Patriots

Patriots-Texans: The Complete Review

Patriots-Texans: The Complete Review

At least we didn’t have to wait to see how much “the peripherals” mattered when it came to determining what kind of offseason hangover remained. Just 190 seconds into the 2018 season, Tom Brady threw a 21-yard laser to Rob Gronkowski who plucked the pass, eluded two defenders and got in over the pylon to make it 7-0. At that point and by game’s end it was abundantly clear that the two best players on the field were the two guys who went their own way all spring and most of the summer. So call it refutation. Welcome refutation. The Texans are who they’ve always been and not what I thought they were. And the Patriots are -- most likely -- the same as they ever were. Especially for the 60 minutes of football they play each week.

WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAD THE BALL

If a team can’t figure out a way to devote one player at all times to dealing with Rob Gronkowski, then it deserves what it gets. And Houston got Gronked but good as Brady threw to him eight times and found him seven for 123 yards and that game-opening touchdown. Time and again down the seam the Texans gave Gronk too much room. Or maybe they just thought that Brady wouldn’t throw it to him when they had him semi-covered. Gronk thought the same. Of his diving catch late in the first half, Gronk said, “I was running up the seam I had two guys on me and when I saw the ball in the air I literally thought first thing, “What is Tom [Brady] thinking?” When that ball was in the air I had a guy grabbing me and I was just like, “I’ve just got to go for it.” I can’t let them make a play on it, so just went up for it, made the catch. I did make the catch. I don’t know how. When I went to the ground I had it stable in my hand, so it was definitely a catch, but Tom went up to the line really quick just to make sure.” Brady finished 26 for 39 for 277 with three TDs and a pick off a tipped pass. He got great protection for about 70 percent of the game before things got hairy later on. Still, the Patriots turned away the Texans athletic front-seven in impressive fashion and Brady did a good job getting more from Phillip Dorsett (7 targets, 7 catches, 66 yards) than anyone really has. Tough blow losing Jeremy Hill, whose running style fit perfectly. Rex Burkhead did the heavy lifting (18 carries for 64 yards) and James Develin wound up with four catches for 22 yards, the final one being an important 10-yard pickup. The Patriots worked to get Cordarelle Patterson some touches in space. He didn’t make much happen but there was enough there to keep working that angle.

WHEN THE TEXANS HAD THE BALL

The Patriots defense held the Texans to 2 for 11 on third down. The rush and coverage were synced up nicely in the first half especially when they held Houston to 141 yards of offense and harassed Watson into a 5 for 13 start with a pick. Watson was bothered in the pocket and the Patriots got to him for three sacks and forced several inaccurate throws on the move. A lot of credit goes to pass rush discipline on the edges and what appeared to be a more aggressive effort to disrupt Watson as opposed to living in fear of the scramble. Even though the last 10 minutes weren’t great, the secondary did a very good job most of the game disrupting receivers as the ball arrived. DeAndre Hopkins was targeted 11 times, caught eight and finished with 78 yards receiving, less than what you’d expect from him with eight catches. Ja’Whaun Bentley, Deatrich Wise, Lawrence Guy, Dont’a Hightower, Trey Flowers, Kyle Van Noy and Adrian Clayborn were a big part of the success up front.

THE KICKING GAME

The Patriots put Riley McCarron back to field punts. He fair caught one at the Patriots 6. Not ideal. He muffed another one in the fourth to set up a Texans touchdown that closed the lead to seven. Even less ideal. Punter Ryan Allen bailed the Pats out with a terrific punt late that was downed at the Texans 1 by Jonathan Jones. Allen had a very good day. The Patriots kick coverage wasn’t terrific. Tyler Ervin averaged 31.2 yards on his returns. Stephen Gostkowski was good from 35 and 39.

PATRIOTS MEDICAL REPORT

Jeremy Hill suffered a knee injury. Worst case, it’s an ACL. Best case it’s an MCL.

TEXANS MEDICAL REPORT

Kevin Johnson and Seantrel Henderson were forced from the game for the Texans.

TEXANS HAD TO STOP...

James White. White is the Patriots best threat when it comes to creating short-area separation in the passing game. Without potent threats on the perimeter and attention being paid to Gronk, White should get some 1-on-1s he can feast on.

AND WHAT HAPPENED...

I figured the Texans would devote two guys to erasing Gronk and that would leave a lot on White to make people miss in open space. The Texans were awful on Gronk. White hurt them as well with four catches for 38 yards and a 12-yard touchdown.

PATRIOTS HAD TO STOP...

Deshaun Watson. The pass rush just can’t get overly rambunctious and leave creases for Watson to wander into and buy time to set his feet and survey. As improved as the New England defense is, they still don’t have great coverage at the linebacker level and Watson could feast on those restarts.

AND WHAT HAPPENED...

A combination of patience, discipline and aggressiveness. That’s how Deatrich Wise described the Patriots approach to dealing with the Texans quarterback. Watson ran eight times for 40 yards and went 17 for 34 for 16 yards with a TD pass and a pick.

THAT SUMS IT UP PATRIOTS STYLE

“Guys that are big, fast, athletic, can throw the ball all over the field, there's only a couple of them in the league and so to have them on your team would be unusual. You just do the best you can on that and try to give the defense the best look as you can at what they do. Sometimes that might be putting a receiver or somebody like that at quarterback … if you've got guys that are unique players that have special skills then you can't replicate them. Neither can anybody else except for the team that has that guy. You just try to do the best you can and take what you have and try to simulate it.” – Bill Belichick on the difficulty of preparing for Deshaun Watson.  

A-plus job of preparing for Watson this week. Maybe he isn’t where he will be later in the season as he comes back from that ACL but the Patriots did a very good job hemming him in and forcing less than accurate throws.

THAT SUMS IT UP TEXANS STYLE

 “People talk about the later parts of his career. I don’t really see where his – you know, I don’t know when his career’s going to be over because he’s playing at a – I mean, he was the MVP last year, you know what I mean? So, like when is his – I don’t even know what the definition of latter part of this guy’s career would be. He’s the MVP of the league last year.” – Texans coach Bill O’Brien, flummoxed by a question about Tom Brady in the autumn of his career.  

One of the biggest plays in the game was Brady finding James Develin for 10 yards on a second-and-8 play after the two-minute warning. Brady bought time, wandered around, scrambled and then threw a dart on the run to Develin for a first down that forced the Texans to burn all their timeouts.

THE CREW AND THE LINE

Tony Corrente and the boys were the crew in town for this one. I always confuse Pete Morelli and Tony Corrente so this isn’t as bad as I initially thought. Pete Morelli could screw up a walk to the mailbox. The Patriots were favored by 6.5 and the total was 50.

Patriots cover and this is an under. Meanwhile, Tony’s crew … a gentleman’s C. They should have done a booth review on Gronk’s catch late in the first half. They appeared to severely bungle one of the two holds on Stephon Gilmore in the fourth quarter … there were some egregious offensive holds going on that appeared to draw flags but got lost in the flood. Also, the helmet clash that drove Texans corner Kevin Johnson from the game was an instance where both players lowered and hit with the crown and neither could be described as “bracing.” I’m sure there were other mistakes. The penalties were even, six each.

Report: Raiders prepared to offer Tom Brady two-year, $60 million deal

Report: Raiders prepared to offer Tom Brady two-year, $60 million deal

We have an actual dollar figure attached to the swirling rumors of various Tom Brady free agency landing spots.

The Brady-to-Las Vegas speculation has been out there since TB12 was spotted chatting up Raiders owner Marc Davis at the Connor McGregor-Cowboy Cerrone fight in Vegas last month. Now, veteran NFL reporter Larry Fitzgerald Sr. (father of the Arizona Cardinals wide receiver) reports that Davis' Raiders are prepared to offer TB12 a two-year, $60 million deal.

It's interesting to note that Larry Fitzgerald Jr., like Brady, is a long-time interviewee of Jim Gray on Westwood One's broadcasts of Monday and Thursday night NFL games. 

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While Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported on Super Bowl Sunday that the Patriots are willing to go beyond $30 million a year to retain Brady, it's unclear if New England would make a multi-year offer, since the face of the franchise, who'll turn 43 in August, essentially worked under a one-year deal this past season. 

Our Tom Curran has reported that while the Patriots will "extend themselves" financially to retain Brady, money is likely not the most important factor to the QB.

As Curran wrote Friday:

The persuasion in the Patriots pitch has to revolve around "who" and not "how much." The team that Brady plays for in 2020 won’t be the winner of a bidding war, it will be the one that provides the best ready-made landing spot to compete for a championship and have a shitload of fun while doing it.

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In Tom Brady's case, are NFL tampering rules made to be broken?

In Tom Brady's case, are NFL tampering rules made to be broken?

If Robert Kraft ever commissioned a sculptor to carve “10 Patriots Commandments” you’d be sure to find, “Thou Shalt Not Tamper With Our Employees” somewhere on that stone tablet.

Throughout Kraft’s ownership and Bill Belichick’s stewardship of the football operations, loyalty has been rewarded and betrayal punished.

From January 1997, when the Jets were monkeying around with Bill Parcells when the Patriots were getting ready for Super Bowl 31 against the Packers, through June 2019, when the Texans made their overtures to Nick Caserio, the Patriots have made one thing very clear: they aren’t going to be patsies when it comes to other teams trying to lure their people away.

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Which brings us to Tom Brady. As everything does. Do the Patriots care that a stealth parade of suitors is probably all up on him already?

Is this uber-protective organization fine with half of the league’s teams sniffing under the tail of the most important player in franchise history before they’re supposed to?

Rampant tampering with prospective free agents isn’t the NFL’s dirty little secret.

It’s not dirty since it’s somewhat necessary.

It’s not little since every team does it.

And it’s not even treated as a secret.

This week, the estimable and honorable Tedy Bruschi was asked about Brady on ESPN.
 

“I think he’s gonna see what’s out there for himself,” said Bruschi. “Matter of fact, I know he will. But I don’t think he’s going to have to wait until March 16 because you’ve got agents, you’ve got talk going on behind the scenes and I think he has an idea on the teams that are highly interested in him ... He will explore his options and he has the right to do so.”

The question then becomes what’s the league office going to do about it?

We all know the NFL’s penchant for selective rules enforcement. We all know they’ll happily string the Patriots up for transgressions real or imagined and let them twist in the wind. We all know the so-called Spygate II investigation that could have been cleared up in 20 minutes is still ongoing.

So, even if everybody’s doing it, isn’t it a little (a lot) hypocritical for the league to turn a blind eye to teams crawling up the trellis to slip in Brady’s window after dark?

Yes, it is. But a little hypocrisy never slowed the league down from doing anything.

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Besides, they might say, tampering with Tom Brady is actually a victimless crime. It actually does the Patriots a favor.

If Brady and his agent Don Yee have a sense of what’s out there before they start negotiating with New England, then the need for Brady to go on a free-agent tour is eliminated.

If Team Brady has no clue, then Yee starts from scratch when the legal tampering period begins March 16 at noon. 

There’s no way to vet each of the opportunities -- a source close to the situation figures there will be 10 teams expressing interest -- before free agency starts March 18 at 4 p.m.

Meanwhile, how are the Patriots supposed to convince free-agent tight ends or wideouts to come aboard if those players don’t know whether or not Tom Brady will be a Patriot? It’s easily argued that outside teams tampering with Brady is in the Patriots’ best interests.

Besides, if this really isn’t about the money -- and I’ve been told often enough that it isn’t -- it won’t matter if some crap-ass team is offering $70 million over two years.

The persuasion in the Patriots pitch has to revolve around "who" and not "how much." The team that Brady plays for in 2020 won’t be the winner of a bidding war, it will be the one that provides the best ready-made landing spot to compete for a championship and have a shitload of fun while doing it.

All that said, it will still seem odd to me if the Patriots -- whether it be Kraft or Belichick -- don’t somehow have their sense of honor offended by all the predicted sneaking around.

It’s always offended their sensibilities going back to January 1997 when it came to light that Bill Parcells spent the week leading up to Super Bowl 31 ringing up the Jets from his New Orleans hotel room instead of getting the Patriots ready to play the Packers.

The Krafts were apoplectic. Belichick, an assistant on that 1996 Patriots team, was pissed too.

"Yeah, I'd say it was a little bit of a distraction all the way around," Belichick told our Michael Holley for Holley’s book Patriot Reign. "I can tell you first hand, there was a lot of stuff going on prior to the game. I mean, him talking to other teams. He was trying to make up his mind about what he was going to do. Which, honestly, I felt [was] totally inappropriate. How many chances do you get to play for the Super Bowl? Tell them to get back to you in a couple of days. I'm not saying it was disrespectful to me, but it was in terms of the overall commitment to the team."

Every situation’s different, I guess. In this case, the tampering rules were made to be broken.