Tom Brady did it again, leading the Patriots to victory on a game-winning drive in the last minute of the game over the Houston Texans, 36-33. Let’s take a look at the initial three up, three down for the Patriots, without the benefit of film review.
Down #3: S Devin McCourty
It’s rare to see star safety McCourty on the down list, but he did not play well at all Sunday. It was the first time I’ve ever seen the Patriots look so unorganized in the back end of the defense since McCourty moved to safety.
He gave up the touchdown to tight end Ryan Griffin, and while it was an excellent throw from DeShaun Watson, McCourty has to better cover a player like Griffin, who is not much of a threat.
The secondary, and defense, as a whole looked like chickens running around with their heads cut off, and McCourty, one of the veterans on a new-look defense, has to make sure, at the very least, that the secondary is on the same page, and that often was not the case.
Up #3: TE Rob Gronkowski
Gronk was not dominant in this game, but he made plays, especially down the stretch. He caught 8 passes for 89 yards and scored the game’s opening touchdown.
On the Patriots game-winning drive, the Patriots faced 3rd and 12 on their own 23 yard line. Brady found Gronk over the middle for 15 yards and a first down. One of the most underrated plays of the game.
Gronkowski has been the Patriots only reliable receiver in the middle for the Patriots this year, and while he has not been dominating the opposition, he has been there for Brady as his security blanket the past two weeks.
Down #2: DB Jonathan Jones
By my count, Jones gave up four completions for 58 yards and a touchdown, along with being called for a holding penalty. The discouraging part was he was covering some bad receivers throughout most of the game.
Jones was beat on a touchdown by wideout Bruce Ellington, who had been cut twice earlier this season, by the 49ers and the Jets. That should give you an indication as to what caliber player Ellington is.
Yet, Jones struggled against him. It was very discouraging to watch after he had a good game against the New Orleans Saints a week ago.
Up #2: QB Tom Brady
Let’s start with the good: Brady’s final numbers were absolutely
terrific. He completed 25 out of 35 throws for 378 yards, five
touchdowns, while constantly being pressured throughout the game.
On the game-winning drive, Brady made two throws that left your jaw hanging. The first throw was a 27 yard lob pass to Danny Amendola to convert 3rd and 18. The Texans played great defense on the play, yet Brady took the hit to deliver a perfect pass where only Amendola had a chance to catch that pass.
The second throw was the game-winning touchdown, where Brady, again throwing with a hand in his face, threw one of his best throws in recent memory, right on the money to Brandin Cooks. Just incredible.
Now to the bad. The Patriots offense was very uneven throughout most of the game, and a lot of that had to do with the offensive line. But Brady too had some bizarre off-target throws and uncharacteristic decisions.
The offense did not score for 27 minutes and 22 seconds after their opening second half drive, until the game-winning drive.
There were two straight 3 and outs in the fourth quarter that could have costed the Patriots the game if the Texans scored touchdowns, instead of settling for field goals.
On both drives the Patriots could not convert 3rd and one, and while the playcalling was not good on those two drives, Brady needs to convert on those in crucial situations.
Down #1: OT Nate Solder
After being dominated last week in New Orleans, Solder had an even worse game against Houston’s dominant front, allowing 3 (!) sacks, including the strip sack that was returned for a touchdown by Jadeveon Clowney.
Solder was a turnstile Sunday afternoon, being consistently beat off the edge with speed and power. He was not good in the run game either, getting beat in any way possible.
If the Patriots hope to have Brady at his best in his advanced age, Solder needs to pick up the slack. It’s been a very odd start for the usually solid left tackle.
Up #1: WR Brandin Cooks
I know Brady’s box score stats indicate that he was the best player for the Patriots Sunday afternoon, but Brandin Cooks was the difference-maker against the Texans.
Not only did Cooks tally five catches for 131 yards and his first two touchdown catches as a Patriots, but the defense consistently made it a point of emphasis to dictate coverage towards Cooks.
That is the edge you gain when you have a player like Cooks on your roster. On both of Chris Hogan’s touchdown catches, Hogan was wide open on both of them because of Cooks.
On the first touchdown catch by Hogan, Cooks was lined up on the opposite side of Hogan and ran an intermediate crossing route that Hogan’s defender bit on, leaving him wide open.
On the second touchdown, Hogan was lined up in the right slot, with Cooks lined up on the right boundary. They both ran go routes and both deep defenders covered Cooks, leaving Hogan wide open deep down the middle for the long score.
Let’s not forget the big plays he made himself. Starting on the
opening drive for the Patriots offense, Cooks caught a 44 yard pass along the left sideline on 3rd and 13.
He scored his first touchdown as a Patriot on a deep crossing route, showing off his speed and leaving his defender in the dust.
And of course, the game-winning touchdown, where he showed off terrific hands and great field awareness as he kept both feet in bounds. Terrific catch for the Patriots number one star.