By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Through five weeks of the season, the New England Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs have the same record. Don’t look into it any more than that. It’s all good. The Pats. The reigning AFC champs. Rookie Mac Jones. Wunderkind Patrick Mahomes. Even Steven.
Pretty good. Nice job by the Patriots.
OK, fiiiiiine. I’ll write some more about the Patriots. But it’s hard to get too excited about it after that 25-22 win in Houston that can only be described in one way: yucky.
That game was yucky.
A goal line fumble, a bad pick, a flea flicker touchdown, a defense that let Davis Mills look legit, a 22-9 deficit to one of the saddest organizations going right now in the NFL. Yes, the Patriots won the game, but the Texans deserve equal credit for giving the game away as the Patriots deserve for earning it. If not for the funniest punt goof of the 2020s, and a brutal decision to kick a field goal, and a crumbling lack of confidence across the board for Houston, the Patriots would be in a bad spot coming out of Week 5.
But, all of that stuff did happen, and that’s what counts. So they’re 2-3, tied with the Chiefs, albeit only with wins over the Jets (1-4) and Texans (1-4).
If we’re being frank here, my plan was to open this column after a blowout Patriots victory by laying out the path to 10 wins that was still alive.
Beat the Jets, Falcons, and Jaguars, that gets you to five. Split with the Bills, we’re talking six. Get that win over Miami to split that season series, and you’re at seven wins.
From there, you’d have the Cowboys, Panthers, Chargers, Browns, Titans, and Colts. The Patriots would have to go 3-3 in those games to get to 10 wins. Not easy, no, but certainly doable.
Or so it seemed. Sunday’s first-half disaster kind of changed things, didn’t it?
We’ll ultimately see whether that’s the case in the coming weeks. They were due for an emotional letdown after the big Brady game the week before, and facing the miserable Texans in a half-enthused stadium was the perfect venue to have one. Perhaps this was simply a dud, a one-off, the outlier. Then again, perhaps this is a truer picture of the Patriots than last week’s showing on Sunday Night Football.
The question now is simple: Are the Patriots the team that nearly beat the Bucs, or are the Patriots the team that nearly lost to the Texans?
Wow. Deep thoughts. Let’s hit some leftovers.
–It’s funny, because if a porous offensive line was to blame for the struggles Sunday, then it would be excused. Yet with four backups starting, with Yodny Cajuste playing for the first time in his career, with Mac Jones playing just his second road game, and with a rushing attack coming off a negative-yardage performance last week, the offensive line was … fine? Might have even been good.
After rushing for NEGATIVE yardage a week ago, the Patriots ran for 126 yards and a touchdown, plus almost another touchdown. Mac Jones was sacked just once and hit only four times.
The Texans aren’t good, yes. But still. Didn’t really see that coming.
–Mac Jones was good too. Outside of the pick. Which was awful. But really, he continues to be …pretty good. Nothing overwhelming, but he can deliver some pretty passes out there:
Mac Jones finds Hunter Henry and we’re all tied up in Houston! #ForeverNE
— NFL (@NFL) October 10, 2021
He cheered after taking a helmet to the jaw, because he knew it got his team a fresh set of downs. He finished the game with a bloody jersey, which is always cool. He made this play to convert a third-and-6 on the game-winning drive with the aforementioned bloody jersey:
He didn’t throw an incompletion until just before halftime:
And his stat line of 23-for-30 for 231 yards with a touchdown and a pick was nice, but it should have been even better if not for this grisly Jakobi Meyers drop.
That would’ve added a cool 30-60 yards and possibly a touchdown to the stat line.
All in all, a good day for the QB. Not a great day. Not an awful day. Not a day where we can definitively state that the Patriots are all set at quarterback for the next 12 years. But a good day. No need to go crazy either way about it.
–In the grand scheme of things, the Patriots-Texans Week 5 matchup doesn’t really matter. These teams aren’t winning Super Bowls this season, and nobody outside of Houston and New England was watching this one. (Maybe some Alabama fans, I don’t know how that works.)
That being said, the overturn on Damien Harris’ goal-line fumble was a bit interesting. Mostly because there didn’t appear to be convincing visual evidence that Harris fumbled before the ball crossed the goal line.
Certainly, it seemed like he might have lost it just before crossing the line. But the mystery men in New York can’t be taking touchdowns off the board because of things that seem like they might have happened. The rules are quite clear that absent clear and convincing visual evidence of a missed call, then the call on the field shall stand.
After review, it’s a fumble at the goal line! 🏈🥊 #WeAreTexans
— NFL (@NFL) October 10, 2021
The angled replays are more or less useless. You simply can’t have the right perspective on where the ball is at the point of the fumble. The one replay down the line was blocked by Cajuste, so that was no good.
Again, it was Patriots-Texans, so it’s not the most significant event in the world. But it’s still the NFL, and the calls should theoretically make sense. If this were an AFC Championship Game, is there any confidence that the New York replay office would do any better?
That makes two straight weeks with Patriots games where something simply did not seem to be right at all.
I would like to ask the replay official who thought that this was a dropped pass why he or she believed that this was a dropped pass. Insane.
The NFL has such massive accountability issues. On top of having vague rules that nobody can understand. pic.twitter.com/Qh0EXrjqYL
— Michael Hurley (@michaelFhurley) October 4, 2021
Who’s making these calls in New York? Can we talk to that person? I’ve got some questions.
–OK, it’s now time to gather around and celebrate the classic goof that was the Texans’ inability to … punt the football. Imagine being such a bad team that while leading by 13 points in the second half of a game, you can’t even fire off a punt. Incredible.
I personally have this little issue where I get overly excited about these things. Back in Week 1, I tweeted that Jacoby Brissett’s inability to even get a snap was the worst trick play in history. A million people promptly yelled at me that the Colts’ fake punt in 2015 will forever hold the top spot. Fair enough!
And on Sunday, when the Texans had punter Cameron Johnston rush to the line, pretend to be a quarterback for a second, only to retreat back to his normal spot, except failing to get deep enough, before rushing to get off a snap before the play clock expired, only to … BOOT THE BALL INTO A TEAMMATE’S HEAD? I had no choice but to declare this “the funniest moment in special teams history.”
Once again, reminders of the Colts’ fake punt poured in. Once again, fair enough!
Still, this one was INCREDIBLE.
l m f a o pic.twitter.com/JX25VAvIWY
— Rivers McCown (@riversmccown) October 10, 2021
The Texans just achieved a ZERO-YARD PUNT pic.twitter.com/brF7WgUv4w
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) October 10, 2021
The thud of that ball hitting a Texans helmet is just so PURE.
And the fact that the punter looks exactly like Bill Burr just adds to the mystique.
I love it.
–Immediately after the tying touchdown pass from Jones to Henry, Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels had this conversation:
I’m curious what was said there. I’m not a lip reader so I’ll just guess: “Hey, Bill. Listen. This guy on the other sideline is a total clown. Just literally do anything except what he’s doing and we’ll win this game, no doubt.”
–Look, it may not be the best Patriots season of your lifetime. But if you haven’t been enjoying the Matt Judon experience, then you’ve been missing out.
The list of big-money free-agent signings who immediately bring that kind of energy and production is short.
–It’s been a while since we’ve seen the mozzarella stick undershirt, but it returned on Sunday:
I apologize if that joke was a little … cheesy.
–I watched some of David Culley’s postgame press conference, and just got some strong Bobby Valentine vibes. (I also referenced Kevin Malone from “The Office” on Sunday. These are not the comparisons you’d ever want to draw.)
Like, sir, this is simply not true!
Touchdown came back for illegal shift.
Jet sweep to Jonnu Smith.
Direct snap to Bolden, 1-yard
They did not (pantomimes throwing the ball) throw the ball. Jones' final pass came with 3:18 left in the fourth. Sir we've got video these days! https://t.co/xRjgu22uU3
— Michael Hurley (@michaelFhurley) October 11, 2021
That’s not at all what happened. We watched. There’s records of this. Why lie? Or do you forget? That would be worse.
This description is insane:
Culley on the schematics of the punt: "That was a possibility that if they gave us the right look … we were possibly gonna fake it. They didn't give us the look. So we were going to back out, and just repunt … it didn't work out, we ended up having a leakage up the middle." pic.twitter.com/LjuFKxV0zr
— Rivers McCown (@riversmccown) October 10, 2021
Forget the foolishness of thinking fake punt while leading 22-9 … but blaming this on leakage up the middle? When your punter failed to get back to his normal depth? When you had to rush the snap to beat the play clock?
Pardon my espanol, but … ¡Ay, caramba!
In any event, the Texans are a mess. The Patriots benefited from that on Sunday, getting their second win of the season. Had they lost, we’d be feeling like the season was more or less over. But they won, and now they need to prove next week that this stumble was not who they truly are. If they can’t prove that — next week vs. Dallas, the week after that vs. the Jets, then in a tough two-game road stretch vs. the Chargers and Panthers — then we may be looking at another long November and December in Patriots country.
They’re not there yet, so there’s no need to pack it all in for the year. Not now. That first-half face-plant, however, does raise some antennae that had been lowered after the respectable showing vs. the Bucs.