Things did not get any better after intermission. Rookie quarterback Mac Jones threw an interception on his first pass attempt of the second half, with the Texans cashing in just two plays later via a 37-yard flea flicker touchdown. Trailing 22-9 with 29 minutes left in the game, the Patriots were in grave danger of falling to 1-4 on the year.
However, they started to rally behind a defense that suddenly started to produce some much-needed stops and a young QB in his fifth NFL game.
That quarterback was far from flawless against Houston. But even while being forced to play behind a makeshift offensive line, Mac Jones distributed the ball well and made some sound decisions with the football.
“Mac gave it to us all day,” Bill Belichick said about the first-round rookie immediately after the game. “I thought he made a lot of good decisions.”
With Jones leading the way, the Patriots were able to score on their final four possessions to get back into the game and eventually win it. While only one of those scores was a touchdown — a 13-yard pass to tight end Hunter Henry to tie the game midway through the fourth period — it was enough for New England to outlast the home team and come away with a 25-22 victory.
“There were some checks that he had to make that he made throughout the day, but really the last drive was a third down conversion to Hunter and then we had a couple good runs in there,” Belichick said. “But, yeah, Mac’s been good for us all year in terms of his leadership, his resilience, and kind of always counting on him to do the right thing. And, you know, he really does it at a high level, so it’s been impressive.”
The Patriots’ head coach was not the only one impressed by Jones. Center David Andrews — the lone starting offensive lineman active for the game — also spoke highly of him.
“Number 10, man, he’s a tough son of a gun. Hats off to him,” he said.
“Quarterbacks — toughness maybe isn’t on display. They’re not going around hitting people, right? But, the kid stands in there, he makes throws, he takes hits. He’s never negative, especially for some of our performances here of late. He stands in there, he’s positive, he’s ready to go. He has our back, and you get to play for a guy like that that’s a great opportunity. He shows a lot of poise for a guy like that.”
Jones’ poise was on full display versus Houston, as was his short memory. Going 12-for-14 for 109 yard and a touchdown after the interception thrown early in the third period, he followed the old “one play at a time” mantra and executed the first comeback win of his young career.
The victory was a big one for Jones and the entire team, as Andrews noted on Sunday.
“What a great win for him. What a great win for this football team. We needed it,” he said.
Jones hit seven different receivers along the way. His favorite target was Hunter Henry, who saw eight passes thrown his way. Of those, the high-priced free agent addition caught six for 75 yards and the aforementioned score.
Henry too sang Jones’ praises in the aftermath of the game. He also focused on one particular aspect of his game as well: toughness.
“He’s tough,” Henry said of the 23-year-old. “He stands in there. It says a lot to the older guys, guys that have been around, to be that young and stand in there and fire the ball, it gives a lot of confidence to the receivers, tight ends and to the offensive lineman, too. He’s doing a tremendous job.”
Jones’ physical toughness has been on display quite a bit over the first five games of his pro career. He was sacked 11 times and hit on 24 more occasions since opening week. However, his mental toughness is what may have stood out the most against Houston.
Even after throwing an ugly pick, and with the team as a whole in a bad position, he never panicked. Instead, he continued to stick to the game script and made the plays he needed to make.
After some tough last-minute losses against the Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Patriots were therefore able to finally celebrate a come-from-behind victory again. For Jones, it was his first.
It will not be his last.