By: Dennis Hackett
Despite all of the drama surrounding the team this offseason, the New England Patriots were able to show up and take care of business as usual against the Houston Texans on Sunday.
Between the reported rift between Bill Belichick and Tom Brady from last year, questions of whether or not Rob Gronkowski and Brady would be back this year, and question marks all over the roster, the Patriots were faced with a significant amount of adversity going into the first game of the season.
To add to all of the questions, there was a report that came out on Sunday morning that said if the Patriots traded Gronk, he would retire. No matter how late these questions would arise before the game, the Patriots were able to overcome it and squeeze out a win over the Texans.
While the Patriots offense played at a high level, it was the defense that paved the way to victory on Sunday. Following last year’s almost non-existent pass rush, the Patriots added key players this offseason on the defensive line, including veterans Danny Shelton and Adrian Clayborn to help bolster that unit and on Sunday the line carried the defense throughout the game.
Defensive ends Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise led the way and gave the Texans’ offense fits throughout all of Sunday’s contest. Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson was under pressure constantly and was sacked three times, which led to some inconsistent play from the young quarterback in his first game back from the torn ACL he suffered during the 2017 season. The Patriots defense was able to easily take care of Watson, who was clearly still shaking off the rust after almost a year off from playing football.
On offense Brady and Gronkowski played as well as one would expect. Gronk finished the game with 123 yards receiving and a touchdown and Brady finished with 278 passing yards and three touchdowns.
But it was Phillip Dorsett who stood out on offense with seven receptions for 66 yards and a touchdown. Dorsett was acquired from the Colts a year ago in the trade that sent quarterback Jacoby Brissett to Indianapolis. Last year, Dorsett was unable to find a role within the offense but appears to be fitting in well after one game and should continue to improve as the season goes on.
The Patriots did not finish the game unscathed however. Early in the third quarter, Patriots running back Jeremy Hill went to the locker room after it appeared that he may have suffered a significant knee injury. He was ruled out for the rest of the game but there is not a whole lot of information available about his injury at the moment.
Hill’s availability for the rest of the season could be a significant issue for the Patriots because of the fact that he was able to beat out former Patriots’ running back Mike Gillislee for the larger back role that is typically used in the Patriots’ goal line formations. Since being released, Gillislee has signed with the Saints, so the Patriots will likely have to look for a replacement for Hill if he is going to be sidelined for an extended period of time.
There were some hiccups for the Patriots late in the game after a solid three and a half quarters of play. The largest issue was a Riley McCarron fumble on a punt return that set the Texans offense up within the Patriots red zone with just under five minutes to go in the game. The fumble led to a Texans touchdown and cut the Patriots’ lead to just one possession.
It will be interesting to see what the Patriots will end up doing with McCarron once Julian Edelman returns from his four game suspension. However, McCarron was back out on the field on the ensuing kickoff following the touchdown.
Cornerback Stephon Gilmore had an overall good game, including an interception. But on the Texans final scoring drive, he was caught two times for holding Texans’ receiver Deandre Hopkins, leading to two first downs for the Texans within the ten yard line.
The Patriots will head down to Jacksonville next Sunday for an AFC Championship rematch with the Jaguars, who will also be coming off of a win following their victory over the New York Giants.