Hannable: Sunday’s game-winning touchdown drive will be jump-start Patriots need to get season going

Ryan Hannable
September 24, 2017 - 10:14 pm

David Butler II/USA Today Sports

FOXBORO — The Patriots were done.

Prior to the Patriots’ final drive which began with 2:24 left on the clock, they had two straight three-and-outs and three straight possessions ending with punts. 

Trailing by five, it seemed like the Patriots were going to fall to 1-2 for the first time since 2012, Tom Brady would lose back-to-back home games for just the third time in his career and there would be some serious questions about where the 2017 season was going.

But, thanks to Brady’s magic the season got the jolt it desperately needed as the Patriots were able to march 75 yards down the field and shock the Texans, 36-33.

“We had a lot of energy and we know what we’re capable of, and as long as we’re able to go out there and do our job and do it right and make some plays, we were able to move the ball down the field,” Chris Hogan said of the final drive. “Rob [Gronkowski] stepped up, Brandin [Cooks] obviously had a great game and Tommy [Brady], we have all the confidence in the world in him in a two-minute drive to win the game.”

The drive didn’t get off to the best of starts, as an incompletion and a penalty set up second-and-20 from their own 15-yard line. Brady hit Gronkowski for eight yards to set up third-and-12. The quarterback found the tight end again on the left side and he was able to power ahead for 15 yards and the first down, giving the team hope and some momentum.

Running the no-huddle offense, Brady hit Cooks for 18 yards and then after an incompletion and a sack, the 40-year-old stepped up beautifully in the pocket to connect with Danny Amendola on third-and-18 for 27 yards to get to the Saints’ 25-yard line. On the next play, Brady threw a strike to Cooks in the corner of the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown to take the lead.

Brady then found Cooks for the two-point conversion and the exclamation point on the the final drive. Brady went 5-for-8 with 93 yards on the drive with four of the five completions going for more than 15 yards. It was the eighth time in his career he’s thrown a game-winning touchdown pass with less than a minute remaining, and it was his 52nd win when facing a fourth quarter deficit.

“We just kept battling,” Brady said. “I think that's a good one to win. Like I said, two weeks ago, we weren't in a position to do what we did today.”

The season hasn’t got off to the best of starts, but a game-winning drive like Sunday could very well be the jump-start both the offense and team needs to start playing the way they were expected to going into the year.

The New England offense hasn’t looked comfortable without Julian Edelman, who was lost for the season after tearing his ACL in the preseason. It seemed Brady was still searching for someone to step up and be his go-to receiver in the critical situations, as well as getting 100 percent on the same page with Cooks.

Both of these things happened on Sunday and it was clear on the final drive.

What did Brady do when the offense was backed up on the 15-yard line for second-and-20? He went to Gronkowski on back-to-back plays to get the first down. 

Gronkowski knew that was when he needed to step up.

“Everyone is counting on each other,” Gronkowski said. “I know a lot of people look up to me to get the drive going, to make the first play to get everyone rolling.”

Cooks’ game-winning score capped a breakout day for the newcomer, as the former Saint caught five passes for 131 yards and two touchdowns. Catching five of his seven targets, he and Brady seemed the most in sync they’ve been all year.

“Tom Brady made a special throw and I was just sitting there catching the ball,” Cooks said of the game-winning touchdown. “It was a perfect throw with perfect timing, and I expected nothing less from Tom.”

The last drive led by Brady not only won the Patriots the game, but also may have given the entire team the confidence it needs to begin to play like everyone expected it to at the start of the season.

"Legendary. He's just a legend," rookie defensive lineman Deatrich Wise said of Brady. "It was awesome to watch that [being] on the team -- and not from home. You kind of got to get behind the scenes in the sense of you seeing his leadership and what makes him, him. It's awesome."