – one that appears to be a very good complementary piece to the skill sets of Cooks and:
Winner: TE Rob Gronkowski
One week after being unable to finish the Patriots' game against the New Orleans Saints because of a groin injury, Rob Gronkowski was back – and he was back big time. The NFL's best tight end delivered a standout performance as both a blocker and a pass catcher and finished with a team-high eight catches, gaining 89 yards and a touchdown in the process.
Loser: P Ryan Allen
Ryan Allen has had his moments during yesterday's game. However, New England's punter was too inconsistent especially early in the game. His second punt traveled only 36 yards and set up Houston with tremendous field position, while he also had some problems with pinning the team deep: Once, Allen set up the Texans' offense at the 11-yard line after a 26-yarder, later in the game he had a touchback from the 35.
Winner: WR Danny Amendola
After missing the Patriots' week two game in New Orleans due to concussion and knee issues, Danny Amendola returned to the field yesterday. He was solid as the team's punt returner (two runbacks for 53 yards) but his best work came as a pass catcher: Amendola had three catches for 48 yards. Not that spectacular a stat-line but the 31-year old once again made a clutch play late in the game, helping the Patriots convert a 3rd and 18 during the game-winning drive.
Loser: Jonathan Jones and Devin McCourty
The Patriots' secondary had its moments but also had some lapses – and two players represent this inconsistency best: Jonathan Jones and Devin McCourty. Both were able to provide close man-coverage but also gave up touchdowns and were caught out of position other times as well. McCourty's performance in particular was noteworthy as he had a down-day considering his role and experience within the defense.
Winner: Red zone defense
Even though New England's defense allowed Houston to score 26 points while giving up 417 yards, not all was bad as the unit delivered its best red zone game of the season. Overall, Matt Patricia's defense gave up only one score on three Texans trips into the red area – an improvement over the past two performances (3 of 3 in week one, 2 of 3 in week 2).