MOST SURPRISING START
Houston's offensive struggles are no secret. The Texans entered Sunday's game against New England ranked 30th in the NFL for points per game (18.1). Despite gaining 363.5 yards per game, the team just hasn't been able to translate points. And yet Case Keenum, an undrafted rookie quarterback picked up in 2012, drove 50 yards in just over two minutes to score against the Patriots defense on his second drive of the game. It didn't hurt the hone team started at its own 48-yard line. But the quick score had to make New England sit up and take the Texans offense seriously in a hurry.
QUICKEST MOMENTUM KILLER
The Patriots got off to a decent start on their chance to answer. Starting at their own 24, they got to the 49 before the drive blew up. On third-and-3, quarterback Tom Brady saw pressure and floated the ball over the middle of the field. It was a flat out bad throw, forced to tight end Rob Gronkowski who was well covered. Johnathan Joseph was inside the route and swooped in easily for the interception. Brady's reaction is not printable.
SWEETEST SIGHT FOR SORE EYES
New England actually returned a kick. Really. Josh Boyce, who's been active just once in the last six games, got back on the field against Houston and was tapped for the return game. His second attempt was a beauty. Boyce began by ripping up the middle of the field before veering off toward the sideline to get outside contain. He ran 41 yards to his team's own 45-yard line. It was the longest return for New England all season. And the offense needed just six plays off the excellent field position to score. More on that in a minute.
COOLEST QUADRUPLE MOVE
As if there would be another. Still. The offensive line served Brady well in the first quarter; the QB could have enjoyed a snack after each snap with all the time he had to throw. Combine that with the athleticism of Rob Gronkowski and sometimes good things happen. Like on third-and-8 from Houston's 23. Brady passed deep left but low to his big tight end. Gronkowski shook off former Patriots linebacker Jeff Tarpinian with a ridiculous quadruple move and somehow got down enough to pull the ball off the ground on the reception. Touchdown.
TOUGHEST DEFENSIVE STAND
Houston was up 10-7 when it continued a drive into the second quarter. And the team was driving. Small gains were punctuated by a 27-yard reception by Keshawn Martin on third-and-5. But New England's defense started pushing back and turned the following first-and-10 into a third-and-15. Three different players converged on Keenum as the QB looked to standout rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Defensive end Andre Carter slammed into Keenum on the throw and the pass was thrown off track. Cornerback Logan Ryan was the beneficiary of the play; he was in prime position for a pick.
James Develin had never carried a football in an NFL game before Sunday. It's no wonder the fullback looked so hungry against Houston. Brady first threw to Shane Vereen on his third quarter touchdown look and it appeared the running back crossed into the end zone, but officials waved off the score and gave the Patriots a first-and-goal situation. That's when the ball was handed off to Develin. The graduate from Brown got stuffed on his run up the middle, but he rolled off the tackles and kept going. He got hit two, three, four more times before he found daylight and punched the ball in. It was a tremendous play by the mechanical engineer. Houston's lead was cut to 3 points.
MOST PERFECT DEFENSIVE FOLLOW-UP
Develin's touchdown could have loomed even larger on Houston if New England's defense could follow it up with a stop. Well, that's exactly what happened. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski started it off right on special teams by booming a touchback. Keenum's first attempt fell incomplete. Ben Tate was stopped just short of a conversion on the following down. Up next was a crucial third-and-1. Keenum gave the ball back to Tate but the back was stuffed by Joe Vellano for no gain. Three-and-out.
GUTSIEST WAY TO END A DRIVE
You want to talk about a momentum shift? New England's next series was smooth as hell. The 7-play, 73-yard drive contained five first downs. The most impressive play might have been the touchdown throw. It was a first-and-9 on Houston's 9-yard line. Brady got into shotgun. Not long after the snap, Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, who was last season's AP Defensive Player of the Year, got loose and started charging after Brady. But the quarterback calmly stood his ground and completed a scoring pass to Vereen. That's poise.
SHARPEST KICK IN THE GROIN
Just when you thought Houston was falling down, the team threw New England off and got back up. The Texans put together a beautiful third quarter drive to keep the Patriots on their toes. Martin and Johnson opened things up with back-to-back receptions for 21 and 28 yards, respectively. Then Houston ran it and ran it, straight to the teeth of New England's defense. The 10th play, the last play of the 81-yard series, was a killer. Houston spread out the 'D' and ran a sweep. Keenum took the ball and ran five yards completely untouched into the end zone. The Texans were up 24-21 at the end of the quarter.
MOST UNDERRATED PERFORMANCE (AGAIN)
New England ended up winning by three points. That number should have more meaning than it probably will. True, Gostkowski missed a field goal for the first time since September, but the missed kick against was a 55-yarder and would have been a career-best. He had an otherwise fantastic day. Gostkowski otherwise nailed two 53-yard field goals, including the game winner. If any doubt remains in New England choosing him… well, there shouldn't be.