1. Go ahead, say it. I won’t mock you: This is the day that Brandin Cooks became a true Patriot.
2. Cooks, the talented receiver acquired from the Saints for a first-round pick in the offseason, delivered a dynamic performance in the Patriots’ 36-33 come-from-behind win over the Texans Sunday.
3. He finished with five catches for 131 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The first touchdown, a 42-yard catch-and-run in the first half, was dazzling. The second won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
4. Cooks caught a 25-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady with 23 seconds left, then tacked on a two-point version for good measure as the Patriots avoided falling to 1-2 on the season, 0-2 at home, and losing to a rookie quarterback at home for the first time in the Bill Belichick era. But calling it a catch doesn’t do it justice.
5. Brady zipped the ball into a window that may have had a smaller circumference than the football itself, and Cooks grasped it in the end zone along the sideline, tapping his toes in perfect unison right before he fell out of bounds. This is going to sound weird, but the Patriots, for all of the superb receivers they’ve had in recent years, haven’t had a receiver who makes those kind of acrobatic catches since Brandon Lloyd’s occasionally interesting one-year layover here.
6. But as great as Cooks was, especially late, this must count as one more Brady miracle, even if he’s made miracles a fairly common occurrence around here. He was under siege by the Texans all day. Brady can drink 40 gallons of water and double up on his pistachio-scented asparagus or whatever it he eats after a game, but there’s no way around it this week. He’s going to be more sore than the average 40-year-old come Monday morning.
7. Yet he finished 25 of 35 for 378 yards and five touchdowns, the final coming as the capper on an eight-play, 75-yard drive in which he converted on third and 12 and third and 18, found Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola, and Cooks for crucial catches, and reminded us yet again how fortunate we are that he consistently turns the improbable into breathtaking reality.
8. This would be a win to remember in so many football cities, including Houston. Here, it’s another chapter in the volumes that make the irrefutable case that Brady is the greatest quarterback ever to play.
9. Much respect to the Texans, especially rookie quarterback Deshun Watson. I’ll admit it. I thought the Patriots would expose the rookie out of Clemson, make him look as raw as he is supposed to be, force him into some significant mistakes. Heck, the Bengals did it a few times in his debut a couple of Thursdays ago, and the Bengals are an undisciplined pack.
10. Maybe Watson would break a long run or two. But I was skeptical that he’d do anything via the air against the Patriots, even with cornerback Eric Rowe inactive. There’s a reason the Belichick Patriots had never lost to a rookie quarterback on their home turf: They know how to rattle ’em.
Watch: Ben Volin and Jim McBride break down the Patriots’ win
11. But I was wrong, and I’m convinced now. Watson, who finished 22 of 33 for 301 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions, is as legitimate as a young quarterback can be. He did make a couple of mistakes — he hit Stephon Gilmore right in the numbers in the first quarter for the cornerback’s first interception as a Patriot. But virtually every time you anticipated a mistake, he made a play instead.
12. He did goof up after the Patriots went ahead in the final seconds. The Texans were at midfield with 8 seconds left, but Watson didn’t get the timeout called until there were 2 seconds remaining. Might have cost the Texans a shot at a tying field goal.
13. Watson’s two most impressive throws? A back-shoulder touchdown pass to Ryan Griffin that flummoxed Devin McCourty in the third quarter, and a third-and-7 dart to Bruce Ellington with a minute left in the third quarter. Watson was wild high a couple of times, especially later in the game. But he is a much more poised passer than any 22-year-old quarterback is supposed to be.
14. Conclusion: Matt Schaub, sadly, is the best quarterback in Texans history. That’s not going to be the case much longer.
15. I’m sure Gronk and Odell Beckham Jr. will get votes. Maybe Aaron Rodgers as well. But J.J. Watt has to be the most ubiquitous player in the league, right? And not just off the field. CBS showed him four times during the anthem, then he made three tackles on the Patriots’ first possession.
16. I can’t be the only one who upon hearing Texans defensive back Johnthan Banks’s name immediately muttered, “Mike Ehrmantrout?” Tell me I’m not the only one.
17. CBS has an outstanding 1-2 punch in its top two broadcast teams this season, with Jim Nantz and rookie of the year lock Tony Romo on the No. 1 pairing and Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts on the No. 2 squad. Patriots fans shouldn’t have too much to complain about when it comes to the broadcasts this year.
18. Commence complaining about Sunday’s broadcast. I just asked for it, didn’t I?
19. Chris Hogan was so open on his first touchdown, which put the Patriots up 14-10, that Brady had time to do Drew Bledsoe’s signature double-pat of the football.
20. Hogan got wide open again for a 47-yard score in the second quarter. The Texans finally accounted for him after that, though — he finished with four total catches.
21. Brady got popped and fumbled right into Jadeveon Clowney’s hands with 6:15 left in the second quarter. Clowney, who usually creates such gifts for the Texans’ defense rather than receiving them, took the fumble-6 into the end zone for a 20-14 lead. That was the first real moment where I began to wonder whether this was going to be the Patriots day.
22. CBS pointed out that this was a matchup of the defending Super Bowl winning quarterback versus the winning quarterback in last season’s National Championship football game. That’s a cool stat, especially since there’s an 18-year age difference between Brady and Watson.
23. Not sure what to make of the Patriots’ running game. It was James White early, and that’s fine, though he’s not going to do much damage inside. Mike Gillislee got his chances later.
24. Of course, some of this is on the Patriots’ line. Much of it, maybe. Nate Solder is not having a good season, a lousy development given how important the duties of the left tackle are. Marcus Cannon, last season’s revelation at right tackle, was out with a concussion and an ankle injury. And the interior linemen didn’t open much space for the Patriots’ backs. Time for Dante Scarnecchia to get this right.
25. Wrote a separate piece on Sunday’s protests and how the networks covered them. But I have one question: Did Patriots fans really boo the players who chose to kneel? I assumed, perhaps naively, while watching the telecast that they were booing the Texans.
26. And how many of those who booed the kneeling Patriots — Cooks was among them — were cheering them at the end?
27. I would be a hypocrite to be annoyed at those who were booing, though. The right to express your thoughts and feelings is fundamental to the American ideal. Suppression is at the root of our discord. I’m glad the players kneeled. I wouldn’t have booed. I respect the rights of those who did.
28. It’s amusing thinking of all of these ex-Patriots on the Texans coaching staff who are now charged with trying to figure out Brady. To be able to listen in on Mike Vrabel’s headset during the Patriots final drive . . .
29. I’ve mentioned a few times since February that James White’s all-timer of a performance in the Super Bowl was the first game I recall seeing him legitimately break tackles.
30. He’s always been a dependable receiver out of the backfield — he quietly had 60 catches last season, second on the team — but if he didn’t juke the first would-be tackler, he usually got taken down.
31. He was rusty in the Chiefs game, and Tony Romo basically scheduled him for back surgery last week against the Saints, but it’s fair to say Gronkowski looks like himself again doesn’t he?
32. Gronk scored the Patriots’ first touchdown, making one of those plays where you wonder how he and Brady are ever stopped in tandem. Gronk made a little shimmy move, and Brady threw the ball before he was open. A split second later, the ball was in his mitts.
33. Gillislee is often impressive. He already has a three-touchdown game. I think he’ll be the Patriots’ leading rusher at the end of the season, with double-figure touchdowns.
34. But man, he’s really starting to make a habit of failing to convert important third- or fourth-and-1s, and that’s unacceptable for a no-nonsense power back who averaged 5.7 yards per carry last year.
35. Gillislee got stopped on third and 1 from the Patriots’ 34-yard line with 11 minutes left and the Patriots trailing 30-28. Those situations are where LeGarrette Blount made his money. Gillislee needs to start converting them, or someone else needs to get the ball in that situation.
36. The Patriots and Texans met twice last season. They’ve met six times since 2012. I’m confident in saying there’s a good chance they’ll meet twice this year.