FOXBORO -- Trey Flowers sat in front of his locker after Sunday's win over the Texans and shook his head as he looked down at his feet. It was almost as if he was wondering how he could've made himself quicker in order to better track down quarterback Deshaun Watson.
"Yeah," he said, "he's slippery, man."
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The Texans arrived in New England with a terrific defense. That much was well-known. The Patriots understood they'd have a lot to handle on that side of the ball in JJ Watt, Whitney Mercilus, Jadeveon Clowney and Bernardrick McKinney -- a group Bill Belichick called "The Big Four" after the game.
And while the Patriots respected Watson's athleticism after seeing him up close in joint practices in West Virginia last month, the rookie out of Clemson caught them off guard with how he was able to use his escapability in order to extend plays and pick up key gains with his arm.
"He’s tough, man," said Devin McCourty. "When you’re in the secondary, you look back there and it looks like you got him a couple times, and then he breaks out, he goes left, he goes right. He made a lot of plays, and I think it was kind of the next step for him because, you know, we watched his Cincinnati film and it was kind of like . . . no one open. He tucked and then he made a play with his legs, which he did a little bit of that today, but he was able to kind of move left and right a little bit and then get his eyes back downfield, which puts a lot of pressure on us defensively. That guy is going to be a great quarterback."
Watson went 22-for-33 with 301 yards passing, two touchdowns and two picks (one of which came on a Hail Mary on the game's last play). He also ran for 41 yards on eight carries. Along the way, Watson put together a handful of eye-popping plays that had Patriots defenders wondering what they could've done better.
SECOND QUARTER, 9:40 REMAINING, 3RD AND 5, 6-YARD SCRAMBLE
Working on right guard Greg Mancz, Patriots rookie defensive tackle Adam Butler learned just how quickly Watson moves in and out of the pocket. After hitting the deck on initial contact, Butler got to his feet and looked like he might have a shot at tackling Watson for a sack.
Instead, Watson blew by Butler to convert a first down.
"He's just a talented player, man . . . He's just one exceptional guy out of all the quarterbacks," Butler said. "He's similar to Cam Newton. A little bit more shifty. The guy made plays on his feet. Can't take anything away from him."
SECOND QUARTER, 7:52 REMAINING, THIRD AND 10, 4-YARD PASS
Watson wasn't able to keep the chains moving on this third-down play, but it was impressive nonetheless. After buying himself some time in the pocket, Watson found running back Tyler Ervin in a one-on-one situation with Patrick Chung.
His only problem was that Patriots rookie end Deatrich Wise was draped on his legs. It didn't seem to matter as Watson hit Ervin for a gain of four, keeping the subsequent field-goal attempt at the 40-yard range. Had he taken the sack, Ka'imi Fairbairn would have been lining up a kick that was more in the range of 50 yards.
Two plays before this one, Watson dropped more than 20 yards straight behind the line of scrimmage to avoid the rush and found Ryan Griffin back at the line for no gain. Chalk it up as another play that saved the eventual field-goal attempt.
"It does get frustrating at times," Wise admitted later. "You see that you have him in vision and all of a sudden he’s somewhere else and everybody is hopping over each other. It kind of gets frustrating, but you just have to be more technically sound."
Fairbairn's eventual field goal made the score 14-13.
SECOND QUARTER, 1:50 REMAINING, 2ND AND 6, 5-YARD SCRAMBLE
Flowers earned his third sack of the season in the fourth quarter, shoving Watson out of bounds while racing from his spot in coverage in the flat. Flowers probably thought he had his fourth with 1:50 left in the second quarter.
The third-year end out of Arkansas won off the snap and muscled his way into the Texans backfield. He had a free shot at Watson. Despite getting a good grip on him (pictured above), Flowers couldn't wrestle him to the ground. And to make matters worse, Flowers collided with Wise and was spotted limping after the play.
"That’s just football these days," Flowers said when asked about chasing Watson. "You got a lot of athletic and mobile quarterbacks, so you think your job is done once you defeat the offensive lineman, but you got another job just to get a guy like him down and kind of chase him. We knew what he was capable of coming into this game. We were just trying to put as much pressure on him and make him look at us as much as possible. You know when he’s looking at us [the defense], he’s not looking downfield."
THIRD QUARTER, 9:53 REMAINING, 2ND AND 22, 35-YARD PASS
Part of the reason Watson is playing so early into his rookie season is that the Texans offensive line is so porous that it rarely gave pocket-passer Tom Savage an opportunity to sit back and make a comfortable throw. That's still the case with Watson, but his legs allow him to find wherever the open space exists and play from there.
With just under 10 minutes left in the third quarter, after being quickly flushed from the pocket, that open space was about 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage and outside the tackle box, near the Gillette Stadium turf's painted numbers.
Despite having Lawrence Guy in his face -- and taking a bone-rattling hit from Guy immediately after he threw -- Watson found tight end Ryan Griffin on the opposite side of the field for a 35-yard gain and a first down.
"He scrambled left one time and threw all the way across his body back to the right, which everyone says you shouldn’t do, and he threw a perfect pass," McCourty said. "We’ve got a lot of work because next week, I mean, that guy coming in here can do that better than anyone in the NFL. That’s something, obviously, we’ve got to keep working on. We talked about it, but it’s tough. He’s a good player."
McCourty, like Adam Butler, saw shades of Cam Newton in Watson's game. They weren't the only ones.
"He’s a handful," said Malcolm Butler. "Running around, people diving at him, missing him . . . That’s an [up-and-coming] Cam Newton."
FOURTH QUARTER, 5:21 REMAINING, 1ST AND 20, 31-YARD PASS
Perhaps Watson's most impressive play was one of his last. Running for much of the afternoon in near 90-degree temperatures in Foxboro, he still had enough gas left in the tank to make four Patriots miss on a first-and-20 play late in the fourth quarter.
First, it was Malcom Brown who was robbed of a sack. Adam Butler, Kyle Van Noy and Guy all had their shots as well. But Watson got away, he found running back D'Onta Foreman in open space, and he let the rookie running back rumble for 31 yards.
"It's frustrating when he just does that little head fake," Butler said after the game. "That's enough to make you stutter for that quick second for him to escape. It's definitely frustrating. You have the whole job of defeating the offensive line in the first place. Then you have a whole other job to get this guy down."
The Patriots admitted after the game that Watson's talent was unmistakable, but they also acknowledged that many of his big plays were because of mistakes they made, and they know they have plenty of work ahead of them before seeing the Panthers in Week 4.
"It’s just a constant work in progress," McCourty said. "We’ve just got to keep after it. No plays are the same. We gave up some big plays on this guy scrambling and throwing it back, which is not the drop back, throw it down the field, pick play or something like that -- which, we fixed that today -- but that’s the NFL. It’s always going to be something new.
"I think today, obviously, was a tough test with Watson, but it doesn’t get easier next week with Cam Newton. So, I think the good thing is we’ll get to break this film down and we have to be highly critical of how we played against Watson because we’re going to see something similar next Sunday."