HOUSTON — The Texans decided to open the roof and let the sun beam inside NRG Stadium Sunday for the first time since 2014.
The big Texas fireball seemingly followed quarterback Deshaun Watson around like a spotlight all afternoon long.
Watson, the biggest star in the Lone Star State, was spectacularly brilliant all afternoon, completing 28 of 37 passes — really it felt like 37 of 37 — for 344 yards and a pair of touchdowns to lead Houston to a 27-20 victory over the Patriots before a crowd of 12,503.
New England had two chances to tie the game, but Cam Newton’s fourth-down pass fell short on the penultimate drive and his Hail Mary was only partially answered as Ryan Izzo was tackled at the Houston 12 after a 50-yard catch to end the contest.
The Patriots, who dropped to 4-6 and had their two-game winning streak snapped, were dealt a serious blow to their postseason chances.
“We knew this was a good team we knew we had to play our best and we didn’t,” said Damiere Byrd about his team’s inability to sustain its momentum and get to .500. “Now we have to go back to the drawing board.”
The day started perfectly for the Patriots, who rolled 84 yards on their first possession, mixing in some Damien Harris runs and Newton passes to James White (screen for 34 yards) and Byrd (for 17).
Harris capped the drive with a 9-yard run around right end helped by a collapsing double-team block on J.J. Watt from Mike Onwenu and Jakobi Meyers.
Watson answered right back, hitting surgical throws to Brandin Cooks (44 yards) and Jordan Akins (22) yards before connecting with Randall Cobb from 3 yards out for the tying score.
New England countered with a 10-play drive and Nick Folk’s 45-yard field goal to re-take the lead at 10-7, but struggled to gain traction the rest of the half.
Watson led the Texans on back-to-back touchdown drives to seize a 21-10 lead heading into the locker room.
Proving too elusive for the New England pass rush, Watson scrambled around for room and then hit consecutive passes to Akins (25 yards) and Cooks (21) to set up his own 4-yard scoring run, where he bull-rushed a couple of Patriots to get into the end zone.
“That was a big boy play,’' said Akins.
While the Texans sideline erupted, the Patriots defenders were dejected.
“It stings,” said White. “We started off well, but we couldn’t keep the momentum going.”
The Patriots suffered a devastating blow to start the third quarter when Rex Burkhead got knocked out of the game with a knee injury on the opening drive.
After a rare Houston three-and-out, New England got it back to a one-score game in the third quarter when Newton (26 of 40 for 365 yards) connected on a 42-yard rocket to Byrd to cut it to 21-17.
“Cam made a great check and a great throw, and I just tried to shield the defender,” said Byrd, who beat Phillip Gaines on the play and collected a career-high 132 receiving yards.
The Patriots defense played better in the second half but still Watson was able to lead scoring drives, first an 11-play drive that resulted in a Ka’imi Fairbairn 36-yard field goal to boost the lead to 24-17.
“We still had a couple of second-and-long and third-down conversions that allowed them to get into field goal range. But it was good to keep them out of the end zone in the second half, other than the two field goals,” said coach Bill Belichick. “But we gave up too many points in the first half and just couldn’t make the stops there in the second half to keep them out of field goal range. So, I mean, it got better, but … it just wasn’t good enough. Watson and their offense was. They just outcoached us and outplayed us today in that phase of the game.”
The Patriots answered with a Folk 36-yarder (to cut it to 24-20) after a promising drive to the red zone stalled when safety Justin Reid came unblocked off the right edge and dumped Newton for a 9-yard sack.
Fairbairn’s 46-yarder made it a 7-point affair again (27-20) and the Patriots had chances to get the equalizer but couldn’t come up with the big play.
Newton brought the offense as far as the 24 on the second-to-last drive, but J.J. Watt’s fourth deflected pass on third down and an incompletion on fosurth when the quarterback was again under heavy pressure ended the chance.
“We’ve just got to identify and block it,” said Belichick of the blitz pressure. “They did a good job of timing them up and we just obviously have to collectively as a team execute better against those plays.”
The defense forced a quick three-and-out, giving Newton one last chance that ended with Izzo on the turf and zeros on the clock.
It was the fourth time this year the Patriots had a chance to score a go-ahead or tying touchdown in the final moments but couldn’t get it done.
“When you don’t execute well enough or make a couple more plays, then you fall short like this,” said safety Devin McCourty. “I would say a lot of our season has really kind of been like that.”
More Patriots coverage
- Instant analysis: The Patriots’ lack of athleticism on defense was exposed by the Texans
- Patriots lose dependable Rex Burkhead to serious knee injury: ‘To see him go down like that is never good’
- Sullivan: Cam Newton has served as a mentor for Deshaun Watson. On Sunday, his pupil got the best of him
- Patriots receiver Damiere Byrd reaches new heights with career day despite loss to Texans
Jim McBride can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.