Patriots at Texans thumbs up, thumbs down: Tom Brady’s passing offense struggles again in loss

Andy Hart
December 01, 2019 - 11:44 pm
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For the second time this season the Patriots went on the road for Sunday Night Football and for the second time New England flew home a loser.

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Bill Belichick’s team fell to 10-2 on the year – falling behind the streaking Ravens in the race for the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoff picture with a month of games remaining – thanks to a 28-22 defeat at the hands of Deshaun Watson and Bill O’Brien’s Texans that was only that close thanks to a couple late New England scores.

Tom Brady drove down the field on the game’s opening possession but had to settle for a field goal. Brady then threw an interception to set up a short Houston touchdown drive as the home squad built a 14-3 advantage by halftime.

The Texans stretched their lead to 21-3 in the third quarter on a long touchdown pass to Kenny Stills before Brady finally found the end zone late in the third with a 12-yard score to James White. The score was 21-9 at that point thanks to a missed PAT.

Houston did its best to close the door on the Patriots on its next possession with an option reverse in the red zone that ended up as a 6-yard touchdown pass from DeAndre Hopkins to Watson for the 28-9 lead. New England added another White touchdown in the closing minutes but could not recover an ensuing onside kick.

Houston’s lackadaisical defense then allowed Brady to march to another score, to make it a 28-22 game. The Patriots actually had a shot at the final onside kick attempt but Brandon Bolden could not corral Jake Bailey’s big bounce.

Before moving on to the Patriots AFC Championship Game rematch with the Chiefs next Sunday evening at Gillette Stadium, here are some of the personnel highs and lows from the loss in Houston.

Thumbs up

Julian Edelman – Still noticeably dealing with his shoulder injury, Edelman remained Brady’s only real go-to option when he needed a first down or a big play. Edelman converted New England’s first two third-down chances on the opening drive. He also had a 44-yard gain down the right side later on a first-and-30 snap. He added a 20-yard touchdown in a late catch-up attempt in the final minute. It wasn’t nearly Edelman’s most efficient night, but even while being double-teamed he gutted it out again for six catches for a game-high 106 yards.

James White – Despite getting extra attention from the Houston defense, including coverage by a cornerback at times, White was one of the few effective members of the New England offense. White had a career-long 32-yard run in the third quarter that was a portion of his 14 carries for 79 yards on the night. White was even more impactful through the air, finishing with eight catches for 98 yards and a pair of touchdowns, the only times the Patriots found the end zone.

Run defense – The Patriots rush defense has been the weaker part of the unit all season, but not in Houston. New England held Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson and the Texans pretty much in check on the ground. Hyde finished with just 17 yards on his 10 carries. Johnson was a bit better with nine attempts for 36 yards, including a 13-yard run. But overall Houston had a mere 23 attempts for 52 yards (2.3 avg.), thanks to a solid overall effort from the New England front.

Thumbs down

Tom Brady – It was yet another struggle for New England’s frustrated GOAT. He was upset at himself for overthrowing Phillip Dorsett in the back of the end zone on the opening drive. He then threw an interception – though N’Keal Harry did little to help his quarterback out on the slant route – to set up the Texans for a short scoring drive. Brady missed a number of open receivers, notably Edelman on the left sideline in the first half. Even while piling up some completions against the Texans “prevent” zone defense in the fourth quarter, Brady finished with just 24 completions on 47 attempts for an inflated 326 yards with three touchdowns and the one pick for an 85.9 passer rating while being sacked three times. Much of the production came with the Texans up multiple scores in the fourth quarter and playing a bit too-loose on defense. When it mattered, Brady was more frustrated than he was productive.

LB coverage – New England’s linebackers have been the heart of the defense all season, but the group struggled mightily in pass coverage in Sunday night’s loss. Duke Johnson beat Kyle Van Noy easily for a 14-yard touchdown in the first quarter. Dont’a Hightower then failed to cover tight end Darren Fells on a 13-yard score on a unique sprint out pass play in the second quarter. Elandon Roberts drew a pass interference flag covering Johnson in the red zone in the fourth quarter. It was a tough night for the Patriots linebackers in coverage.

Jonathan Jones – Jones appeared to be victimized for a 35-yard touchdown by Will Fuller in the third quarter, only to have replay review reveal he knocked the ball free at the last possible second. On the very next snap Watson went after Jones again, this time connecting with Kenny Stills for the 35-yard touchdown. Earlier on the drive, Jones was beaten by Stills for a 20-yard completion crossing the field. Jones then got flagged for holding in the fourth quarter. Given how well the Patriots pass defense has played this season, Jones giving up two big play on a single drive (three, really!) certainly was surprising.

PAT execution – After New England’s first touchdown of the game in the third quarter, the offense lined up to go for a two-point conversion only to take a delay-of-game penalty. Choosing to kick after the flag, newly-signed veteran kicker Kai Forbath then missed what was then a 38-yard PAT wide left. It was a weird two-play series and overall poor execution, including the missed kick.

Related: Texans 28, Patriots 22: 10 quick thoughts from tough road loss