Three quick thoughts from the Patriots 36–33 win over the Texans...
Brandin Cooks... hello.
The defending champs’ marquee offseason acquisition, wideout Brandin Cooks—who arrived from New Orleans in exchange for New England’s first- and third-round draft picks—was expected to give Brady the kind of deep threat and explosive receiver he has rarely had in recent seasons. Early returns were middling, as Cooks had just five scoreless catches for 125 yards entering Sunday.
But against Houston, Cooks broke created enough space deep along the left sideline for a 44-yard gain to set up the Patriots’ first touchdown, then broke away from his defender on a crossing route for a 42-yard score in the third quarter. In the game’s final minute, of course, it was Cooks who nimbly planted both feet in bounds on a beautiful game-winning touchdown, bringing him to 131 yards on the afternoon. With Julian Edelman out for the season, Danny Amendola inactive last week and versatile back Rex Burkhead missing Sunday’s game, the Pats’ offense has not had quite as many potential weapons as advertised. But if Cooks can turn in more performances like Sunday’s, he will at least give them the kind of playmaker who can turn a go-nowhere drive into a scoring one out of nowhere.
That Texans front can indeed be trouble for the Pats.
SI’s resident scouting wonderboy, Andy Benoit, wrote an insightful feature last month about how the Texans’ defense was particularly equipped to disrupt the Patriots’ offense. His reasoning: Houston’s talented and unpredictable five-man “diamond” defensive front can force teams’ blocking into disadvantageous matchups and create disorienting havoc for blockers.
Like last January’s game in the same stadium, when the Texans held Brady to the lowest completion percentage of his playoff career, Houston was able to make Brady uncomfortable in Sunday’s early stages, disrupting the rhythm of the Patriots’ passing game, and forced a near-abandonment of its rushing attack. Jadeveon Clowney had two first-half sacks and a technically-a-fumble pick-six (as Brady was hit by Whitney Mercilus) that gave the Texans a second-quarter lead. On the Pats’ final drive, safety Marcus Gilchrist forced a Brady strip-sack fumble that would have clinched the game had Houston recovered. Of course, Brady & Co. were still able to manage 36 points as Brady threw for 378 yards and five TDs while compelling 25 of 35 attempts (71.4%). (Effectiveness against the Patriots’ offense can be a very relative thing.) But for Houston, whose opening two games were a beat-down from the Jaguars and a plodding win over the hapless Bengals, it bodes well for its defense’s ability to give it a chance. And for the Patriots, it means there are probably a few teams they’d rather see a few months from now.
There’s something about Deshaun.
The Heisman runner-up out of Clemson did not exactly set the NFL afire in his first two weeks as a pro, completing 27 of 47 attempts for 227 yards and one TD and interception apiece. And, yes, he threw a pretty horrible and underthrown pick against the Patriots on what can only presume was an expected comeback route. But Deshaun Watson also showed an unpanicked moxie on the road against the defending Super Bowl champions, extending several plays with his feet and demonstrating an ability to improvise when plays broke down. One particularly fun example: in the third quarter, as the pocket collapsed around him, Watson backpedaled several steps to his left to evade a rusher, then threw against his momentum to the right side of the field, finding tight end Ryan Griffin for a 35-yard gain. A few plays later he again found Griffin with a smart throw behind his defender in the back of the end zone. In the latter stages of the fourth quarter, as the Texans were looking to put the game away, he dodged three lunging Patriots on a scramble before finding D’Onta Foreman for a 31-yard gain. Watson finished with 301 yards on 22-of-33 passing (66.7%, 9.1 yards per attempt) with two touchdowns, two picks (one on a Hail Mary), and 41 rushing yards on eight rushes. After years of poor play behind center (during which they were often winners anyway) the Texans’ quarterbacking future is finally one they can feel good about.