- REPORT CARD VS. TEXANS—PASSING OFFENSE: A-minus – The reigning AFC Offensive Player of the Week put up award-worthy work once again in the comeback win over the Texans. Tom Brady completed 25 of his 35 throws for 378 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions for a 146.2 rating despite a Houston pass rush that sacked him five times and hit him eight times. Brady did fumble three times, including a strip-sack that led to a Jadeveon Clowney touchdown. But he made the plays he needed to pull out the hard-fought win, including the eight-play drive to a 25-yard game-winning touchdown to Brandin Cooks with just 23 seconds to play. The newcomer Cooks came up huge for New England, breaking out with five catches for 131 yards with two touchdowns and a two-point play. Rob Gronkowski showed no limitations from his groin injury, hauling in a game-high eight passes for 89 yards and a touchdown, including two key grabs to jumpstart the game-winning drive. Chris Hogan had a pair of touchdowns on his four grabs, including a 47-yard catch-and-run score. Dealing with the Texans talented pass rush was a clear problem at times, but not enough to derail Brady and the home squad on the way to victory.–RUSHING OFFENSE: D – The Patriots want to be more balanced and less predictable in the backfield this fall. So far, it hasn’t worked out. New England ran the ball just 20 times for a mere 59 yards (3.0 average) against Houston. Mike Gillislee continues to get the most carries, but the newcomer was able to gain just 31 yards on his 12 attempts. In the face of the pass rush New England tried to turn to the ground attack in the fourth quarter but it didn’t work. Gillislee picked up 5 and 4 yards on consecutive carries to start a drive trailing 30-28, but was stuffed on third-and-1 leading to the punt. Short-yardage runs have been an issue through three weeks, but the bigger concern is the inability to really get much of a complementary ground game going in New England. That’s on Gillislee and the offensive line, neither of which were good enough against Houston.–PASS DEFENSE: C-minus – While the back end is supposed to be the strength of the New England defense, the group continues to allow opposing passers to throw all over the field. Devin McCourty and Co. allowed Deshaun Watson to look like anything but a raw rookie. Watson completed 22 of 33 passes for 301 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions for a 90.6 rating, one of the picks coming on a desperation Hail Mary attempt as time expired. Watson kept plays alive with his legs and spread the ball around to eight different receivers, led by seven catches for 76 yards to DeAndre Hopkins. Tight end Ryan Griffin (5 for 61) and wide receiver Bruce Ellington (4 for 59) hauled in Watson’s touchdown passes. Big plays continue to be an issue as New England allowed Houston to complete five passes longer than 25 yards.
—RUSH DEFENSE: C – The New England run defense that struggled so much on opening night is clearly moving in the right direction based on the work in the last two weeks though their remains room for improvement. Houston ran the ball 32 times for 125 yards (3.9 average) as a team. Lamar Miller led the way with 14 attempts for 56 yards (4.0 average), while Watson used his legs to pick up 41 yards on eight attempts/scrambles. The Patriots didn’t allow a run longer than 12 yards all day and came up with a big stop when it needed one on a Texans third-and-1 attempt from the New England 18 late in the fourth quarter to force a field goal. That stop of Miller by Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy and the rest of the front kept the door open for the eventual Brady-led comeback. Linebacker Kyle Van Noy led the front with 11 tackles, including nine solos, for a run defense that’s showing improvement.
—SPECIAL TEAMS: C – It was a relatively quiet day in the kicking game. Stephen Gostkowski did not attempt a field goal, hit all five of his PATs and put four of six kickoffs into the end zone with a pair of touchbacks. Ryan Allen had an up-and-down day punting. His final two punts of the day were 59 and 60 yards. But he had a 36 yarder from his own 8 in the second quarter and a 38 yarder for a touchback in the third quarter. He did finish the day with a 45.3 average, 38.7 net and three inside the 20. Danny Amendola gave the punt return game a jolt with a 33 yarder, while Dion Lewis had a long of 24 on two kickoff returns. Coverage was solid as Houston averaged just 18.8 yards on four kickoff returns and 6.7 yards on three punt returns. Just an average overall day in the third phase.
—COACHING: B – The Patriots seemed to have a pretty balanced, basic, traditional game plan on both sides of the ball against Houston and in the end, it was enough to eke out the win. Offensively, one key to trying to deal with Houston’s talented front was extra help from the tight ends and running backs dealing with J.J. Watt and Co. It didn’t always work, but it was a sound approach. There was also an attempt to run the ball more as the line struggled in pass rush, but that effort never really got on track. Defensively Matt Patricia used early 4-3 fronts with four defensive backs, a rarity these days in New England. The Patriots coming up strong in situational football, on both sides of the ball, is a credit to the preparation not just in the week leading up to the game but all the way through the year. There weren’t a lot of real dramatic decisions on the field for New England or crazy game plan wrinkles to either applaud or question. In the end, it all worked well enough for the win.
- Wire Service report for Digital Sports Desk by The Sports Xchange
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS – (Special to Digital Sports Desk by The Sports Xchange) – Jimmy Johnson knows a little something about building a powerhouse NFL franchise, as he did in Dallas in the early 1990s. Through his longtime friendship with New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, Johnson has probably had some influence on the dynasty that shows little sign of slowing down these days in New England.
When the two met decades ago at the Kentucky Derby, no one could have predicted where Belichick would ascend to in the world of football. But his spot, according to Johnson, is quite clear.
“He’s the best ever, and I made that statement before the (Super Bowl), but I also made that statement a year ago and two years ago,” Johnson told Patriots.com recently. “It’s not something I just recently decided. Having watched Bill over the years, it goes all the way back to Cleveland, when we first met and built a relationship.
“He covers all the bases. He’s very thorough. He approaches the job in a way that every coach should envy. And one thing about his teams, they’re always better prepared than their opponents. And that’s because of him.”
Like Belichick, Johnson oversaw both coaching and personnel in his time in Dallas and later with the Dolphins. It’s an almost infinitely demanding responsibility that generally is too much for those who are even given the chance to wear both hats.
“The job is almost overwhelming, and obviously you’ve got to have the right kind of people assisting you and helping you do it the right way,” Johnson said. “And Bill does. But there’s very few in the NFL, and very few that’s been in the NFL who can do all the jobs that he does.
“I’ll just say one more thing about Bill Belichick: He’s the best.”
Belichick had a couple of his coaching friends from other sports on hand as guests during the joint practice action with the Texans. That included former Major League Baseball manager Tony La Russa and former Indiana University men’s basketball coach Tom Crean.
“When we’re together, I’m asking the questions, he’s talking, and I’m taking notes. He’s not taking my notes,” LaRussa said with a chuckle before highlighting what he sees as the strength of his pal’s coaching style.
“I believe his ability and his staff’s ability, and his team’s ability to start at zero every year – refuse to think about last year – is an important part of why they are so consistent. It’s easy to celebrate the next year. The ability to turn the clock to zero is really impressive and very hard.”
“My relationship with Tony has been great,” Belichick said. “I’ve learned a lot from somebody as accomplished as he is in another sport. I’ll never forget the time he let me get in the dugout with him for an exhibition game. Baseball – it seems like just throw it and hit it, but there’s a lot more to it than that. I saw just how much there is on every single pitch and the focus, concentration, all of that.”
Crean offered up his observations about Belichick, the coach and the person.
“Everything matters every day,” Crean said. “As simple as that sounds, it’s very complex and hard because there are so many things that can distract, that can interrupt that, can get in the way of it. When I think of fundamentals, and preaching the fundamentals and details on a day-to-day basis – and then watching it come out in his team – that’s one place you’re going to look. He leaves nothing to chance. It would be hard to imagine something missing his radar or the people that are around him.
“He’s been very, very good to me, very helpful,” added Crean. “I think that’s one of the reasons he’s such a great leader, great developer of teams, programs, players. He’s always inquisitive. You can get an idea of how great he is with his team because of the way he helps his friends.”
“Again, different sport,” Belichick said of his kinship with Crean, “but I learned a lot from his organization … Different motivations, teachings, he is a very progressive guy … We speak pretty frequently.