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Patriots vs Texans: Fan Notes from the Game

Related: Patriots vs Texans: Second half comeback allows New England to celebrate 25-22 win

New England Patriots v Houston Texans Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

There are a number of phrases you can use regarding yesterday’s matchup between the Houston Texans and New England Patriots, all of which we’ve used before. Ugly. A win is a win. Made enough plays to get it done. If you’re a member of the Boston media, embarrassing, shameful, and fire Belichick are probably littering your hack job articles this morning. But the reality is that the Patriots have played games like this before, and won games like this before, and I’ll take a win that allows for a number of learning experiences over a loss that allows for them.

  • Let’s get this out of the way first so those of you who prefer to keep it negative will be able to enjoy this article as well: the Houston Texans are not a good football team. And New England barely squeaked out a win against them. “Escaped” might be the best word to use here. Some guys played well, others most certainly did not. It probably shouldn’t have been as close as it was. So if that’s the hill you want to die on this week, have at it.
  • But I imagine that, like me, a fair number of you out there thought the Patriots were going to win this game prior to the news that four of New England’s five starting offensive linemen were going to be out. After that, you really didn’t know what to expect. Can a team win with a rookie QB and a bunch of backups on the line? It turns out that the answer is yes — and even if the Pats had lost yesterday, it wouldn’t have been on the line at all.
  • Those of you who were around from 2009-2012 or so will remember a Patriots team that couldn’t field a decent secondary to save their life. A hodgepodge of free agents, practice squadders, and Julian Edelman comprised New England’s defensive back room, and the results from that season reflected that. I believe that Matthew Slater even spent some time at safety back then. But even in that situation, New England was never missing all but one of their primary starters at corner — and I’d argue that offensive line is a little bit more important than secondary. But that unit played fairly well, in my opinion.
  • So much so that I don’t really have anything else to say about what was supposed to be the major storyline coming into this game. Total anonymity is the sign of a good offensive lineman, and as of this morning I don’t think I could name all of yesterday’s starters. So good work, boys.
  • As a man who has likely watched every single underdog sports movie that has ever been made, I should have seen that offensive line performance coming. They were likely all sitting in the locker room pregame, all despondent, when out of nowhere some inspirational speech got them so fired up they had a game for the ages. That’s how these things usually work.
  • While the end result washes a lot of the taste out of my mouth, I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t one of the more frustrating games I’ve watched as a Patriots fan in a very long time. It took about three and a half quarters for the defense to wake up Absolutely nothing made sense yesterday in terms of what worked and what didn’t — mostly the latter. Davis freaking Mills, only slightly less anonymous than New England’s O-line, went 21 of 29 for 312 yards and 3 TDs. He was rolling out of the pocket and throwing on the fly. He connected on flea flickers and adjusted plays at the line. In a game that we all figured would be one of those 10-3, get the W and get home kind of affairs, I just don’t know what is real anymore.
  • And it doesn’t look like Houston did anything particularly fancy either, to be honest; other than the one trick play, it was just guys getting open and a complete inability by New England to diagnose or penetrate the screen game. There was also the incredibly odd decision to play off the ball on third and fourth and short when the Texans weren’t even trying to mask the quick slant. I’m trying to think of a single time in the history of the NFL where a quick slant for a six yard gain was defended successfully and coming up short. I know it’s happened at some point, but I legit don’t think I’ve ever seen it.
  • Oh wait. Yes I have.
  • The result of New England still being in bed defensively when this game started: an 18 play, 80 yard, ten minute touchdown drive that included a third down defensive penalty drive kept alive on a third down penalty and a fourth down conversion. That first quarter lasted only slightly longer than Chris Sales’s start against the Rays.
  • Luckily, the Patriots answered right back with a solid mix of run and running some more. The Patriots doubled their rushing total from last week on their very first play from scrimmage and kept Damien Harris’s legs moving with a lot of off tackle runs and short passes over the middle.
  • And then Mills connected with Chris Moore for a 67 yard score that I’m still sitting here trying to figure out how it wasn’t picked, Houston went right back up, and I started to just kind of get a feeling that we might be in for a long day.
  • On the plus side, I finally got my ideal Sunday scenario after five weeks of waiting — 1PM game, Patriots kick off.
  • Charlie Heck is an all-time great offensive line name. Would love to know how many times he got some version of “what the heck?” when he was a kid.
  • Once again, this game could have been very different if not for a goal line fumble, once again, by Damien Harris. “Always fumbles at the goal line” is not what you want your moniker to be.
  • There are certain words and terms that the NFL just flat out doesn’t know the meaning of. Integrity comes to mind. Science is another. Personal conduct is a big one. Consistency. Catch. Player safety. And we all need to add “indisputable” and “incontrovertible” to that list. Harris’s goal line fumble is the latest addition to a laundry list of plays. all over the league, I’ve watched over the years where I thought to myself that there just isn’t enough definitive evidence to overturn whatever the call on the field was, which is why the on-field call is so important in the first place. The one angle that would seem to be the kicker was blocked by a Texans defender, so I was sure it would just stand as called — just how if they had initially ruled it a fumble, it should have stood. The only thing I can possibly think of is that the refs have access to a highly focused camera that they simply don’t show us regular folk.
  • There’s just something about teams doing dumb stuff when they play the Patriots, and while there are enough former Patriots on the team and staff down in Houston for me to figure they’d be immune from whatever it is that causes the numbskullery, that clearly wasn’t the case. It would appear that Houston made the decision not to punt all game, as evidenced by how often they went for it (and converted) on fourth down. So perhaps we should be inclined to forgive Cameron Johnston for doing his best Marla Hooch impression before bouncing the ball off his own guy to set the Patriots up with good field position. But this just has to be a testament to how much real estate Bill Belichick has in the rest of the league’s heads.
  • Amazon has a new commercial out — which is important, because nobody knows what Amazon is and nobody uses them so they really need the exposure — that features a woman who goes by “Bear Hug Betty.” Not only is Amazon directly causing the complete erasure of small businesses, they now have me lamenting the fact that I have until this point lived my life without someone named Bear Hug Betty in it
  • Rhamondre Stevenson was finally active. I’m been whining about wanting him on the field since August, and I finally got my wish. My reward? 11 carries! for 23 yards. That’s 2.1 yards per carry, if my math suits me. He did have a nine yarder late in the game as killing clock was crucial. And he didn’t fumble at the goal line. So that was nice.
  • I still don’t know how I feel about it, but I think I need to simply accept that Brandon Bolden is New England’s best option at third down back this year. So let’s go Brandon. Maybe we can start chanting “Let’s Go Brandon!” every week; seems like a pretty straightforward way to show support.
  • I have written both “J.C. Jackson got it done” and “J.C. Jackson kind of stunk yesterday” multiple times, and deleted one or the other multiple times. He held Brandin Cooks to three catches for 23 yards. But he kept drives alive with penalties, couldn’t stop the slant, and was in coverage on that 67 yard run (though to be fair that was a poor angle by McCourty). So I’ve decided to just throw them both out there so I’m right no matter what.
  • Jamie Collins has been more impactful than Dont’a Hightower this season and he played maybe five snaps yesterday. I’m now legit worried about him; might just be on the wrong side of his prime and that’s just the way it is.
  • Who is still very much in his prime, though, is Red Sleeves McGee. Matthew Judon has been the best Belichick free agent signing of this last year and it isn’t even close. He’s just an absolute force and as the season goes on, New England is going to start basing their entire defensive scheme around him.
  • I’d also like to give Kyle Dugger some credit, because he’s amassing himself a solid season as quietly as a one cheek sneak in church. 10 tackles, five solo, and solid in coverage.
  • There is no reality that has ever existed or will ever exist in which I assert in any capacity that I know more than Josh McDaniels about how to effectively run an NFL offense. But I also feel that running a screen pass, down 10, inside the 30 yard line, when the defense is very clearly showing a press man look isn’t the best use of one’s time. Mac Jones’s TD pass to Hunter Henry is just his second throw into the end zone this season, the first being a one-yard play-action to Smith last week. Maybe it’s time to get Meyers in the end zone for once.
  • Unless those were Mac Jones decisions, which I don’t think they were. Because once again, the rookie knows how to throw guys open and take advantage of both the holes in the zone and utilizing the play-action to get receivers behind their defender when the D is showing press. He made a few bad decisions, one of which resulted in a pick and another which should have been, but overall there hasn’t been a time where Jones has in any capacity cost his team a game.
  • In fact, Jones has now engineered a 13-point second half comeback that included both quick scoring drives, and long, methodical, clock-killing drives to put points on the board while giving Houston virtually no chance of answering. He definitely still has some things that he needs to clean up, but so does every quarterback in the NFL.
  • At this point, I think it’s safe to say that Jakobi Meyers is Jones’s favorite target among the receivers — but I don’t think it’s by much. Kendrick Bourne is getting more and more comfortable every week, and his positional versatility makes him a threat from pretty much anywhere, including the backfield. And Nelson Agholor is starting to come into his own on the middle third routes. This unit is far from the best in the league — but it certainly isn’t the worst.
  • Not to mention our secret weapon N’Keal Harry, who continues to be good for one catch for nine yards and crucial third down pickup every game where a flag helps move the chains. That legit might be worth keeping him on the roster for.
  • We’re also starting to see things clicking with the tight ends. Hunter Henry represented the big, aggressive seam route runner that can generate yards after contact while Smith continues to evolve in the Move role. If the 2021 Patriots offense is a jigsaw puzzle, we just finally got the perimeter done and have now moved on to figuring out what that weird green blob in the bottom right corner is before our nephew eats one of the pieces.
  • I love me some Nick Folk...but I don’t want him to be MVP of this team again. More TDs, less FGs please. Nick Folk just can’t be a back-to-back team MVP. I won’t allow it!
  • The time when I was most nervous during this one was when Houston was facing a third and something-teen, because you knew it would end up with a fourth and one, Houston would go for it, and convert on a quick slant.
  • Living in the NYC area and refusing to give the NFL money by paying for outside market games, I’m forced to get a little creative when watching games like yesterday’s. So there may or may not have been a scenario where the game suddenly switched to some rodeo event out of nowhere which might have sent me scrambling for about 10 minutes to find a different viewing outlet. So here are my Fan Notes from a Random Rodeo:
  • Apparently there’s some really good money in bull riding. No clue how.
  • I can’t for the life of me figure out what’s left to achieve now that there have been so many cowboys who rode that bull for eight seconds. Why not just have them hold on as long as possible, try to one up each other?
  • I’m very curious as to where rodeo clown ranks on the overall clown hierarchy. Part of me thinks they’re at the top — you have to be pretty badass to be a rodeo clown — but another part of me thinks they’re ostracised from the clown community and not viewed as true artists.
  • I’ve never been to one, but I imagine that a rodeo event is absolutely phenomenal people watching.
  • The Pats may have gotten the W... but the real winner yesterday was Lovie Smith’s beard.

If you were to tell me the Patriots and the Chiefs would have identical records going into Week 6 at the start of the year, I’d have been happy as all hell. And to be honest, I still am. New England is a few mistakes away from being 4-1, possibly even 5-0 — and while they aren’t and there are no what-ifs in football and you are what your record says you are, this squad is right in the middle of a very crowded AFC where anything can happen. And in a year where you’re continuing to build for the future and looking at each game as a long-term building block, that puts this team ahead of the curve, in my opinion.