Jacoby Brissett (7) rushes for a touchdown during the first quarter against the Texans at Gillette Stadium. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)
FOXBORO – The Patriots defense and special teams made things real simple for Jacoby Brissett in his first NFL start.
Special teams forced a pair of turnovers on kickoffs and Brissett ran for a 27-yard touchdown as the Patriots blanked the Texans, 27-0, Thursday night at Gillette Stadium. It was New England’s first shutout since a 28-0 win over the Dolphins in the season finale on Dec. 30, 2012.
Brissett finished 11-of-19 for 103 yards passing while rushing eight times for 48 yards, including his touchdown.
LeGarrette Blount chipped in with his second straight 100-yard game, gaining 105 yards on 24 carries, including a game-sealing 41-yard run to the end zone with 11:00 left in the fourth.
The Patriots mastered the art of field position all night, thanks in large part to the efforts of Ryan Allen. The punter averaged 47.6 yards on seven punts and pinned the Texans inside their 15 six times. The last time was an end-over-end beauty that was downed at the Patriots 4.
The Texans didn’t get into Patriots territory until 1:25 left in the third quarter on a short pass from Brock Osweiler to Lamar Miller that put the ball at the New England 46.
The Texans didn’t run a single play in Patriots territory in the first half. They appeared ready to finally get there when the Texans finally reached midfield at the two minute warning. But on third-and-2 at the 50, Lamar Miller was stopped for no gain and the Patriots continued the defensive streak.
The biggest turning point of the first half was a Charles James fumble on a Stephen Gostkowski kickoff with 2:01 left in the first quarter. On the kick, the Patriots showed their traditional outstanding special teams skills. Clay Harbor went low to tackle and Brandon Bolden punched the ball loose at the Texans 18. The ball came out to the 22 where it was recovered by Duron Harmon.
After a false start by Marcus Cannon, Brissett ran designed bootleg around the right side. There was no one home for the Texans defense and Brissett ran 27 yards to paydirt and his first career touchdown. On the play, which was perfectly timed, J.J. Watt shot the “A-gap” and looked to have a clear path to the quarterback. But by the time Watt was in the backfield, Brissett was gone.
Brissett finished the first half completing 5-of-8 passes for 59 yards, with his longest completion coming on a 27-yard pitch-and-catch to fellow rookie Malcolm Mitchell, a play that featured horrific tackling from the Texans. The play set up the Patriots for a 24-yard field goal that gave the Patriots a 3-0 lead.
Rob Gronkowski was used conservatively to start the game, playing roughly every other offensive snap. He was targeted in the red zone by Brissett on the play before the field goal. Brissett dropped back but airmailed a pass to the left corner out of Gronkowski’s reach. It was the only time Gronkowski was targeted in the first half.
The Patriots won their 7th straight Thursday game and now 11-5 on Thursdays.
The Patriots opened the second half with an impressive drive, marching down the field 13 plays and going 71 yards, capped off by a 25-yard field goal from Gostkowski that put the Patriots up, 13-0. The most impressive aspect of the drive was that it took 6 minutes, 41 seconds off the clock. Brissett made a 7-yard laser pass on a sideline out to Danny Amendola on third-and-4 down to the Houston 11. Brissett appeared to have his first touchdown pass but Julian Edelman dropped it in the back of the end zone and the Patriots had to settle for the field goal.
For the second time in the game, the Texans fumbled the ensuing kickoff. Nate Ebner caused the fumble, drilling Tyler Ervin at the Texans 20. Jordan Richards recovered at the Texans 21. The Patriots got lots of help from the officials and the Texans DBs on the drive. Quintin Demps and A.J. Bouye both committed defensive pass interference in the end zone, giving the Patriots six chances inside the seven. The drive was finally capped off when Blount ran it in off left guard for the score and a 20-0 lead.
The Texans finally got the ball for a snap in the second half with 5:36 left in the third. They couldn’t do much with it. Will Fuller dropped a pass at the Patriots 40 that would’ve put the Texans in Patriots territory for the first time.
One of the only negatives to come from Thursday’s game was the fumbling of rookie punt returner Cyrus Jones. He fumbled a kick when he was running to his right at the Patriots 17. The ball was recovered by Barkevious Mingo at the 25 but Bill O’Brien challenged and Jones was ruled down by contact.
Jones did fumble another punt late in the third quarter at his own 16, and he recovered it.
On the drive the Texans finally reached Patriots territory, Malcolm Butler broke up a pass intended for Will Fuller on 4th-and-4 at the Patriots 36, giving the Patriots a chance to eat up more clock.
The Patriots earned a weekend off and a chance to heal up for the Bills on Oct. 2 at Gillette Stadium. That game will conclude a three-game homestand before the Patriots head to Cleveland Oct. 9 and Tom Brady’s return.