After two straight losses, the Patriots and their fans hesitantly limped into NRG Stadium to play the surging Texans. Throughout the week, there was an air of urgency to address some serious questions about the future of the Patriots and their championship aspirations: when is Gronk coming back? Can the offensive line hold up? Can the defense lead this team for the final month of the season while the offense is nursed back to health?
All those question were answered and then some Sunday night.
Entering the game, Patriots fans were graced with the fantastic news that Rob Gronkowski (knee) would be playing in the game. Whether he was to be used as an actual threat or just a decoy remained to be seen, but there was an air of confidence around the field come game time.
To start the game, the Patriots were swarming on defense. Brian Hoyer was constantly pressured, while the Texans were not-so-surprisingly effective at running the ball with the absence of MLB Dont'a Hightower (MCL Sprain). However, the Patriots defense bent, but did not break, as they allowed two field goals in the first half, which would eventually be the only points they score all game.
Offensively, the Patriots were religiously establishing the run with Legarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden and James White, while TB12 and company were slowly, but surely, effectively moving the ball through the air. Brady connected with Keshawn Martin on a beautiful cut, after two touchdowns were called back on Patriot penalties.
While the touchdown pass to Martin was beautiful, Brady threaded the needle to Gronkowski on his first reception since going down with his injury.
After that, Sunday Night Football was effectively dominated by the New England Patriots. Gronk snagged a touchdown against one-on-one coverage, James White rushed in for a two-yard touchdown, and Gostkowski was a perfect 2-2 on field goals.
However, the big story of the game was the Patriots' defense. Throughout the entire game, the front seven was providing an insane amount of pressure on Brian Hoyer, who was eventually knocked out of this game with a possible concussion. Akiem Hicks and Jabaal Sheard had their best games as Patriots, while, on the other side, JJ Watt was virtually ineffective.
All in all, the Patriots had one of their better all-around games of the season. With Julian Edelman's return on the horizon, this team should be a well oiled machine come playoff time.
Next up, the lowly Tennessee Titans. This should be a two-quarter game for the Patriots, who should be looking to rest most of their starters in the second half.
By Pete Packowski