New England Patriots: Finding positives in Sunday’s loss to the Texans

The New England Patriots didn’t have a good showing against the Houston Texans, but there were still positives in their losing performance nonetheless.

There’s no need to mince words – the New England Patriots put up a real stinker in primetime television during Week 13.

Bill Belichick and his squad had never lost to Bill O’Brien’s Texans heading into Sunday night, with the Patriots winning all five of their previous head-to-head matchups. Thanks to Houston’s 28-22 victory, O’Brien finally got the opportunity to one-up his old boss; for that matter, so did Texans assistant head coach and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel.

As Belichick himself noted after the game, the Patriots pretty much got outcoached and outplayed in every single aspect of the football game. Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson was air-guitaring all night long as he made Belichick’s vaunted New England defense look beatable, and the Patriots offense finally cost them a game.

In New England’s first loss of the season (to Baltimore), the pedestrian Patriots offense certainly didn’t help matters for the team, but it also wasn’t the deciding factor in the outcome. Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson won that game and defeated New England nearly single-handedly, with timely supporting contributions from guys like Mark Ingram, Nick Boyle, and Earl Thomas here and there.

In the Patriots’ second loss of the season, many members of the defense certainly didn’t look like their normal selves, but their collective subpar performance shouldn’t have been enough to doom New England to falling into 10-2.

No, it was the offense that should take the brunt of the blame, as they couldn’t muster any life or energy whatsoever until the fourth quarter was nearly upon them. The first offensive touchdown of the game for the Pats came on a 12-yard pass from Tom Brady to James White with just 11 seconds left in the third quarter.

None of this is good enough for a team that’s defending their Super Bowl title against a whole swath of talented challengers (Baltimore, Buffalo, Kansas City, Houston… and those are just in the AFC alone). It’s also not going to cut it when you consider that Brady himself is 42 years old and playing on a one-year contract, with rumors of his dissatisfaction in New England following his every step this season.

So what should Pats fans latch onto right now if they’re looking for any positives from Sunday night’s embarrassing performance?

For starters, how about the run defense?

Lawrence Guy, Dont’a Hightower, and John Simon led a solid night of slowing down Houston’s talented run game. Carlos Hyde, a top-10 rusher in the NFL this season, was held to just 17 yards on 10 carries. Duke Johnson had slightly more success running the football (nine carries for 36 yards), but overall, this was a night defined by Watson’s ability to throw the ball accurately on the run to the open receiver.

The Patriots’ run defense looked to be their weakness on that side of the ball after back-to-back poor showings against the Cleveland Browns and the Baltimore Ravens. Thankfully, the unit has since tightened up against the rush, and Sunday’s game against the Texans marked the third solid performance in a row now (the previous two came against the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys).

Another positive from Sunday night’s game was the performance of the offensive line. Though Brady was sacked three times, he also had noticeably more time to throw the ball for most of the evening. Granted, his receivers didn’t do him any favors from whistle to whistle, but still… that O-line did its job.

Coach Scarnecchia’s unit has been much-maligned for most of this season, so it had to be rewarding for Scar and the boys to turn in a solid effort. The obvious caveat is that Houston has one of the weakest pass rushes in the league this season and is now down both J.J. Watt (injury) and Jadeveon Clowney (trade).

The Patriots clearly need better effort across the board from here on out as the postseason approaches. They still have four more weeks to improve their playoff standing, punch their ticket, and wrap up their division – plus difficult games against the Buffalo Bills and the Kansas City Chiefs. Thankfully both of those games are at home at least.