Coming into this game, the Patriots were viewed as underdogs considering their quarterback situation. Tom Brady was still suspended and Jimmy Garoppolo was dealing with a shoulder injury. That left third round rookie out of North Carolina State Jacoby Brissett as the Patriots starting quarterback. He handled himself well in week two in relief of Garoppolo when he suffered the injury. Brissett completed six of his nine passes for 92 yards in what was a clear attempt by the coaching staff to take no chances in that game. Now Brissett found himself on prime-time television against an undefeated Houston Texans team.
Despite the offense having two less yards of offense (282) as opposed to the Texans (284), this game was all Patriots from the start. This was the first time that Patriots had a shut-out victory since 2012, as hard as it may be to believe. In the first quarter, New England went up three to nothing after a Stephen Gostkowski field goal. And then, the Patriots would re-gain the ball in Houston territory when Charles James II fumbled returning the kick-off and New England recovering it. Jacoby Brissett would then run the ball in from Houston’s 27 yard line on an option play for the touchdown, where he had the chance to show off his rushing ability that he had.
One of the key things offensively for this game was the fact that Josh McDaniels and the Patriots offense incorporated option plays into their offense, taking advantage of Brissett’s ability to tuck the ball away and run with it. It helped Brissett adjust a bit easier in his first career NFL start going up against a tough Texans front seven. But even against that front seven of Houston’s, the Patriots offensive line only gave up one sack the entire game to a team that had nine in their first two games. The offensive line of New England’s was huge in this game as they gave Brissett a nice pocket and little pressure to deal with for a majority of the game.
From then on, the Patriots defense held Houston to only 175 yards passing and 109 yards rushing. Brock Osweiler struggled mightily against the Patriots secondary, including Logan Ryan, who held DeAndre Hopkins in check. When these two matched up in 2015, Hopkins came away with only three receptions for 52 yards. This time around, Hopkins only gathered four receptions for 56 yards on eight targets. Will Fuller, having two straight games of 100+ yards receiving coming into this game, only mustered three receptions for 31 yards. The Patriots secondary did a terrific job of shutting down Houston’s two biggest weapons at wide receiver for a combined seven receptions and 87 yards.
In the run game, Houston’s lead running back Lamar Miller finished with a respectable 80 yards on 21 rushing attempts (3.8 yards per carry). The Texans fed him early on and he ran into some problems against the Patriots stout front seven even without Dont’a Hightower (out with a leg injury). He was perhaps their lone bright spot with 107 yards from scrimmage (27 receiving yards) but could not carry the Texans to any points. In fact, the Texans did not play one snap on the Patriots side of the field until some point in the third quarter, which the Patriots defense deserves a tip of the cap to because of that.
As discussed above, the Patriots were able to quickly turn this game into their own with how they played on special teams. New England forced and recovered two fumbles on special teams, making up two-thirds of the three total turnovers they gathered on Thursday night (the other turnover was an interception by Jamie Collins). The Patriots did have their own issues with special teams as Cyrus Jones had some issues keeping the ball in his hands on a couple of occasions. But other than that, this facet of the game was completed dominated by the Patriots.
The plan going into this game for the Patriots was going to manage the passing game by not taking too many risky decisions and relying on the run game to control the clock and tempo. The Patriots did exactly that with LeGarrette Blount. Having scored a touchdown every week so far, Blount looked like a stud running back for the Patriots. He finished with 105 yards on 24 rushing attempts along with two touchdowns. This offense was led by Blount as he was given almost all of the carries out of New England’s running backs with the exception of three by James White. Blount functioned well in between the tackles and making his way out to the edge for big gains as well, including his 41 yard touchdown run as well.
This victory was far from expected as Houston had held opponents to 26 points in the first two games and looked to have an improved offense as well. It was a great showing for the Patriots as they looked elite on defense and still functioned well on offense despite using their third string quarterback. While it may have been nearly impossible to fathom at the beginning of the season, the Patriots may very well start undefeated through the first four weeks of the season. The Bills will be in town next Sunday and with the news of Jacoby Brissett’s thumb injury, it is going to be another mystery as to who will be New England’s starting quarterback.