New England Patriots leave Houston with more questions than answers

Kyle Dugger #23 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Kyle Dugger #23 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

A win is a win, and that certainly couldn’t be more true for the New England Patriots. Despite pulling off an impressive 13 point comeback against the Houston Texans yesterday afternoon, the Patriots labored through another up-and-down outing, and were barely able to pull out a victory over the lowly Texans. After nearly pulling off an upset victory last weekend against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the team took a couple steps back despite coming away with a win.

That’s surprisingly in line with how the rest of their season has gone. They have looked competent enough in their losses, to the point where they had a real shot at winning each game in the fourth quarter. Conversely, they have looked rather mediocre in their two wins, and have really only pulled out victories due to their opponents struggles.

It’s safe to say the Pats are playing up or down the level of their opponent so far on the season, and it’s left both the teams and their fans with more questions than answers. Through five weeks of the season, we still can’t get a true feel for how good or bad this team is. They have shown glimpses of being a playoff contender, but alternate that with stretches where they look like one of the worst teams in the league.

Maybe it’s because I was privileged to spend most of my life watching Tom Brady under center before this, but the inconsistencies are maddening for me. It’s frustrating to watch a team show the potential to be good, but end up being deterred by an inability to put all the pieces together. As a result, the New England Patriots have raised more questions, rather than answer the ones that already existed, through their first five games of the season.

New England Patriots surrounded by question marks

There have been tons of issues raised through the entire season, and a bunch more got raised in their win over the Texans. Even the victory in itself was a bit underwhelming.

Houston was really in complete control until they got a little too confidant and tried to draw the Patriots offsides on a punt in the third quarter. It backfired rather spectacularly when the Texans punter, Cameron Johnston, ended up punting the ball into the back of his own teammates’ head, giving New England great field position.

The New England Patriots carried the momentum all the way to an extremely important victory, but it wasn’t without it’s issues. While special teams helped carry the team to victory, the defense and offense struggled for long stretches of the game, and it was really a testament to how bad Houston is that New England ended up winning this game.

Let’s start with the defense, which was the main reason that this game found itself with such a lopsided score early on in the second half. Houston’s third string quarterback, Davis Mills, absolutely torched New England’s secondary all day long. He finished with 312 yards and three touchdowns on 21/29 passing, all while getting pretty much no help from the ground game (24 CAR, 67 YDS, 2.8 YPC)

For reference, Mills completed 11/21 passes for 87 yards and four interceptions against the Buffalo Bills in Week 4. On the other hand, the New England Patriots secondary limited Tom Brady to 22/43 for 269 yards and no touchdowns last week. Heading into the week, if you told me Mills was going to finish with the line that he did, I would have laughed in your face. Yet here we are.

The Texans do not boast an impressive wide receiver corps by any stretch of the imagination. The only one who most NFL fans will know of is Brandin Cooks, and ironically enough, he ended up with a fairly mediocre line when all was said and done (3 REC, 23 YDS). It was the rest of the group that torched the secondary, and left fans wondering how on earth this team slowed down Brady and the Bucs last week.

The matchups were all over the place from the beginning. Jonathan Jones is the perfect guy to put against Cooks, yet he rarely ended up against him. Head coach Bill Belichick continually stuck J.C. Jackson on him for the most part, and while he was successful on him, he wasn’t against other matchups. Chris Moore outjumped Jackson, and then outran him on his way to a 67 yard touchdown in the second quarter.

Filling in for the injured Jalen Mills was Joejuan Williams, and it went poorly to say the least. It felt like Williams was getting picked on all day long, and he was most notably the guilty party on the Chris Conley flea-flicker touchdown. He was eventually replaced by practice squad callup Myles Bryant, who fared much better during his time on the field.

This was also a rare rough outing from Devin McCourty at safety. McCourty always seemed to be in the vicinity of big plays, but never in the right spot. He should have been able to tackle Moore immediately after the catch on his touchdown play, but took an odd angle on him and ended up completely whiffing. He also got burned on the Conley touchdown, and failed to cover for Williams, who also got burned.

All in all it was a rough day for the secondary. While the run defense did their job, it didn’t help that they got virtually no pressure on Mills aside from Matt Judon getting two sacks in a span of three plays at the end of the first half. The Texans offensive line isn’t exactly good, and they lost arguably their top guy in Laremy Tunsil for most of the contest.

Offensively, the problems remained the same for the most part. Damien Harris fumbled away the ball on the one inch line, which took six points right off the board. Harris probably would have been benched, but considering Brandon Bolden and Rhamondre Stevenson got next to nothing on the ensuing couple of drives, he was quickly inserted back into the game.

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Harris’ fumble again points to a stunning lack of ball security on this team. Harris almost certainly cost the team a victory in Week 1 against the Miami Dolphins, and had they lost this game, his fumble would have been a big reason why.

Their struggles in opponents territory continued too, as they needed Nick Folk to go 4/4 on his field goals, including a pair of difficult 52 yarders. They did get a huge red zone score in the fourth quarter when Mac Jones found Hunter Henry on a corner route from 13 yards out. Harris got a touchdown in the red zone too and should have had another, but otherwise they still can’t find ways to consistently punch the ball into the endzone.

It was a sloppy performance overall, and the Patriots were lucky to come away with a victory. Until they get they can perform consistently on either side of the ball, they are going to leave their fans in a fit of rage. The New England Patriots have found themselves with a number of question marks that don’t seem set to be resolved anytime soon, and that could be the difference between a winning and losing season for the team.