Patriots hold off Texans’ comeback bid, win season-opener

Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

Tom Brady threw three touchdown passes in the first half.

By Nicole Yang Globe Staff 


■ Jim McBride’s game breakdown: The best comeback moment, best breakout player, studs and duds, dashing and disappointing debuts, worst and best coaching decisions, unheralded contributions, best quote, best celebration, injury report, and a lookahead. (Read more)

■ Ben Volin: Tom Brady showed few signs of rust and Rob Gronkowski proved that offseason practices don’t mean much. And yet the Patriots weren’t exactly jumping for joy over their season-opening win. (Read more)


■ Tara Sullivan: With an aggressive defensive line and a patient secondary, the Patriots’ defense took a far more confident, calm step into the season. (Read more)

■ Christopher L. Gasper: Getting the band back together looked easy in Game 1. The Patriots’ issues have been put on pause, if not resolved. The common good and the common goal are the focus. And football is once again the primary focus in Foxborough. (Read more)

■ Gronkowski said he wants to remain a Patriot, then he went out and played like it, reeling in seven catches for 123 yards and a touchdown. (Read more)

More on the game:

Tom Brady threw three touchdown passes and Stephen Gostkowski hit a pair of field goals as the New England Patriots defeated the Houston Texans on Sunday, 27-20, in the season opener for both teams.

Brady hit Rob Gronkowski with a 21-yard strike in the first quarter, and found James White (12 yards) and Phillip Dorsett (4 yards) in the second quarter.


Gostkowski hit field goals of 39 and 36 yards in the second half.

The Texans rallied late, pulling to within one score after Riley McCarron muffed a punt and Houston recovered on the 16. DeShaun Watson found Bruce Ellington for a five-yard touchdown six plays later.

But Patriots punter Ryan Allen pinned the Texans on their own 1, and Houston was unable to go the distance for the tying score. A Hail Mary on the final play was knocked away by Patriots defensive back Jason McCourty short of the goal line.

“Houston’s tough, we expected it to go all 60 minutes, like it did, and come down to the final play,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “It’s good to get the first one. We’ve got a long way to go. We’ve got a lot of work to do and we’ll just keep grinding it out here and see if we can get better each day, get better each week.”

Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

Ryan Allen (right) delivered a key play when his punt was downed at the 1 yard line late in the fourth.

Brady completed 26 of his 39 pass attempts (67 percent) for 277 yards. Eight players caught passes from Brady, averaging 7.1 yards per reception, although Brady acknowledged the game was just a start.

“I don’t think we played anywhere near what our capabilities are today,” he said. “I think it’s good to win, obviously, but we’ve got to do a lot better than that, I think. Just turning the ball over and not taking advantage of some opportunities that we had out there, all of us probably look at the game and realize we could have done a lot of things differently.”


Wide receiver Phillip Dorsett caught seven passes on seven targets for 66 yards and a touchdown. Dorsett became the 69th player to connect with Brady for a touchdown.

“Phillip did a great job with his opportunity today,” Brady said. “[He] got some opportunity and then came up with the plays, came up with the catches. It’s kind of what he’s been doing all camp, all spring and it was good to see it show up today.”

Dorsett was acquired last season in a trade with the Colts.

“I worked really hard in this offseason as an individual and as a team just trying to get this thing down, just get the timing down with Tom,” Dorsett said. “We spent days during [practice] periods, after periods, after practice just trying to get the execution together, and I’m just happy we executed today.”

Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson got off to a slow start, completing just five passes in the first half. Watson finished with 176 yards, a touchdown, and an interception.

The Patriots defense kept the Texans out of the end zone until late in the third quarter.

“We all talked all through the week this game was going to come down to the last play and it did, but we thought it was very important to get out there and play from ahead,” safety Devin McCourty said. “By doing that our offense went out there [and] I thought they played really well and I thought we just had to keep giving them chances to score against another really good defense. We just have to continue to do those things.”

Gronkowski finished with seven catches for 123 yards.

Patriots-Texans box score and stats

Game photos

Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Malcom Brown had Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson in his grasp, forcing him to throw the ball away.

Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel met on the field after the game.

Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

Tom Brady met Texans counterpart DeShaun Watson after the Patriots defeated the Texans 27-20.

Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

Patrick Chung broke up a pass intended for Ryan Griffin in the fourth quarter.

Below are updates and photos as posted throughout the game:

Fourth quarter updates

Patriots 27, Texans 20 (0:05): Gronkowski entered the game at defensive back, but the Texans’ last gasp effort came up short.

Patriots 27, Texans 20 (2:08): Watson hits wide receiver Bruce Ellington for a five-yard touchdown. Houston was able to capitalize on McCarron’s fumble with a two-and-a-half-minute drive, six-play drive that ended with a score. Watson was sacked once and completed one of his three pass attempts on the drive.

Patriots 27, Texans 13 (4:32): Patriots wide receiver Riley McCarron muffs a punt return attempt when the ball bounced off his face mask. Johnson Bademosi recovers for the Texans at New England’s 16-yard line.

Patriots 27, Texans 13 (9:48): Gostkowski hits a 35-yard field goal.

Patriots 24, Texans 13 (10:10): Texans cornerback Kevin Johnson exits the field after getting hit in the head. Johnson had suffered a concussion during preseason. He was immediately escorted to the locker room, and later the team announced he would miss the rest of the game.

Third quarter updates

Patriots 24, Texans 13 (1:52): Texans running back Alfred Blue runs in for a one-yard touchdown. Blue had four carries for 27 yards on the 10-play drive. Miller also rushed 12 yards on three carries, while Watson completed three passes for 34 yards.

Patriots 24, Texans 6 (6:02): Stephen Gostkowski’s 39-yard field goal is good.

Patriots 21, Texans 6 (9:52): At New England’s 17-yard line, Houston goes for it on 4th-and-5. Watson throws an incomplete pass intended for tight end Ryan Griffin.

Patriots 21, Texans 6 (10:45): Bill Belichick is challenging a 17-yard reception by Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. The ruling on the field is a catch, and it was not overturned on replay.

Patriots 21, Texans 6 (12:09): Safety Kareem Jackson strips Gronkowski after a 29-yard reception. Mathieu recovers the fumble — Gronkowski’s first in six years — at Houston’s 45-yard line. Hill was down after the turnover after getting hit by Patriots fullback James Develin. Hill left the field and visited the blue medical tent, and was later ruled out of the game.

Second quarter updates

First-half stats: Brady completed 16 of his 26 pass attempts for 154 yards and three touchdowns (Gronkowski, White, Dorsett). He also threw one interception (Mathieu). Watson completed five of his 13 pass attempts for 61 yards. Watson was under pressure for seven of his 13 attempts and sacked twice for a loss of 11 yards.

Patriots 21, Texans 6 (0:14): Brady and Dorsett connect for a four-yard touchdown. On a drive that lasted 74 seconds, Brady threw three of his four passes to Dorsett. The other pass went to Gronkowski, who made a 28-yard catch up the middle. Hill also rushed for 19 yards on two carries to kick off the drive.

Patriots 14, Texans 6 (5:30): Stephon Gilmore intercepts DeShaun Watson in the end zone. The result of the play is a touchback.

Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

Stephon Gilmore intercepted a pass in the second quarter in the end zone.

Patriots 14, Texans 6 (9:01): Ka’imi Fairbairn hits a 36-yard field goal.

Patriots 14, Texans 3 (12:38): New England caps a 10-play, 75-yard drive with a 12-yard touchdown reception from Brady to White. Brady completed five of his seven pass attempts on the drive. Phillip Dorsett, Jeremy Hill, Chris Hogan, Burkhead, and White all recorded receptions, while Burkhead and Cordarrelle Patterson rushed for a combined 15 yards.

First-quarter updates

Jim Davis/Globe staff

Tyrann Mathieu intercepted a Tom Brady pass intended for James White.

First-quarter stats: Brady finishes with 7 completions to six different receivers for 63 yards. Watson has one completion on six attempts. Burkhead leads Patriots running backs with 22 rushing yards on five carries, while Miller has 36 rushing yards on four carries for the Texans.

Patriots 7, Texans 3 (2:33): Houston gets on the board with a 42-yard field goal by Ka’imi Fairbairn. The score came after the Texans’ Tyrann Mathieu intercepted a Tom Brady pass at the New England 17.

Patriots 7, Texans 0 (4:02): Texans offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson is helped off the field and cannot put weight on his left foot. The team later announced Henderson is out with an ankle injury.

Patriots 7, Texans 0 (4:06): Texans safety Tyrann Mathieu intercepts Tom Brady on a pass intended for James White. Houston regains possession at New England’s 17-yard line.

Patriots 7, Texans 0 (4:22): Texans defensive end Christian Covington is down on the field and exits the field. He visited the locker room and is questionable to return with a thigh injury.

Patriots 7, Texans 0 (11:50): Tom Brady connects with Rob Gronkowski for a 21-yard touchdown reception.

Patriots 0, Texans 0 (12:58): At Houston’s 19-yard line, Dont’a Hightower recovers a fumble off a failed handoff from Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson to Lamar Miller.

Jim Davis/Globe staff

Dont'a Hightower recovers the fumble.

Patriots 0, Texans 0 (13:30): The Patriots go three-and-out on their opening drive of the game. New England ran three rushing plays (one carry by Rex Burkhead and two by James White).

Coin toss

The Patriots will receive the ball to start the game. The Texans won the coin toss and opted to defer. Running back James White, center David Andrews, safety Devin McCourty, and wide receiver Matthew Slater were out for the toss.

Look who’s here

Celtics point guard Terry Rozier is at Gillette Stadium. Swapping out his Drew Bledsoe jersey for a Tom Brady version, Rozier opened the locker room door for the Patriots and pumped up the home crowd.

Brady watch

Tom Brady is wearing his new helmet, the Riddell Precision Fit SpeedFlex. Brady is one of several NFL players who have to change their helmets by the start of the 2019-20 season after 10 styles were banned by the league for performing poorly in laboratory research testing for impact severity.

Players may continue to wear the banned styles during the upcoming season, but Brady has already swapped out his Riddell VSR-4 for an approved style.


Patriots: TE Jacob Hollister, OL Brian Schwenke, WR Chad Hansen, DE Derek Rivers, CB Keion Crossen, RB Sony Michel, CB JC Jackson.

Defensive end Keionta Davis will make his NFL debut, getting the nod over Rivers, who was a healthy scratch. Linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley, the only rookie active for the Patriots, and wide receiver Riley McCarron will also make their NFL debuts. Offensive tackle Marcus Cannon and safety Nate Ebner are both active, after initially being listed as questionable. Neither player took any snaps during the preseason.

Texans: WR Will Fuller, WR Keke Coutee, CB Kayvon Webster, LB Duke Ejidfor, OL Kendall Lawn; DE Carlos Watkins, DE Joel Heath.

Pregame photos

Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Tailgaters were out early before the stadium opened.

Jim Davis/Globe Staff

With football season comes traffic season on Route 1 in Foxborough.

Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Fans made the trek to Gillette Stadium.

Pregame news

 Five-year contract reportedly among reasons McDaniels stayed with Patriots: Josh McDaniels landed a five-year contract from the Patriots, one of the reasons the offensive coordinator did an about-face on the Colts’ head coach job, according to an NFL Media report. The extension was hammered out during a meeting with team owner Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick shortly after the team returned home from Super Bowl LII. McDaniels had one year left on his Patriots contract when he accepted the Indianapolis post. Read the full story here.

 Patriots rookie running back Sony Michel is not expected to play, according to multiple reports: Michel is still recovering from a minor procedure that drained fluid from his knee. The 23-year-old missed the majority of the preseason, but he returned to practice on Aug. 27. Michel was limited in practice this week.

 The NFL is reportedly not expected to implement its new anthem policy this season: ESPN reports the league’s new policy surrounding the national anthem is going to be no policy.

 Texans wide receiver Will Fuller is not expected to play, according to multiple reports: Fuller, who has been battling a hamstring injury, was limited in practice this week. He caught 28 passes for 423 yards last season.