The New England Patriots lost their second game of the season Sunday night, falling to the Houston Texans, 28-22. Here are several of the biggest takeaways from the game:
AFC playoffs picture
First and foremost, the 10-2 Patriots are no longer in position to receive home field throughout the AFC playoffs. The 10-2 Baltimore Ravens defeated the 10-2 San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, and with the Ravens holding the tiebreaker over the Patriots due to a Week Nine win, the Patriots are the current No. 2 seed in the conference. The Patriots will have to wait another week to officially earn a playoff berth as well.
Houston’s passing-game success
Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson (18-for-25, 234 yards and three TDs) had an uncommon amount of success against the Patriots defense. Watson found mismatches in coverage whether it be to tight ends or running backs early on. During the Texans 13-play, 88-yard scoring drive, which game Houston a 14-3 lead, Watson connected with a receiver just once. Patriots linebackers were in coverage for the first two Houston touchdowns as well. And the four passing touchdowns Houston compiled on Sunday was the exact number the Patriots had allowed in their previous 11 games combined.
A frustrated Brady
Quarterback Tom Brady (24-for-47, 326 yards, three TDs, one interception) was flustered through the better part of three quarters. He showed it early on during an animated discussion on the sideline with receivers. The Patriots offense couldn’t put it all together. When Brady had time in the pocket, receivers weren’t able to get open. And when Houston brought pressure on Brady (three sacks), the 42-year-old quarterback continued his season-long struggles.
Red zone offense
It looked to be a promising start. The Patriots went 67 yards in their first 11 plays, advancing to the Houston 7 yard line. But one Michel rush for two yards and a pair of incomplete passes from Brady halted another drive in the red zone. It’s been a growing problem for the Patriots as they entered Sunday 25thin the league in red zone offense. The red-zone offense responded with three fourth-quarter touchdowns as Brady found James White twice and Julian Edelman (six receptions, 106 yards, one TD) once.
The Patriots’ first drive of the game (14 plays, 69 yards) featured a heavy dose of heavy packages with two running backs, two tight ends, etc. The heavy personnel groups (which essentially includes more blockers) helped spring Sony Michel for 37 yards on six carries. They abandoned it before they needed to. Instead, they ran light personnel groups with one tight end and one running back, forgetting the power run game which led to their successful opening drive. Michel touched the ball just three times for eight yards after that first drive.
It was a part of a bigger picture in regards to Patriots’ offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. A specific example was when McDaniels called a play-action pass on fourth-and-inches midway through the third quarter. During the eight-play drive, which ultimately led to a turnover on downs following a failed fourth-down conversion, the Patriots had rushing attempts go for 5, 32 and 6 yards, respectively.
Hopkins vs. Gilmore
The Pats clearly depicted they were going to do everything to could to limit Texans All-Pro receiver Deandre Hopkins. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore played the majority of snaps in coverage on Hopkins, while sometimes getting safety help over the top. While the Patriots were able to limit Hopkins (five catches, 64 yards) for the better part of three quarters. Gilmore allowed a trio catches in man-to-man while Hopkins’ longest catch of the night was in man coverage without safety help. Hopkins also had one catch against zone. And when the Patriots helped Gilmore with safety help, it opened up opportunities for others. Safety Duron Harmon helped Gilmore, which led to a touchdown catch from Kenny Stills in man-to-man coverage (Jon Jones) and when Devin McCourty helped on Hopkins in the first quarter, it led to a touchdown catch from running back Duke Johnson (beat Kyle Van Noy).
If there was a bright spot, it was running back James White, who finished with a team-high 79 rushes on 14 carries while adding seven receptions for 62 yards and two touchdowns. White’s 21 touches against the Texans was a season-high, which was previously 12.
Forbath shaky in debut
The Patriots’ fourth kicker of the season looked like just that. Kai Forbath connected on a 23-yard field goal to give the Patriots their lone lead (3-0) in the first quarter, but missed a longer extra point after the Patriots first touchdown in the fourth quarter. The extra point attempt followed a delay of game penalty on what looked to be a two-point conversion attempt.
The Patriots are rarely a team who struggles with fundamentals, but a pair of missed tackles on a 13-play, 88-yard Houston drive led to the Texans taking a 14-3 lead. New England edge rusher John Simon looked to have Watson sacked, but couldn’t finish the play as Texans stayed on his feet and threw the ball away, saving a massive loss of yardage. On the next play, Patriots safety Patrick Chung couldn’t wrap up an open-field tackle against Houston tight end Jordan Atkins. Atkins picked up 19 yards and set Houston up at the New England 36. Houston scored four plays later.