BOSTON (CBS) — Last weekend, the Patriots avenged one of their 2019 losses with a big win over the Ravens. Might they have a second one in store this Sunday?
They will at least have the opportunity, and it will be a good one, as the Patriots will be making a trip to Houston to face the 2-7 Texans.
It’s not quite the marquee matchup that took place last year in Houston. Then, it was the 10-1 Patriots taking the league’s top defense to face a Texans team that was in the midst of winning the AFC South. This year, it’s the 4-5 Patriots looking to get back to .500 and remain somewhat solvent in the race for the third wild card spot.
On paper, it looks like it should be an easy win for the Patriots. But the Denver dud and the much-too-competitive win over the Jets shows that nothing is a given when it comes to the Patriots in 2020. Here’s where to focus those eyeballs come Sunday afternoon.
Can You Make It Not Competitive?
As mentioned earlier, the Patriots found themselves in a tooth-and-nail grind against the winless, miserable Jets. New England won that game, but not before trailing by 10 points at halftime.
This time around, can the Patriots take care of business a bit more effectively?
Consider this: The Texans are 2-7 and their only two wins have come against the Jacksonville Jaguars. That makes them … 2-0 vs. the 1-8 Jaguars, and 0-7 against literally everybody else. That, then, also makes them bad.
The Patriots have had their fair share of issues this season, and they’re a far cry from the perennial contender they’ve been for a decade. Still, they could do themselves a lot of favors by hitting the field with the right level of focus and execution, thus removing any and all drama from the proceedings.
Some young quarterbacks certainly must dread going up against a Bill Belichick-coached team. He’s had quite a history of putting their brains in a blender. Deshaun Watson, though, is the exception.
Watson’s gone up against the Patriots three times, and here’s how he has fared: 57-for-92 (62 percent), 711 yards, 6 TDs, 3 INTs, with 20 rushes for 80 yards.
He led the Texans to a lopsided win last year, after losing by three points and seven points in his first two cracks against the Patriots. Clearly, the dynamic signal-caller has not been perplexed by what the Patriots have thrown at him.
And if Watson was able to shred the Patriots last year when they had the No. 1 defense (to the tune of a 140.7 passer rating), he represents a worthy threat, no what the Texans’ record may be right now.
Brandin Cooks is one of the more fascinating players in NFL history. He has 6,279 receiving yards and 37 touchdowns, all before his 28th birthday. Yet he’s currently playing for his fourth NFL team. Generally, a team won’t let a player who is that productive go, but three teams have already said sayonara to Cooks.
One of those teams, obviously, was the Patriots, who acquired Cooks for a first-round pick in 2017 and then shipped him to L.A. for a first-round pick a year later. During his year in Foxboro, Cooks showed that he’s got speed to burn, and he can put tremendous stress on a defense — both as a pass catcher and as a pass interference magnet.
This year, with 549 yards and three touchdowns, Cooks has the chance to top 1,000 receiving yards for the fifth time in his career. But in the short term, the Patriots’ secondary will know that they can’t afford to snooze for even one snap, because Cooks could end up behind them in a hurry.
(If Stephon Gilmore is healthy enough to play, his potential matchup with Will Fuller should make for some entertaining television.)
Most of the best players on the field for New England last week were all rookies or second-year players. Jakobi Meyers was the leading receiver, and he threw a touchdown. Damien Harris racked up his 100th rushing yard shortly after halftime. Kyle Dugger was an absolute bowling ball, bashing bodies with everyone in his path. Chase Winovich was a man possessed. Josh Uche used a tremendous pass rush move to record his first career sack. Terez Hall was the team’s lone linebacker for much of the night. J.C. Jackson — comparably an old man in his third NFL season — also made a game-changing play.
There were, of course, veteran contributions across the board. But the impact of all those young players was notable in that the Patriots have largely functioned as a veteran-based operation for quite some time.
After all of those rookies or second-year guys turned in strong performances in the team’s best win of the year, it’ll be fascinating to see how they — and the coaching staff — will follow things up this week.