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Patriots 36, Texans 33: 10 observations from comeback win

Ryan Hannable
September 24, 2017 - 4:22 pm

FOXBORO — Wow.

With the Patriots seemingly out of it and not getting anything going offensively in the fourth quarter, Tom Brady led the Patriots 75 yards down the field with just over two minutes left to shock the Texans, 36-33.

The drive was keyed by a huge third-and-long completion to Rob Gronkowski deep in the Patriots end and concluded with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Brandin Cooks with 29 seconds left, his second of the game.

Brady was the star as he went 25-for-35 with 378 yards and five touchdown passes.

Here are 10 observations from the game.

1. Offensively for the Patriots, Houston took away the short passes over the middle of the field, but like in the playoff game last year Brady took his chances on the outside and down the field and it paid off on multiple plays. Chris Hogan had a 47-yard touchdown reception and Cooks had a 42-yard touchdown reception. While the Texans’ front-seven is among the best in football, their secondary was very poor. Hogan was wide open on both of his touchdowns, as it seemed the defense had difficulty defending crossing routes. It also showed on Cooks' game-winner.

2. Brady showed why he's the greatest of all-time on the final drive, as the Patriots offense was lifeless in the fourth quarter, but he relied on his stars -- Gronkowski, Cooks and Danny Amendola -- to come through he needed them most. This was a good sign as they were able to get it done without Julian Edelman, the guy who Brady always seemed to go  to in these situations. This could be what the team needed to jump start the year.

3. All things considered, the Patriots offensive line was OK against the Houston front-seven. Many were worried about the left side of the defensive considering right tackle Marcus Cannon missed the game, but LaAdrian Waddle did a fine job as his replacement. Whitney Mercilus has some success against Nate Solder on the other side, including forcing a fumble and Jadeveon Clowney returning it for a touchdown in the first half. An adjustment the Patriots seemed to make was keeping an extra tight end into block on some plays, which gave Brady an extra second to step into his throws.

4. On defense, the Patriots crowded the box against rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson which showed they had no problem having him try and beat them with his arm, which he was able to do a number of times. On most plays the Patriots had 10 players within five yards of the line of scrimmage. It was worth noting linebacker Marquis Flowers played over David Harris as the third linebacker. This is somewhat interesting, as Harris hasn’t had a role at all in the first three games. Harris only played when the Texans were inside the red zone.

5. After not the best of starts to the season, cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Malcolm Butler both had solid games. Each played with more emotion than in the previous two weeks. Gilmore had a gift interception in the first half leading to a Patriots score. With Eric Rowe inactive, Butler got the start and seemed to respond well to his demotion last week. Gilmore left the game in the second half with dehydration issues, but returned after missing just one series.

6. Patriots defensive tackle Alan Branch continued to have a reduced role. He didn’t see his first action until the third series of the game. In his limited action he wasn’t as impactful as he’s been in the past, either. It’s unclear at this point if he’s still getting back to full strength from a conditioning standpoint after missing most of training camp, but the defense needs him, especially after Vincent Valentine was placed on injured reserve Friday.

7. Watson was fun to watch. The rookie made a ton of plays with his feet and on some plays where he was thought to be in trouble, he escaped and would find a receiver down the field. Nonetheless, he made some rookie mistakes, but that should be expected for a player making his second NFL start. It’s unclear what his future is as a NFL quarterback, but he’s an exciting player to watch. 

8. One of the biggest issues for the Patriots defense is the number of big plays it has allowed to this point in the year, which dates back to the preseason. Over the years one of the strengths of the defense was not allowing the big plays, but it's been an issue in every game thus far. Some of this is communication related, but three games in these types of breakdowns should not be happening.

9. It was a bit concerning when in the fourth quarter the Patriots had two three-and-outs with both ending on stops on third-and-1. The first was a stuffed Mike Gillislee run and the second was an incompletion to Gronkowski. This has been somewhat of an issue in the past and continues to be again. Most teams would have a big back they could depend on to pick up a yard on a big third and short.

10. During the national anthem, 16 Patriots players took a knee on the sideline with several others, including Brady, linking arms standing next to them. Last year during Week 1 against the Cardinals Devin McCourty and Martellus Bennett raised their fists after the anthem, but this was the first real protesting during the anthem for members of the Patriots. Of course this comes after Donald Trump’s comments on Friday night. 

Tom Brady threw for five touchdowns, which is the 27th time he's thrown for four or more in a game, making him third all-time.

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