The New England Patriots absolutely needed to win Sunday's Week 11 game against the Houston Texans but fell a little short in a 27-20 loss at NRG Stadium.
The Patriots defense struggled throughout the game and put the team in a 21-10 hole at halftime. Patriots quarterback Cam Newton did his best trying to mount a second-half comeback, but it wasn't enough.
The Texans defense came into Week 11 giving up 28 points per game and allowing the most rushing yards per contest. It seemed like a great matchup for a Patriots team riding the momentum of back-to-back wins that were powered by an impressive rushing attack.
But the Patriots managed just 87 yards (3.5 per carry) against the league's worst run defense and couldn't make enough plays in the passing game.
New England is 4-6 and will host the Arizona Cardinals next week at Gillette Stadium.
Here are four instant overreactions to the Patriots' loss against the Texans.
1. Awful loss is likely fatal to Pats' playoff hopes
The Patriots already faced a tough road toward returning to the AFC playoffs before Sunday's game, and this loss to a struggling Texans team that had won only two games through 10 weeks is a potentially fatal one for New England.
This team had seven games left after beating the Baltimore Ravens last week, and three of them were must-win matchups versus inferior teams -- Week 11 vs. Texans, Week 13 vs. Chargers and Week 17 vs. Jets. The Patriots had little room for error if they hoped to make the playoffs for a 12th consecutive season, and now they probably won't earn a postseason berth regardless of how they finish out.
New England's upcoming schedule isn't easy. Four of the next five games are against teams with a very good chance of making the playoffs -- Week 12 vs. Cardinals, Week 14 at Rams, Week 15 at Dolphins and Week 16 vs. Bills.
The Patriots likely need a perfect 6-0 end to the regular season, plus help from other teams to make the playoffs. The chances of this scenario unfolding are very small.
2. Damiere Byrd was the Patriots' MVP vs. Texans
The Patriots badly needed a wide receiver to step up and Damiere Byrd answered the bell.
Jakobi Meyers was the most likely candidate to give the Patriots a boost at wide receiver given his impressive production over the last three weeks, but the second-year wideout was mostly ineffective versus Houston with three catches for 38 yards.
Byrd tallied six receptions for a season-high 132 yards and his first touchdown with the Patriots. It was a 42-yard strike in the third quarter on a great route by Byrd and a tremendous deep throw by Newton.
The challenge for Byrd, similar to the rest of the Patriots wide receivers, is having this level of production on a consistent basis. Byrd has given some quality performances this season, but he's yet to tally 40 or more yards in back-to-back games.
Byrd has great speed and is a talented route runner. Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels should run more plays where Newton can target Byrd deep down field.
3. Rex Burkhead injury could be huge deal for Pats
Burkhead suffered an ugly-looking knee injury in the third quarter and was quickly ruled out for the remainder of the game. It's not known at this time if the veteran running back will miss any more game action due to this injury, but if he does, it would be a tough blow to the Pats.
Burkhead leads all Patriots running backs with six total touchdowns this season. His ability to run the football effectively -- especially in short yardage situations -- and catch it out of the backfield adds valuable versatility to the offense.
The Patriots already are having their depth tested at running back with Sony Michel and J.J. Taylor both inactive Sunday. Damien Harris started at running back against the Texans but was questionable on Friday's injury report with ankle/chest issues.
Burkhead's on-field production and dependability -- he's the only running back to play in all 10 of the team's games -- would be sorely missed if he's sidelined further.
4. Deshaun Watson deserves much better
It's kind of stunning the Texans were 2-7 entering Week 11 when they have a quarterback as good as Deshaun Watson. He is absolutely sensational.
Watson completed 28 of 37 passes for 344 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions, while also leading Houston with 36 rushing yards and another touchdown on the ground. He's now thrown 11 touchdowns with no interceptions over his last five games.
Unfortunately for Watson, he's surrounded by very little talent on both sides of the ball.
In fairness, he does have some quality wide receivers -- Brandin Cooks, Will Fuller, etc. -- but Houston has one of the worst rushing attacks in the league. The Texans rank 31st in rushing yards per game and are one of seven teams averaging less than four yards per carry. Starting running back David Johnson, who Houston acquired from the Cardinals in a horrendous deal that sent elite wideout DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona, is currently sidelined with an injury. Houston's offensive line hasn't played too well, either, giving up the ninth-most sacks entering Sunday.
Houston's had a tough schedule this season, and it also has made several awful roster transactions over the last few years, but there's no excuse for this team's record through 11 weeks. The Texans are wasting the prime of a top-tier young quarterback, and if they don't right the ship soon, maybe Watson will want to take his talents elsewhere.