HOUSTON – Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans didn’t merely hammer Bill Belichick’s team in primetime on Sunday night.
They did it with style.
Watson passed for 234 yards and 3 TDs and caught a 6-yard TD pass from star receiver DeAndre Hopkins off a razzle-dazzle play in the fourth quarter to highlight a 28-22 victory at NRG Stadium.
It was the first time that Watson and his coach, former Belichick assistant Bill O’Brien, beat the Patriots, and the contrast in energy and creativity from the previous defeats was striking.
With Houston’s defense — coordinated by another former Belichick assistant in Romeo Crennel — bringing constant blitzes to pressure Tom Brady (three sacks), New England’s offense was kept out of rhythm throughout the game.
Brady had a paltry 28.8 passer rating in the first half, when his interception set up Houston’s first touchdown. It didn’t get much better. New England didn’t score a touchdown until 11 seconds remained in the third quarter, then saw its late-game comeback attempt win fall short when it couldn’t recover an onside kick with less than a minute remaining.
This lack of production has been the norm of late for Brady’s slumping offense. After scoring at least 30 points in six of their first seven games this season, New England (10-2) put up more than 20 points for the first time in four outings. Guess that’s progress.
Houston’s offense, on the other hand, came to life with some special twists that foiled one of the league’s best defenses. In the second quarter, Watson’s 13-yard TD pass to Darren Fells came as the tight end drifted to the flat after lining up in a “Diamond” formation with two others the shot-gunned quarterback in the backfield.
The exclamation point came early in the fourth quarter when Hopkins flipped a pass to Watson after taking a handoff from running back Duke Johnson. Watson knifed into the end zone with his first NFL pass reception.
Maybe these teams will see each other again in January, with strong playoff implications in the mix on Sunday night.
The setback cost New England the lead for the No. 1 seed in the AFC after Baltimore (10-2) edged San Francisco earlier on Sunday. The Ravens hold the tiebreaker edge on the Patriots thanks to a primetime smashing in early November.
Three other things we learned during the Texans’ big victory on Sunday night:
1. New England’s poor tackling stuck out like a sore thumb: Rare that a fundamentally sound defense like New England’s would fuel a touchdown drive with missed tackles, but stuff happens. On back-to-back plays in the second quarter, Watson slipped out of John Simon’s grasp turning a would-be 14-yard sack into an incompletion as he threw the ball out of bounds. Then tight end Jordan Akins broke Patrick Chung’s attempted tackle in the right flat and scampered 19 yards. That’s 33 yards of field position. And the type of moments that keep alive 13-play, 88-yard TD drives, which Watson capped by floating a 13-yard pass to Fells off a sweet misdirection play out of a diamond formation.
2. The Texans still get no love from the Replay Command Center at NFL headquarters: Just before halftime, Patriots rookie Jakobi Meyers appeared to land out of bounds, and with just one foot inbounds as he completed a catch on a comeback route. But officials on the field ruled it a catch. Uh-oh. O’Brien’s timeout allowed time for Al Riveron and Co. to take a look. Memo to fans: Never mind your lying eyes watching the freeze-frame shots on the Jumbotron. The play stood. This, came just two weeks after Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey mugged Hopkins in the end zone and the play stood upon O’Brien challenging the ruling. The moral of the story is that it’s such a crapshoot that it’s a surprise when “clear and obvious” rulings come down.
3. The Patriots have had the worst luck this season with kickers: Kai Forbath came off the street and into New England’s lineup after Nick Folk underwent an appendectomy last week … and was released. Forbath is the fourth kicker on the active roster this season, with perennial Pro Bowl selection Stephen Gostkowski’s hip surgery prompting the revolving gong show. Forbath’s debut was marred by a missed extra point after the Patriots finally scored a touchdown late in the third quarter. Granted, the PAT was a 38-yarder after the Patriots took a delay of game after originally lining up for a two-point conversion. But that’s a kick the pros are supposed to make. Forbath did connect on his only field goal attempt, a 23-yard chip shot because, well, the Patriots offense stalled inside the 5-yard line on its first drive of the game.
Follow Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.