One step forward and two steps back is one of the many ways to describe the New England Patriots’ 2020 campaign so far this year. A week off arguably their best defensive showing since Super Bowl 53, the Patriots defense was exposed through the air and watched its playoff hopes fade away further in a 27-20 loss against the Houston Texans on Sunday. The Patriots fell to 4-6 on the season with four of those losses coming with a chance to win or tie in the final minutes of the game.
It was a tale of two teams and their pass rush: the Texans kept Deshaun Watson clean, while Cam Newton spent his afternoon running for his life. The Patriots’ lack of pressure on Sunday allowed Watson to torch them for 347 yards and three total touchdowns. Despite Newton’s strong game through the air with 365 yards and a touchdown, a season-high seven penalties and injuries to key players Rex Burkhead and Isaiah Wynn made the loss sting even more.
Winner: WR Damiere Byrd
Let’s start with the positive here; Damiere Byrd was arguably the best player on the field Sunday afternoon. Byrd had a career day with six catches for 132 yards and a touchdown. His 42-yard score was a beautifully placed ball from Cam Newton over the shoulder that Byrd did a nice job turning his head and adjusting to. The first-year Patriot also converted three third downs and showed off his route running and speed over the middle of the field as he was one of the few consistent chain movers for the Patriots on Sunday.
New England didn’t have the big-name guys at wide receiver, but Byrd and Meyers have been forming into a nice 1-2 punch for the team over the last few weeks.
Loser: LB Ja’Whaun Bentley
It’s been a rough season for Ja’Whaun Bentley, who’s had a ton on his plate from the start with Dont’a Hightower opting out and several free agency departures at the position. Bentley returned Sunday after missing the last two games because of a groin injury, but didn’t provide much of an impact. He consistently was too slow with his reads and got torched over the middle of the field in coverage.
Bentley also got trucked over by Deshaun Watson on his rushing touchdown in the first half. His lack of speed limits him as a linebacker, especially in the middle as he really lacks sideline-to-sideline ability when covering. The Patriots have a massive hole at this position and even with the emergence of rookies Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings, they will need to provide more youth and speed at this position going into next year.
Loser: LB Chase Winovich
Fresh off his best game as a pro, Chase Winovich was a non-factor in Sunday’s game. He was unable to generate consistent pressure and couldn’t set the edge even with Pro Bowl left tackle Laremy Tunsil sidelined. The few times Winovich did get in the area of Deshaun Watson, he overran him and blew his assignment allowing Watson to climb the pocket and extend plays with his legs. There is no question Winovich has the talent to be an elite edge rusher in the league but he can be undisciplined and one-dimensional at times.
Winner: QB Cam Newton
Cam Newton has continued to play consistently and put the Patriots in position to win games. After they started out running all over the Texans, they went away from it and started to spread the field a bit more as the game went on. Despite Houston bringing the heat all game long, Newton was sharp on Sunday throwing for 365 yards, completing 26 of 40 passes with a touchdown.
His touchdown pass was a 42-yard dime over the middle of the field as he hit Damiere Byrd on a deep post; he later also converted some big-time third downs repeatedly placing the football in tight spots to help move the chains. Since Week 8 in Buffalo, Cam Newton has thrown for 920 yards, two touchdowns through the air with four more on the ground with just one turnover. He’s been pretty good.
Winner: P Jake Bailey
I feel like Jake Bailey hasn’t gotten the love he should have this year. It may be because the Patriots have punted a lot more and haven’t gotten into many field position battles this year but nonetheless Bailey was great again on Sunday. He punted three times for just over 150 yards and consistently pinned the Texans back in their own territory. The second-year man has been one of the few consistent players on the Patriots so far this season.
Loser: S Devin McCourty
On a day that saw the Patriots’ secondary get torched through the air, McCourty was one of the many players that had rough showings. He blew his coverage on Randall Cobb’s first quarter touchdown and then allowed Deshaun Watson to run over him on the ensuing drive. McCourty is the quarterback of the defense and certainly a guy we’re not used to see having a tough game on Sundays.
When the secondary doesn’t play up to its standards, however, he’s the guy that you typically have to point the finger at. The secondary struggled as whole but McCourty certainly stood out in a bad way on Sunday afternoon.
Loser: OC Josh McDaniels
McDaniels certainly has his weeks where the Patriots offense clicks on all cylinders and his trickery can win them games like we saw last week versus Baltimore. On Sunday, his unit started off strong when the Patriots marched all the way down the field running with a mix of Damien Harris and Rex Burkhead. It seemed like it would be the obvious plan of attack for him as Houston came into Sunday ranked dead-last in the league against the run.
However, New England seemingly got away from that strategy after the opening drive and continued to attack Houston through the air despite constant pressure on Cam Newton. A few questionable play calls including a draw play on 2nd-and-19 on the Texans’ 25-yard line down by seven in the final minutes. It’d be understandable if the Patriots found themselves in a hole early in the game, but this was a one-possession game for most of the day. If the Patriots stuck to the ground game, we might have seen a different outcome on Sunday afternoon because it might also have helped limit Deshaun Watson’s time on the field.