LeGarrette Blount and the Patriots did just enough to beat the Texans Sunday. (AP)
It wasn’t pretty, but the Patriots managed to escape from Houston Sunday with a 34-31 win over the Texans, picking up their fourth win in the last five games and solidifying their hold on the No. 2 spot in the AFC playoff chase.
New England struggled early — Houston took a 17-7 lead at halftime — but a scoring flurry in the second half allowed them to pull even, and eventually take the lead for good on a 53-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski with 3:12 left in the game. (It was the second field goal of 50-plus yards for Gostkowski on the afternoon.)
In the end, Tom Brady finished 29-for-41 for 371 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Rob Gronkowski had six catches for 127 yards and a touchdown, and Julian Edelman added nine catches for 101 yards. Stevan Ridley was inactive for the game — a healthy scratch — but LeGarrette Blount stepped in and had 12 carries for 44 yards and a touchdown.
Meanwhile, quarterback Case Keenum was 15-for-30 for 272 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. The Texans, who lost their 10th straight game, also got big performances from Ben Tate, who had 22 carries for 102 yards and three rushing touchdowns.
It was the ninth game this season for the Patriots that was decided by seven points or less. New England improved to 6-3 in those close games.
Here are a few quick notes:
WHAT WENT RIGHT
• The Patriots offense operated without impunity throughout the second half, as Brady and the passing game moved the ball cleanly up and down the field without an issue. After a sluggish first half, New England scored on its first four drives of the second half, with three touchdowns (two rushing touchdowns) and a field goal. Gronkowski and Edelman were immense in the second half helping move the chains and keeping the Patriots offense on the field.
• Much was made of the Patriots third-quarter scoring woes over the first half of the season, but it appears New England has managed to overcome those struggles. Including Sunday’s game against the Texans, the Patriots have now outscored their opponents 62-28 in the third quarter over their last five games. Against Houston, they put up a pair of touchdowns in the third quarter on the way to the win.
• New England wasn’t flagged for a penalty all game. It marked the second game this season where the Patriots were flag-free.
WHAT WENT WRONG
• Some of it was scheme related and some of it is personnel — the Patriots had Sealver Siliga, Chris Jones and Joe Vellano up front for sizable portions of the game — but the Texans were able to pretty much run the ball at will against the Patriots. Houston had THREE rushing touchdowns on the afternoon, which doesn’t sound like a lot until you consider the fact that they had just two on the season coming into the game. In the end, the Patriots yielded 121 yards on the ground.
• Another sluggish start left the Patriots looking up at an opponent. New England managed just one first-half touchdown — which came at the end of an impressive drive and culminated with a Brady scoring strike to Gronkowski — on the way to a 17-7 deficit after two quarters. Over their last four games, the Patriots have averaged nine first-half points, and that INCLUDES the 24 they had in the first half against the Steelers.
• Wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins went to the bench midway through the first quarter with what the team described as a hip injury, and was announced as questionable to return. He was on and off the field throughout the rest of the first half, but it appeared fellow rookie Josh Boyce got the bulk of the reps in his place early. In addition, there were plays in the second half where Matthew Slater got some reps at wide receiver.