In the end, the New England Patriots' week three game against the visiting Houston Texans turned out to be a thriller decided within the last 30 seconds of regulation. Early on in the game, however, the home team was in control. After forcing a three and out to open the contest, the Patriots' offense marched right down the field to take the first lead of the afternoon.
The final play of the team's opening possession – a seven-play, 51-yard series – gave New England its first lead of the afternoon. Let's take a closer look at it.
3-5-HST 5 (10:37) (Shotgun) T.Brady pass short left to R.Gronkowski for 5 yards, TOUCHDOWN
Following a defensive holding penalty, the Patriots found themselves in a first and goal situation from Houston's 5-yard line. Two incompletions later, however, the team was suddenly facing a third down. Red zone production was an issue the first two weeks of the season, as New England scored touchdowns on only six of 13 trips inside the opponents' 20-yard line.
In order to avoid further disappointment, Josh McDaniels' unit approached the down with one of its most heavily utilized personnel groups: Three wide receivers, aligned in a trips set on the right side of the formation, joined by running back James White (#28) to quarterback Tom Brady's (#12) left, and tight end Rob Gronkowski (#87) split out wide to blind side:
Houston's defense countered with a cover 3 look: Man coverage on the outside and in the underneath areas, with one safety in the middle of the field. Given the way New England's offense was aligned, the left side was favored as the designed spot to attack; especially with Gronkowski being left in one-on-one coverage by safety Corey Moore (#43).
Right after the snap, the quarterback's eyes went to the expected left side of the field. However, the safety manning the middle – Andre Hal (#29) – did not immediately react and key in on Gronkowski. Instead, he was hesitant to abandon the area underneath due to White releasing into the left-side flat:
With Hal being stuck in virtual no man's land, New England played an easy pitch-and-catch game on the left side boundary. Gronkowski ran a simple corner route with the cut coming near the goal line. A little stutter step froze Moore for an instant and gave the big target enough space to get outside leverage. It was the same route concept as on the previous play but this time Brady hit the NFL's best tight end.
Even though Moore was still in a solid position to defend the back-shoulder pass, he could not do it: Brady placed the ball perfectly in a spot where only his intended receiver was able to get it:
The play, which gave New England a 7-0 lead, was a simple concept but one that shows what makes the Brady-Gronkowski connection so dangerous: The ability to exploit one-on-one matchups with size, pinpoint accuracy and chemistry. After all, Brady and Gronkowski were on the same page from the get go.