Patriots

Patriots 'got to play to the last second' in win over Texans

Patriots 'got to play to the last second' in win over Texans

Tom Brady bailed the Patriots out again. With just 29 seconds left in Sunday’s game with Houston, the 40-year old quarterback/surgeon dropped back, froze the safety with his eyes and delivered the game-winning 25-yard touchdown pass to Brandin Cooks. Gillette Stadium erupted.

“They were playing a two-high defense and we got Cookie (Brandin Cooks) behind the corner,” said Brady shortly after the game. “We had Danny (Amendola) going up the middle of the field, so I tried to stare down the middle and then put it up and didn't really see the end of it until I saw it on the scoreboard. It was close, and then they reviewed it. I'm glad we got the two-point play. It was a great win. Got to play to the last second.”

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The review was necessary because Cooks was awfully close to being out of bounds. But the third-year pro had the wherewithal to know his position on the field and what his feet and body needed to do.

“It’s one of those things you don’t really work on in practice,” said Cooks on keeping his feet inbounds. “It happens in practice but it’s more of a natural instinct.”

The effort was appreciated.

“It was awesome,” said Rob Gronkowski. “I was just jamming [on] that play. I saw Tom [Brady] release the ball and [Brandin] Cooks open. I was like, ‘Please have this complete for a touchdown’. I was like, ‘I see Cooks wide open,’ and it was a great throw.”

“Cooks, obviously, on the last play against Cover-2 down the sideline made a great catch there.” said Bill Belichick. He wasn’t smiling but you know he was - somewhere on the inside.

Of course, the ending almost didn’t come to fruition. The Pats had a couple of bad three-and-outs earlier in the 4th quarter, and then decided to add an extra 10 yards to what goes down in the record books as a 75-yard drive but actually covered 85 thanks to a David Andrews holding penalty.

“Yeah, we kept making it hard,” recalled Brady. “I mean, we had penalties and then the sack and the fumble and it just kept feeling like we were going backwards.”

“We played bad for a lot of the game,” admitted left tackle Nate Solder. “Not up to our standard, but when you win and pull off a win in tough circumstances, there’s something to be said for that. It’s building block.”

The drive didn’t have life until the first of two third down conversions. Brady hooking up with Gronkowski short of the sticks. Gronk willing his way to move the chains.

“I know a lot of people look up to me to get the drive going, to make the first play to get everyone rolling,” said the tight end. “It was about third-and-12 I would say and I just knew that – I saw the defense, I saw the coverage and I knew that I had to make a play there. Tom [Brady] read it pretty good and threw a really good pass and I just made the catch and I saw where the first down marker was and I knew I had to get it to get us rolling in that [two minute drill]. Everyone did their job from there on out.”

Brady then hit Cooks for 18 yards to move the ball past midfield. But then came the next roadblock. Brady was sacked and fumbled the ball. Andrews alertly recovered it, but now the Pats were operating from their own 48. An incomplete down the deep middle to Cooks on 2nd down had the Pats facing third-and-18 with just 54 seconds to play. Enter Danny Amendola. 

“They were playing kind of a deep man coverage/ zone that turned into man after 25 yards,” recalled Amendola. “I had a deeper route. Me and Hoagie {Chris Hogan} crossed. I came out the backdoor and it worked out.”

“Danny made a really awesome catch,” added Hogan.

That set the stage for Brady to Cooks. 

“Tommy Ice came out and did his thing,” said defensive end Cassius Marsh.

“I mean, that’s the way you write it,” said Hogan, smiling. “it was a great drive by everyone on that offense.”

Inevitable, it seemed, but the reality was far more difficult.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

QUICK SLANTS PODCAST: Belichick ignoring noise? Or trying to change the narrative?

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QUICK SLANTS PODCAST: Belichick ignoring noise? Or trying to change the narrative?

3:00 Why has Bill Belichick been so surprisingly positive of his team’s performance in tight wins?

6:30 Phil Perry breaks down what grades he gave the Patriots on his report card following the win over the Jets

15:00 Reaction to the Austin-Seferian Jenkins overturned touchdown, and what changes need to be made in the NFL replay system. 

23:00 Why was Patriots offensive line much more effective against Jets?

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

25:00 Patriots-Falcons preview, how did Falcons blow a 17 point lead to the Dolphins?

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

FOXBORO - We’re not quite at the point of fire and brimstone coming down from the skies, or 40 years of darkness, or even dogs and cats living together, but this Patriots season isn’t headed down the right path, despite a 4-2 record and the top spot in the AFC East. 

There are several elements that appear missing at this juncture - chief among them a defense that actually has a clue. Please don’t celebrate holding the Jets to 17 points - I’m looking at you, Dont’a Hightower. Josh McCown threw for just 194 yards against the Cleveland freakin’ Browns for goodness sake, but he got you for 354 and two scores?! Even the 2009 Patriots defense is offended by that.

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We’d be foolish to think the Pats can’t get this leaky unit fixed for reasons so obvious I won’t state them in this space so as not to waste my time or yours. We also know - long before Bill Belichick’s 6 1/2-minute explanation on the Monday conference call - that it's not supposed to be perfect right now. Actually, it’ll never be perfect. That’s not how this game works. 

Yet week after week, we see uncommon breakdowns and one defender looking at the next as if to say, “I thought you had him?” or more to the point, “what the hell were you doing?” It started Sunday at MetLife on the third play of the game. Malcolm Butler, playing 10 yards off Robby Anderson, looking as if he’s never played the position before, inexplicably turning his back on Anderson even though the wide receiver makes no real move to the post. That results in just about the easiest completion of McCown’s life, a 23-yarder on third-and-10. 

On the same series, on another third-and-long, the Pats rushed four and dropped seven into coverage. Defensive end Cassius Marsh continued his season-long trend of rushing so far upfield he ended up in Hoboken. With Deatrich Wise ridden outside on the opposite edge, McCown wisely stepped up and found prime real estate with New York City views. He wanted to throw and could have when the Pats fouled up a crossing route from the backside of the play. But with that much room to roam, McCown took off, scooting for a quick 16 yards and another first down.

Fittingly, that drive ended with a Jets touchdown on yet another dumb play, this one courtesy of Mr. Hit or Miss, Elandon Roberts. Channeling his inner Brandon Spikes, the second-year pro blew off his key and responsibility on third-and-goal from the 1, charging hard to the line. This, despite one of the most feeble play-action fakes you’ll see. In fact, I’m not even sure it was a real play-action fake. Anyway, score it as a touchdown to Austin Seferian-Jenkins and an indictment on David Harris, who apparently can’t vault past the erratic Roberts on the depth chart.

Similar to the week prior in Tampa, the Pats found better footing after that. They forced three straight three-and-outs in the second quarter and then helped turn the game when Butler intercepted an ill-advised throw by McCown just prior to the half. They got another turnover to start the third, with Butler coming off the edge on fourth-and-1 and forcing McCown into panic mode. The veteran QB fired an off-target throw to - get this - a wide open receiver who went uncovered on a drag route and Devin McCourty was gifted an interception.

But this group frowns on prosperity. It took a little-seen rule to prevent a Seferian-Jenkins touchdown in the fourth, and on the game’s final drive, the Pats allowed a 32-yard completion on fourth-and-12. Then, on what turned out to be the Jets final play, the Pats let Tavaris Cadet leak out of the backfield and run unchecked 20 yards down the field. Had McCown not soiled himself again, Gang Green would have had a first down and at least one crack at the end zone. Then, who knows what the heck happens?

It was just a season ago that the Patriots led the entire NFL in scoring defense. If you’ll recall, we spent a better part of the year wondering if that defense was championship quality. Turns out they were. Right now, we’re wondering once again if this defense is of that ilk, but through an entirely different prism. It’s on the players and staff to change the current outlook, or those cats and dogs will have to figure out their shared space.