The New England Patriots start their 2018 season in successful fashion by beating the visiting Houston Texans game 27-20 and improving to 1-0 on the year. While it was far from a perfect outing, the Patriots did have plenty of moments against a talented opponent and saw standout performances by some of their players. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the winners and losers from yesterday’s opening day:
Winner: James Develin
When going through the list of the Patriots’ receiving threats, James Develin comes near the bottom of it. Yesterday, however, the veteran had the most active receiving performance of his career – finishing tied for third on the team with four catches for 22 yards. Develin, a de-facto fullback/tight end-hybrid, did not just have an impact in the passing game, he also was his usual road-grading self in New England’s rushing attack.
Winner: The pass rush
The Patriots’ front seven defense struggled against the Texans last season but shined today against a dangerous dual-threat quarterback in Deshaun Watson. New England registered three sacks – Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise Jr. each registered 1.5 takedowns – while generally not allowing Watson to escape the pocket or make plays with his feet. Overall, it was an encouraging performance by what looks like a deep group of pass rushers.
Loser: Jeremy Hill
His first game in a Patriots uniform was a very good one for Jeremy Hill. He registered four carries for 25 yards and helped kickstart New England’s two-minute drill just before halftime. Furthermore, the former Cincinnati Bengals running back also partially blocked a punt attempt to set up this scoring drive. However, at the end of the day he still has to be seen as a loser for no fault of his own: after a fumble, teammate James Develin accidentally hit him in the knee resulting in what appeared to be a rather serious injury.
Winner: Rob Gronkowski
Other than the aforementioned lost fumble on a long reception down the seam, Rob Gronkowski had another outstanding game as a pass catcher and blocker. Despite drawing constant double-team coverage, the NFL’s best tight end – who even played one defensive snap on the final Hail Mary of the game – finished with seven receptions for 123 yards and a touchdown. Gronkowski was his usual productive self and a consistent big-play threat.
Winner: Trent Brown
Led by J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney, the Texans field one of the best defensive lines in football. However, its impact on Sunday was limited – especially on the defensive right side as Patriots left tackle Trent Brown delivered an excellent performance when going up against Houston’s talented edge rushers. Just how well did the offseason pick fare while going up mostly against Clowney? The former number one overall draft pick registered a mere two tackles and was silent all game long.
Loser: LaAdrian Waddle
While Brown and starting right tackle Marcus Cannon had good games, top backup LaAdrian Waddle was a bit more inconsistent: the second-stringer saw regular time as the Patriots opted to slowly insert Cannon into the lineup after he – coming off a stint on injured reserve – missed the entire preseason due to injury. However, Waddle had some trouble especially against J.J. Watt. While it was nothing drastic, it showed that Cannon is still the undisputed top option at the position.
Winner: Jonathan Jones
One of the more underrated season-ending injuries suffered by the 2017 Patriots was the one suffered by Jonathan Jones – and the slot cornerback showed why yesterday. The former undrafted free agent was active as a pass defender, and finished with zero catches given up on four targets. Furthermore, Jones was the first player down the field to pin a Ryan Allen punt on the one-yard line late in the quarter. A very good comeback performance by the 24-year old.
Loser: The run defense
As well as New England’s defense played against the pass, it had its fair share of issues in the running game: the Texans gained 167 yards on the ground, with an average of 4.9 yards a carry. The interior defensive line – particularly Malcom Brown, Danny Shelton and Adam Butler – was pushed off the running lane more than once allowing Houston’s ball carriers to reach the second level on multiple occasions.
Loser: Riley McCarron
A recent practice-squad call-up, Riley McCarron saw most of his action against the Texans as a punt returner. However, the second-year man muffed one of the attempts and turned the football over to his former team in the final period. Houston took advantage of the miscue and scored a touchdown seven plays later. Considering McCarron’s status as a depth player, plays like this cannot happen if he wants to keep his job on the 53-man squad.
Winner: Phillip Dorsett
With Julian Edelman out for the first four weeks, the Patriots’ depth wide receivers were needed to pick up the slack. Phillip Dorsett did just that against the Texans and was New England’s number one wideout in terms of targets and receptions: the former first-round draft pick caught all seven of his targets for 66 yards and his first touchdown since joining the team last year. An encouraging performance.