Patriots

Bean's thoughts from Patriots-Texans: Brissett's win streak vs. Texans finally ends

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Bean's thoughts from Patriots-Texans: Brissett's win streak vs. Texans finally ends

Jacoby Brissett’s dominance over the Texans has ended. 

The third-string quarterback led a comeback effort on New England’s final drive of the game, but a fumble while trying to throw in the red zone led to the ball going out of the end zone for a touchback to secure a 27-23 Houston victory Saturday night. 

The loss for the Pats dropped New England to 0-2 this preseason, taking the Patriots from being considered Super Bowl favorites to for sure remaining Super Bowl favorites. 

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Ultimately, Saturday’s game wasn’t about Brissett, however, but rather Tom Brady. The 40-year-old quarterback made his preseason debut, playing two series for New England. Rob Gronkowski also played, taking the field for two series in his first preseason action since 2012. 

THE QUARTERBACKS

Tom Brady: 6-of-9, 67 yards, 1 TD, O INT
Jimmy Garoppolo: 15-of-23, TD, INT, lost fumble 
Jacoby Brissett: 5-of-10, 36 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT

TD-REX 

Tom Brady sassed Rex Burkhead for not hurrying back to the huddle after a first down on the Pats’ second drive, but that was the lone hiccup in an otherwise whopper of a drive for the duo. 

Brady and Burkhead connected twice on the drive, capped by a 22-yard touchdown on an angle route for the former Bengal. Burkhead’s other catch on the drive went for 16 yards, with him rushing for 12 yards during the series. 

Burkhead, who got the start, totaled seven rushes for 20 yards and three receptions for 50 yards and a touchdown. 

JIMMY GAROPPOLO: BAD PRACTICE PLAYER, GOOD ACTUAL PLAYER, GOOD PRESEASON PLAYER, BAD PRESEASON PLAYER

The back-and-forth surrounding what kind of player Jimmy Garoppolo went from “good preseason player” last week back to “possibly bad preseason player.” I don’t think the hourly update on the guy is exactly necessary, but we’re pot committed at this point. 

Garoppolo was being chased in the backfield early in the fourth quarter when, seemingly in an attempt to throw the ball away, he instead gave it away. The fourth-year quarterback didn’t sail his throw nearly high enough, and thus it was picked by Denzel Rice. The Texans scored a touchdown on the ensuing series. 

Worth keeping in mind as we closely monitor Garoppolo’s practice snaps and preseason throws: He’s never thrown a pick in an actual game. 

ROBERTS HURT

Elandon Roberts was carted off in the third quarter after a collision with Jonathan Freeney. Shortly after, the Patriots announced he had a rib injury.

Earlier in the game, Vincent Valentine suffered what looked to be a left leg injury, but he returned to the game. Malcolm Mitchell was repeatedly spotted grabbing his right knee after plays. 

NOT MUCH COOKIN’ WITH TOP RECEIVERS

The second preseason game saw such receivers as Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Danny Amendola play, but there wasn’t a whole lot going on in their limited action. Cooks caught the only pass that was thrown his way for a seven-yard reception, with Amendola also making one catch for six yards. Edelman didn’t catch either of his targets, while the only pass Brady threw to Hogan was intercepted, but ruled an incompletion given that the defensive back didn’t have both feet in bounds. 

ROUGH START FOR BUTLER 

Stephon Gilmore lost out on a fumble recovery because the play on which he scooped up the ball was ruled an incomplete pass, but he probably couldn’t complain considering how the night started for fellow corner Malcolm Butler. 

The fourth-year corner was beaten along the sideline by Bruce Ellington on a jump ball for a 37-yard play on Houston’s first drive. On the following drive, Jaelen Strong beat Butler in the back of the end zone for a touchdown.  

CYRUS JONES BEGINS COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR BID

Hey, speaking of corners, something good involving Cyrus Jones happened. 

The second-year player had a 32-yard punt return in the second quarter and then a 15-yard return in the fourth. He got burned for long touchdowns zero times, which is two times less than he did in the preseason opener against the Jaguars. Progress. 

STARTERS

Offense: Cameron Fleming, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Rob Gronkowski, Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman, James Develin, Rex Burkhead, Tom Brady

Defense: Kony Ealy, Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine, Trey Flowers, Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy, David Harris, Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty

Energized Patriots defense forces 'critical swings' with turnovers

Energized Patriots defense forces 'critical swings' with turnovers

“We’re a blue-collar team…”

Devin McCourty didn’t hesitate when asked about the Patriots’ identity. Moments prior, McCourty and his teammates had just stomped the Oakland Raiders in Mexico City, 33-8, to run their win streak to a half-dozen games. The Pats are tied for the best record in the AFC with the Steelers

“We played at a high level,” said McCourty. “They made some plays, but I thought we executed our game plan and did exactly what we wanted to do today.”

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After surrendering a 100-points per game through the first month (ok, it was only 32), the Pats defense has flexed their muscle during this stretch, allowing 12.5 points per game, which would be the best in the NFL were this a season-long thing. We’re not looking at the same unit even though the personnel is largely the same. If anything, from a talent-level, this defense has less skill than it did when the season started. Their best player, Dont'a Hightower, is out for the year, lost during the first win of this 6-game streak. They’ve also survived three-game absences from $31-million cornerback Stephon Gilmore and their most consistent interior defender, tackle Malcom Brown. Yet the defense keeps showing up, keeps improving and its confidence is growing by leaps and bounds.

“We’re just playing together…we’re kind of figuring that out,” said McCourty. “We’re understanding how we need to prepare, how we need to practice, whether it’s a hard, full-padded practice, whether it’s a walkthrough, we know what we need to do on each of those days and when we do that, we give ourselves a chance. You’re seeing that on Sundays. Everyone running around, everyone knows their job and it’s all about execution.”

“I thought our players gave a great effort tonight,” said Bill Belichick. “We came out and performed well early, throughout the game and played really good situational football.”

The Pats were opportunistic, forcing three turnovers, including one in a huge spot, when Marquis Flowers stripped the ball from wideout Seth Roberts as the Raiders were knocking on the door. It was 14-0 at the time, and Oakland had life. Second-year cornerback Jon Jones battled Roberts, Flowers popped the ball free and safety Pat Chung pounced on it. Instead of milking the clock and heading into halftime up two scores, the Pats turned that fumble into points, driving to midfield before Steven Gostkowski kicked a career-long 62 yarder. That further energized a Pats team that was already surging.

“It’s something we talk about every week,” said McCourty. “We’re playing solid defense, executing the game plan, but changing the game with turnovers - you know, even Duron’s interception was a third down so it was kind of like a punt. The energy that brings - when the offense takes the field after we get a turnover - that’s huge. And then with them driving again in the red area before the half is what we talked about, getting that stop.”

“We had some real critical swings with those turnovers,” admired Tom Brady, a chief beneficiary of those change in possessions.

Earlier this week, I asked McCourty if he got a sense that the team was coming together at the tail end of their stay in Colorado Springs. He smiled and joked initially, but you could sense the veteran safety can see and feel what the rest of the league is now a witness to.

“I hope so. I mean, it’d probably be terrible if I say yeah and then we go on a five-game losing streak. I can see the headline: ‘McCourty was wrong.’ So, no, I think we understand how the season starts to pick up. You know, each game means more. We understand that seven wins (now 8) doesn’t mean anything. We have to continue to get better. So, I think why we end up usually improving is because it’s the understanding of there’s no tomorrow.”

The defense ordered that Code Red after losing to Carolina in Week 4, and since then, they have worked harder, worked longer and cleaned up so many of the issues that ailed them that opening month. It’s a credit to the players, “they won’ the game tonight,” said Belichick, and the coaching staff as well. if you’ve followed this team over the years, you know even now, they’re not satisfied. There are “things to work on” added Belichick and they’ll start that work on the flight home from Mexico City to Foxboro. 

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No doubter: Gostkowski knew he wouldn't be short on record-setting kick

No doubter: Gostkowski knew he wouldn't be short on record-setting kick

The Raiders gave Stephen Gostkowski plenty of time to think about the 62-yard kick he was about to line up when they called a timeout just before the end of the first half. Didn't matter. Gostkowski returned to his spot, watched a good snap turn into a good hold, which turned into a Patriots record.

It was the longest field goal in Patriots history, making it the longest in Stephen Gostkowski's career as he bested his previous record of 58 yards set earlier this season. It was also the perfect exclamation point to a perfect day for Gostkowski, who went four-for-four on field goals and three-for-three on extra points in his team's 33-8 win over the Raiders in Mexico City. 

When asked about the half-ending kick, Gostkowski credited his teammates for putting him in position to kick it. They got from their own seven-yard line with 33 seconds left to the Raiders 45-yard line with five seconds remaining. A 20-yard run by Dion Lewis and completions to Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski did the trick. 

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"I think every time I kick a long kick, it's Gronk who makes the catch right beforehand," Gostkowski told reporters. "It's a nice little polish connection. It was cool. You can wait your whole career and not get a kick like that. It's a very opportunistic job. You're only as good as the opportunities you get. I got a good opportunity, and I'm glad I took advantage of it."

The longest kick Gostkowski tried in warmups was from 60 yards away but he had no concerns about trying to make something longer. Having kicked at altitude all week at the Air Force Academy, he knew his range would be better than it usually is. 

"I don't usually go past 60 in warmups," he said. "I hit one and I made it by a good bit. I knew that coming up short -- if I hit it good -- probably wasn't going to happen. Warm weather, altitude, the ball is going to fly. I just tried to concentrate on getting a good foot on it , making sure it stayed straight enough. Got the opportunity, took advantage of it. It's exciting for the whole team."

Gostkowski also used the extra oomph he had in Mexico City to boot six of his seven kickoffs for touchbacks, keeping the NFL's leading return man Cordarrelle Patterson (30.8 yards per return) from burning the Patriots in that phase.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE