By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — It wasn’t supposed to be that hard, with the Patriots heading into Sunday’s matchup with the Houston Texans as 14-point favorites.
But New England needed Tom Brady to tailor another dramatic late-game comeback, and the quarterback delivered. With the Pats in danger of suffering their second fourth-quarter collapse in three weeks, Brady went 5-of-7 for 91 yards and a touchdown on New England’s final drive, finding Brandin Cooks in the front corner of the end zone to give New England a 36-33 win. It’s the 52nd time Brady has led the Patriots to a win after being tied or trailing in the fourth quarter.
The late-game dramatics will mask some of the overall concerns about the Patriots on both sides of the ball, though the defense did a great job holding the Texans to just field goals in the fourth quarter as the offense sputtered.
Here are the Ups and Downs from Sunday’s victory:
Brady Is Still Amazing At 40
What else can be said about the quarterback? He was his usual self on New England’s final drive of the game, keeping his cool and making the big plays.
Brady and the Patriots offense took the field at their own 25-yard line down by five and with just 2:24 left on the clock. They had left the field to boos just a few minutes earlier after their second straight three-and-out, looking lifeless to start the game’s final frame.
But then Brady did what he’s been doing for 17 years. Facing a third-and-18 after being crushed by the Houston defense a play before, he calmly went up top to Danny Amendola over the middle of the field to get down to the Houston 25. The next play, Brady was locked on to Amendola streaking down the middle, getting all the Texans’ attention on the receiver, before pulling back and firing a bullet to Cooks in the end zone for the game-winning, 25-yard touchdown.
“Tom Brady making a special throw and me sitting there, catching the ball. That’s all I could see,” Cooks said after the game. “It was a perfect throw, perfect timing and I expect nothing less from Tom.”
Brady finished the game with five touchdowns for just the sixth time in his career to go with his 378 passing yards. He’s up to eight touchdowns and 1,092 passing yards on the season. Has anyone mentioned that Brady is 40?
Big Plays From Cooks
In addition to the game-winner, Cooks had a 47-yard catch-and-run touchdown on Sunday. He also ripped off a 44-yard reception in the first quarter, a gigantic play as the Patriots faced third-and-13. Overall, Cooks displaying those playmaking abilities we’ve been waiting to see from him in a Patriots uniform.
Cooks’s had a breakout game with five catches for 131 yards and two touchdowns. We also now know that Brady calls him “Cookie,” so you can update your nickname charts at home.
The Patriots had their game-changing tight end back after he left last week’s win with a groin injury, and it didn’t appear to slow him down too much. Gronkowski was targeted 10 times and came down with eight receptions for 89 yards and a touchdown.
Amendola’s Back Too
Not to be forgotten was receiver Danny Amendola, who was also back in Brady’s arsenal and on the Patriots’ punt return unit on Sunday. He caught just three passes for 48 yards, but came down with that huge third-down grab before Cooks’ game-winning score, taking a big hit in the process.
Pats Secondary Makes Rookie QB Look Like Vet
Deshaun Watson nearly became the first rookie quarterback to come into Gillette Stadium and beat Bill Belichick’s Patriots. He made plenty of rookie mistakes, but he also looked like a savvy vet at points, and a lot of that was thanks to the New England secondary.
Stephon Gilmore and Malcolm Butler both played better than they have to start the season, including Gilmore coming down with his first interception as a Patriot, but everyone will have to be a lot better than they were on Sunday. Gilmore left in the second half due to dehydration, so he may want to chat with his quarterback about drinking plenty of water.
It should be noted that the New England D held their own at the end of the game, keeping the Texans out of the end zone in the fourth quarter and making them settle for field goals. In the final frame on a hot September day, that’s a tall task for a defense that spent so much time on the field thanks to the offense’s disappearing act.
The Patriots wouldn’t have needed another incredible comeback if the offense had just dome something — anything — in their first two drives of the final frame. Instead, the Pats went three-and-out twice.
The first came on three straight runs by Mike Gillislee, who was stuffed on third-and-1. The second three-and-out came when Brady and Gronk couldn’t connect on a third-and-1 over the middle. It was an extremely frustrating part of the day for the New England offense, and they were greeted with boos as they left the field.
Third-and-short situations have been an issue for the Patriots to start the season. That’s something that needs to be fixed soon.
Offensive Line Struggles To Protect Brady
The line did a decent job at times against an extremely talented Texans pass rush, but there were other points where you really feared for Brady’s life.
Brady was sacked five times (one of them was the QB tripping on Gillislee’s foot) and felt the pressure throughout, fumbling the ball three times. The Pats only lost one of those fumbles, but it was a big one as Jadaveon Clowney returned it for a touchdown. There were a couple of times when it looked like Brady’s arm was going to be ripped out of the socket, and that’s a pretty valuable arm for the Patriots.
We knew it was going to be a tough day for the offensive line with Marcus Cannon out, but Nate Solder looked overmatched for much of the game.
Run Game Missing Again
The Patriots rushed for just 59 yards on 20 carries, a putrid average of three yards per run. Gillislee got 12 carries and only managed to gain 31 yards.