By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — No excuses, no dancing around it. The Patriots defense was bad on Sunday against the Texans.
They allowed 417 total yards to a Texans offense that had totaled 469 yards in their previous two games combined. Although Deshaun Watson played as well as any rookie quarterback ever has against a Bill Belichick-coached defense, the Patriots gave up several big plays over the course of the game that were straight-up unacceptable. The front-seven looked like decapitated chickens at times, and the secondary continued its frustratingly inconsistent run to start the season.
But if only for a couple of plays, they got the defensive stop they needed right when it was mandatory in order to win.
Take a closer look at the defense and, believe it or not, they actually helped make Tom Brady’s game-winning drive possible.
The Pats’ single true defensive bright spot against the Texans was also one of the most sneaky-crucial sequences in the game, one that almost certainly would have left the Patriots at 1-2 had it gone the other way. With a 30-28 lead and a great chance to put the game out of reach in terms of the score or the clock, the Texans faced second-and-3 on the Patriots’ 20-yard line. That’s when the Texans decided to run Lamar Miller up the middle on consecutive plays – and the defense finally made a play at the most important time.
First, Kyle Van Noy pursued Miller at the point of attack and dragged him down just short of the first down to force third-and-1. The defense stepped up even harder on the next play, as Miller again took the handoff up the middle – but this time he ran into a wall of defenders that included Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, and Alan Branch. Van Noy also gave an extra push from behind to stuff Miller behind the first down marker.
The Texans could have gone for it on fourth-and-1 instead of settling for a field goal. Those extra three points did force Brady to score a touchdown to win the game on the final drive, but a first down there very likely would have put the game away for them. Of course, the final field goal did them no good in the end.
It’s also fair to question the decision to hand the ball to Miller twice, as Watson had previously converted three third-and-short situations by running the ball himself. Even rookie back D’Onta Foreman got a first down on third-and-1 to start the fourth quarter.
But you still have to give the Patriots credit for executing on those two plays and getting the stop they were so desperately seeking at the time. All it took was one extra block by the Texans and Miller gets the first down, and probably the win. The way the game had gone to that point, it certainly felt like the Texans would be the ones to make the play.
The Patriots didn’t make many game-changing defensive plays on Sunday. At all. But one of them at the most critical time, and without it, Brady may not have had a chance to make that final drive in the first place.
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, CBS, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.