The Patriots were a middle-of-the-pack fourth-down offense coming into Sunday's matchup with the Texans, ranking 19th.
But not so bad that when facing a fourth-and-one situation with 7:14 left in the third quarter at the Houston 42-yard line that they were afraid to go for it.
Quite the opposite, actually. Down 14-3 at the time, they'd had trouble sustaining drives for more than half the game. They were desperate to keep one going in Texans territory, so they gave it a shot.
Didn't work out. Led to a Houston touchdown that — given the way the Patriots offense was moving — seemed to put the game out of reach.
That's our Turning Point from this weekend's 28-22 loss for the Patriots. The fourth-down play itself, which we'll get to, wasn't necessarily the line of demarcation for where things went wrong for the Patriots.
You could've pointed to Tom Brady's first-quarter interception when he targeted N'Keal Harry for the first and only time that night.
You could've actually pointed to the third-down play before the fourth-down failure. Mohamed Sanu ran a crossing route right at the line to gain for a first down, then attacked Brady's pass as it approached. That's typically what the quarterback wants so his passes aren't undercut and broken up. But Sanu's path to the ball — an aggressive one — actually had him marked short of the sticks when he went down. Had he taken his route a yard deeper, then worked back to the ball, the outcome of the game might be different.
As it was, the Patriots went for it on fourth-and-short. Houston answered with six players right up on the line of scrimmage in the box. They were going to take away the quarterback sneak and any interior run.
The Patriots countered with a play-action pass, faking to Sony Michel in order to draw those box defenders forward and in the process open up the middle of the field for an easy throw.
Texans linebacker Zach Cunningham sniffed out the play-action quickly, though, dropped back to the middle of the field, gave Sanu a shove — which is allowed within five yards of the line of scrimmage before the ball is thrown — and Sanu was disrupted as the ball approached.
The play probably should've been called pass interference on Cunningham given that he was still contacting Sanu while Brady's pass was in the air. But it wasn't. It goes down as a drop and a turnover on downs.
After a long third-down completion to Kenny Stills, Watson had the Texans within striking distance. He had a touchdown pass to Will Fuller wiped off the board after review, but on the very next play, he hit Stills again for a 25-yard touchdown. The coverage by Jonathan Jones on the play was solid, but on third-and-10 the Patriots rushed five and got no pressure on Watson. He spotted Stills in single-coverage — with top option DeAndre Hopkins doubled — and hit him.
That made the score 21-3, putting a stuck-in-neutral Patriots offense in a bind the rest of the way.
The 14-3 lead the Patriots faced before our Turning Point seemed significant enough, but with Sanu dropping the fourth-down play — or running to a less-than-ideal depth on the third-down play before — they made a difficult situation even more so.
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