It was unfortunate for the Patriots that it wasn’t Dan Quinn and the Falcons on the other sideline.
In a building that saw the most memorable Patriots’ comeback of all time, New England wasn’t able to regain that old magic on Sunday night, as a late rally fell just short. The Patriots dug themselves a 21-3 hole and ended up losing 28-22 to the Texans at NRG Stadium in Houston.
Deshaun Watson went 17-for-24 for 237 yards and three touchdown passes, and DeAndre Hopkins added four catches for 67 yards. Kenny Stills, Darren Fells, and Duke Johnson all caught TDs to lift the Texans.
On the other side of the ball, Tom Brady was 24-for-47 for 326 yards with three touchdowns and one interception, James White had 14 carries for 79 yards, and eight catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns.
The loss dropped the Patriots into a tie with the Ravens for the top spot in the race for home field in the AFC – however, with Baltimore taking the tiebreaker because of their head-to-head record, New England is No. 2 behind the Ravens.
After an early field goal, the Texans were in command for most of the next two-plus quarters, building a 21-3 lead in the third quarter. A pair of second-half touchdowns from White cut the lead to 13 late in the fourth, and after Brady found Julian Edelman for a 20-yarder with 50 seconds left, the lead was reduced to 28-22 with 50 seconds remaining.
But the onside kick from Jake Bailey with just under a minute remaining was just off the mark, allowing the Texans to sneak away with the win.
11:35 p.m.: Another late score, but the onside kick was just off the mark. That should do it -- it’s 28-22.
11:23 p.m.: The Pats got six back on another touchdown for White, but the two-pointer was off the mark. It’s 28-15 with 3:41 left in regulation.
11:11 p.m.: Al Michaels just said it on the broadcaast -- Brady has never been under 50 percent in back to back games in his career. He was under 50 percent last week, and as the fourth quarter ticks down here (there’s 4:14 left), he’s under 50 percent.
10:59 p.m.: It's 28-9 with 9:53 to go in regulation. I’d never crawl out on that limb and say the Pats are completely out of it when we’re talking about a game at NRG Stadium. (Fool me once and whatnot.) But I’d say this one is pretty much over. New England needed to get a stop, but Watson and the Texans were able to drive down the field and punch it in with a little razzle dazzle. I don’t have to tell you guys, but a loss here would drop the Pats back to the No. 2 seed in the AFC.
10:45 p.m.: It’s not the only reason, but more James White has given New England a little bit of a boost at the end of the third quarter. White just hauled in a 12-yard touchdown pass to make it 21-9. Forbath missed the extra point, so it’s 21-9 with 11 seconds left in the third quarter. A good drive, but New England has no margin for error the rest of the way. Is there any magic left in NRG Stadium for the Patriots?
10:40 p.m.: Patriots in the red-area here -- have to come away with a touchdown.
10:30 p.m.: As well as Jonathan Jones has played this year, that touchdown pass from Watson to Fuller is a brutal break for New England. It’s 21-3 with 5:41 to go in the third. It looked like the Pats had caught a break on that overturned touchdown -- the right call, for what it’s worth. But going right back to Fuller there for a score is a well-executed play on Houston’s part, and it gives them a 21-3 lead. The Patriots HAVE to start to display more urgency on this drive.
10:18 p.m.: The Patriots can’t convert on fourth down, and the ball goes back to the Texans. It’s 14-3 with 7:08 left in the third quarter.
10:16 p.m.: Karras has limped to the sideline -- it breaks his snap streak. He had been the only guy on either side of the ball to play every snap to this point in the season.
10:11 p.m.: The goal now is to find a way to build some momentum on that nice defensive stand. Uptempo? More work from James White? More big sets with Roberts at fullback? Whatever, the Patriots need to get something going on this drive -- at this point, even if they come away with three, it’s something. But they need to start making up this deficit sooner rather than later. It’s not out of reach, but some points on this drive are optimal -- it’s 14-3 with 10:47 left in the third quarter.
10:04 p.m.: Roby is having himself a night. One interception, he almost had a secone one, and now, he picks up a third-down sack. The Houston defensive backs are really playing well tonight -- New England receiver have had issues getting any sort of separation, and it’s causing havoc for the Patriots’ offense. It’s still 14-3 with 12:31 left in the third quarter.
9:50 p.m.: New England a relatively positive start, forcing Houston into a 3-and-out, and answering with a good drive that ended with a 23-yard field goal from Kai Forbath. But since then, very little has gone right for the Pats, including a pick from Brady. Watson has engineered a pair of impressive scoring drives to give his team a 14-3 halftime lead.
-Brady is 7-19 for 82 yards and the aforementioned interception. He was pictured looking/yelling angrily in the direction of some of his skill position guys. But honestly, he hasn’t been all that sharp.
-Michel has 7 carries for 36 yards. He looked good on the first drive, but we really haven’t seen much since then.
-Meyers has 2 catches for 25 yards. It’s hard to be 100 percent sure, but it looked like Brady was barking at the rookie receiver at one point. That’s life in the big city, but it certainly appeared that the veteran wasn’t happy with something the rookie had done. We’ll see how he answers.
Ultimately, it’s not an overwhelming deficit, especially given the nature of the New England defense to this point in the season. But the offense needs some sort of jolt at this point -- the Pats have to find a way to get some offensive rhythm going.
9:24 p.m.: Patriots need to find a jolt. I don’t know if that comes from a defensive or special teams touchdown, or a successful deep ball from Brady. But New England needs some sort of boost here late in the second. The Pats will get the ball to start the second half -- maybe that’s no-huddle time? Whatever the case may be, other than the quarterback yelling in the direction of his receivers, they look a little flat right now. There’s 2:28 left in the half and they are down, 14-3.
9:22 p.m.: The Patriots have done well to answer here at the start of this sequence, with a reception from Matt LaCosse on a classic Gronkowskiesque route down the middle. We’ll see if they can build on that.
9:16 p.m.: The Texans put the capper on a 13-play, 88-yard drive with another touchdown pass from Watson. After a slow opening drive, the quarterback has looked really impressive, going 10-for-13 for 116 yards and a pair of touchdowns. New England needs to answer.
9:12 p.m.: The Texans have a really nice drive going, one that was punctuated by Deshaun Watson escaping John Simon on a sack attempt. Houston could really put its stamp on this one here in the early going if the Texans can cap it with another score.
8:57 p.m.: That’s it after one quarter -- Houston is up, 7-3. Brady is 3-for-8 for 29 yards and an intertception, while Michel has seven carries for 36 yards and two catches for 23 yards.
8:55 p.m.: Smart, well-executed play there by Houston, as the Texans got Watson on the run -- he rolled out and hit Duke Johnson (who found a good matchup against Kyle Van Noy on the second level) for the score. It’s the first TD the Pats have allowed since the early stages of the Philly game -- it’s 7-3 with 38 seconds left in the first quarter.
8:49 p.m.: Roby played that one really well, stepping in front of the ball meant for Harry and giving the Texans excellent field position. That penalty might end up costing them on this drive, but it was a great play nonetheless. Defense will be asked to keep things even here after that one.
8:46 p.m.: After a nice defensive series that was capped off by a Kyle Van Noy sack, the Patriots will get the ball back here with 2:49 left in the first quarter.. It’s always a good time for a nice, sustained offensive drive, but now would be a particularly optimal time to put one together and come away with seven. Really put their stamp on this one in the early going. Sony Michel had six carries for 33 yards on that first drive -- wonder if we’ll see more of the same moving forward.
8:37 p.m.: Lots standing out there so far. Patriots had nine rushes on 11 plays to start, and seemed to focus on playing physical football to open the game. (The two passes were third-down attempts on passes to Edelman.) New England couldn’t finish the drive, and had to settle for a 23-yarder from Forbath. It’s 3-0 with just over seven minutes left in the first quarter. A good drive that ultimately stalled in the red zone. I’d expect more of the same look -- two tight ends, Roberts at fullback -- the rest of the way tonight.
8:30 p.m.: The Patriots forced a relatively quick three-and-out on the part of the Texans, and have responded nicely here, with Edelman picking up that first third down chance.
8:28 p.m.: Patriots defensive starters: Guy, Shelton, Simon, Van Noy, Hightower, Collins, Gilmore, Jackson, Chung, D. McCourty, Harmon
Offensive starters: Brady, Michel, Harry, Sanu, Watson, LaCosse, Cannon, Mason, Karras, Thuney, Wynn
8:22 p.m.: Ready for kickoff. Time for the foosball! (Pats win the toss and have deferred.)
8:02 p.m.: Guess it’s time for a prediction: I’ve been looking for reasons all week to pick an upset -- Watson, Hopkins, the Patriots run of bad health. But I just can’t seem to go against New England this time around. I really like a lot of what Houston has been able to accomplish as of late, but I just don’t think this is the time the Texans finally get over the hump against the Patriots. That pregame cosplay on the part of the Houston linebackers also didn’t sit well with me -- not because I’m an old crank. But when has that ever had a good ending against New England? No reason to poke the bear, especially this time around. New England will be bolstered by the return of Sanu and Dorsett -- it won’t be a big boost, but it will be enough to put them over the top. I’m going to say Patriots 21, Texans 14.
7:50 p.m.: Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth are on the mic for tonight’s game. New England is 5-4 with them on the call since the start of the 2017 season (including regular season and postseason). That includes a 1-1 mark this year. And Tony Corrente will serve as the ref -- New England has won four of the last five where the 68-year-old Corrente has worked as the lead official, including earlier this season against the Browns.
7:40 p.m.: If this game was in Foxborough tonight, it would be the sort of picture-perfect New England scene that the networks kill for: nice steady snow against a clear and cold backdrop. The sort of wintry mix that would look ideal on television. Alas, the game will be played in the climate controlled conditions of NRG Stadium, so weather isn’t going to be a factor in this one tonight. (For the record, the Patriots are 2-2 in dome games since the start of the 2017 season -- last year, the beat the Rams in the Super Bowl, and lost to the Lions in Detroit at the start of the year).
7:30 p.m.: Not that they were looking for any help, but the Patriots didn’t get any assistance from the rest of the league this weekend. The Bills beat the Cowboys on Thanksgiving, the Ravens upended Jimmy Garoppolo and the Niners in a classic ballgame in Baltimore, and now, the Chiefs just beat the Raiders.
New England is still in control -- the Patriots still have the No. 1 seed in the AFC -- but there’s no margin for error across the board. Worth nothing that the Ravens are a half-game back at this point, and still hold the potential tiebreaker if the two teams finish the year with the same record.
The other thing? New England could have clinched a playoff spot tonight with a win over Houston and a loss from either Pittsburgh or Oakland. But neither of those happened, so a playoff berth is still on hold, at least for this week.
7:24 p.m.: Good news for a Patriots team that will be on its fourth kicker of the season going into tonight’s game.
Kai Forbath good from 53 yards in warmups. Plenty of leg— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) December 2, 2019
7:12 p.m.: Just a reminder -- the Texans have a history when it comes to pregame foolishness involving the Patriots.
7:10 p.m.: From a gambling perspective, the Patriots have been a three-point favorite for much of the week with most folks (including our pals at Odds Shark), which feels about right, at least in my opinion. This is a fairly evenly matched contest, with a nice matchup of strength against strength -- the Houston offense (specifically Watson and Hopkins) against the New England defense (specifically, Gilmore). From my perspective, I’d take New England as rhe favorite. One more thing? The Texans are 1-5 against the spread in their last six games as home underdogs.
6:55 p.m.: The following players are out for tonight’s game against the Texans: tight end Ryan Izzo, defensive back Jason McCourty, defensive lineman Byron Cowart, offensive lineman Korey Cunningham, quarterback Cody Kessler, running back Damien Harris, offensive lineman Jermaine Eluemunor.
So after a week where there was a constant drumbeat of sickness around the team -- so much so the Pats sent two planes to Houston, one with the sick guys and one with the guys who were OK -- there aren’t a lot of surprises when it comes to the inactives. The truth of the matter is that almost all of the inactives for tonight (maybe with the exception of McCourty, who has been slowed the last couple of weeks with a groin issue) are familiar faces when it comes to this sort of thing, including Harris, Kessler, and Cunningham. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean everyone is feeling better. It’s just that I’d expect a healthy rotation at some spots where there’s been sickness over the last week-plus.
The best news for New England? Mohamed Sanu and Phillip Dorsett are officiall active -- the should provide a jolt to the Patriots’ passing game, one that was lacking last week against Dallas.
Tom Brady’s weapons vs. Texans:— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) December 1, 2019
WR: Edelman, Sanu, Dorsett, Harry, Meyers
RB: Michel, White, Burkhead, Bolden
TE: Watson, LaCosse
A full house tonight.
6:38 p.m.: I’m old enough to remember when the Texans showed up to a Patriots’ game in letterman jackets. This is also an interesting look.
6:25 p.m.: Going to be a challenge tonight for some guys:
6:15 p.m.: Welcome back to football, everyone! We’ve got the Patriots and Texans ready to roll from NRG Stadium, with kickoff coming in a couple of hours. If you are a believer in positive vibes, this will be New England’s first game in Houston since the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history a few years ago, so it goes without saying that it’s a place that has good memories for the Patriots. Regardless, we’ll have all the usual pregame updates here, including the inactive analysis (we already know Jason McCourty and Byron Cowart are inactive), the latest betting lines, updates from our crew in Houston, the official Christopher Price prediction, and much more between now and the 8:20 kickoff. But let’s get things started with your pregame reading list -- everything you need to know to get to ready for this one.