Instant Analysis from the Patriots’ 27-20 loss to the Texans:
▪ The Patriots’ lack of athleticism on defense was badly exposed in this loss. Deshaun Watson looked like Superman on Sunday, slicing up the Patriots’ defense with his arm and his feet. The Patriots’ front seven barely laid a finger on Watson has he completed 75.7 percent of his passes, threw for 344 yards and two touchdowns, and led the Texans with 36 rushing yards and another score. The Patriots held the Texans’ running backs to 19 yards on 13 rushes, but Watson was a one-man show.
“All the yards they gained were in the passing game, either him running or him throwing,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “It was the entire offense.”
The Patriots couldn’t stop Watson with man, they couldn’t stop him with zone. Last year they couldn’t stop Watson with a blitz-heavy approach, and on Sunday they couldn’t stop him by dropping seven and eight into coverage. The Patriots allowed 80-plus receiving yards to three receivers (Brandin Cooks, Will Fuller, and Jordan Akins) for the first time since 2011. And they got zero pressure on Watson despite the Texans playing with backups at left tackle and left guard.
Watson was the best athlete on the field, and left Patriots grasping at air.
▪ The Patriots did a great job containing Lamar Jackson last week. But unlike Jackson, Watson runs to throw, and made some incredible improvisation plays with his arm. The Patriots’ front four looked slow and a step late all day, and missed approximately 748 sacks as Watson danced around the backfield and fired lasers to his receivers.
“Watson makes things work out,” Belichick said. “He’s got good pocket presence, he’s a really good quarterback and he had a really good day today.”
Watson wasn’t sacked and was hit just twice on 39 dropbacks, and the Patriots’ pass rush had too many undisciplined rushes. It seemed like every time Watson was able to break free, it was because Chase Winovich was flying way out of his lane.
▪ I don’t know if it’s Cam Newton’s fault or someone on the offensive line, but the Patriots couldn’t identify the Texans’ blitz all day. It seemed like the Texans had a free rusher screaming right in Newton’s face at least a half-dozen times Sunday, including on the fateful fourth-down incompletion late in the fourth quarter.
“We’ve just got to identify it and block it,” Belichick said. “They did a good job of timing them up, and we just obviously have to collectively as a team execute better against those plays.”
This is one area where the Patriots badly miss Tom Brady, as he could always set up the blocking properly, or find a safety valve, or check out of the play.
▪ Newton and the Patriots’ offense once again showed impressive fight in the second half. After throwing for just 85 yards in the first half, Newton finished the day with 365 yards and a touchdown, and led two long scoring drives after halftime to keep the Patriots in the game. Newton also finally hit some downfield passes in the second half, including a perfect 42-yard touchdown to Damiere Byrd. This was the third straight week that the Patriots played really well after halftime.
But the Patriots trailed, 21-10, at halftime, and aren’t explosive enough to keep playing from behind. Before Byrd got hot in the second half, the Patriots had zero downfield passing attack — every third-and-long play was a screen or swing pass to the running back. The Patriots’ offense has been great in the second half the last three games, but it needs to play better in the first 30 minutes.
▪ Give credit to Romeo Crennel and the Texans’ coaches, as they had the better game plan Sunday. With the Patriots featuring a smaller defense with defensive backs at linebacker (Adrian Phillips, Kyle Dugger), the Texans countered with their size and muscle, creating several big plays in the passing game with their tight ends.
Akins had five catches for 83 yards, Darren Fells had two for 29, and Pharaoh Brown had two for 22, including one run where he trucked over several Patriots defenders.
The Patriots, meanwhile, adjusted well on offense in the second half, but Belichick had no answer for stopping Watson.
▪ Every week a new receiver emerges for the Patriots. For the last two weeks it was Jakobi Meyers, but Sunday it was Byrd, who finished with six catches for a career-high 132 yards and a touchdown. His 42-yard TD was the second-longest passing play by the Patriots and the second touchdown by a wide receiver all season.
Meyers was limited to just three catches for 38 yards, though he had a big third-down conversion late in the game. It would be great if the Patriots could get Byrd and Meyers both working well in the same game.
▪ N’Keal Harry continues to be a total nonfactor. His first two appearances on the stat sheet Sunday were penalties, and he finished with just five catches for 41 yards.
▪ The Patriots suffered a big loss when Rex Burkhead went down with what looked like a significant knee injury. It left the Patriots with just two running backs for the game, James White and Damien Harris, though Sony Michel is back from injured reserve and can play next week.
But Burkhead is a much better receiver than Harris and Michel, and he led all non-QBs on the Patriots with six touchdowns this season. Factor in his special teams abilities, and Burkhead is a tough loss for the Patriots.
White, who played just 10 snaps in the win over Baltimore last week, had a nice bounce-back game Sunday with six catches for 64 yards. Harris was limited to 11 carries for 43 yards and a touchdown, but I bet the Texans were overplaying the run.
▪ The Patriots protected the ball again Sunday, completing their third straight game without a turnover. But they fall to 3-2 when Newton doesn’t throw an interception this year. It certainly didn’t help that they committed a season-high seven penalties.
▪ The Patriots’ specialists have been outstanding this year. Nick Folk connected on his 17th field goal in a row, while Stephen Gostkowski has been a roller coaster in Tennessee. And Jake Bailey, who entered the game No. 2 in the NFL in net punting average, bombed three punts for a 50.3 average, helping the Patriots with field position. But can’t the Patriots find a better kickoff returner than Gunner Olszewski? Or just tell him to take a knee every time.
More Patriots coverage
- 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
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com.