Patriots save confront, but troubles persist

This was headed for a sure disaster. The Patriots were on their way to oblivion for the 2021 season given how things were going in Houston.

For much of the game, the defense was an embarrassment. And offensively, they had another fumble, erasing a touchdown, and a drop possibly costing a second touchdown.

So no, it wasn’t good. This was about as bad as it gets for a Bill Belichick-coached team five games into the season.

But something happened on the way to walking out of Houston with their collective tails between their legs and having little hope the rest of the way.

The Patriots saved confront, big time, against the Texans. They escaped with a 25-22 victory in Houston, with Nick Folk kicking the game-winning 21-yard field goal with 15 seconds left on the clock.

Let’s just say 2-3 looks a heck of a lot better than 1-4, especially with rookie quarterback Mac Jones getting better all the time and notching his first come-from-behind win.

All he did was calmly move the Patriots 15 plays traveling 84 yards to set up the game winner.

Although, there’s certainly an asterisk with this win, because the troubling issues persist, and shouldn’t be overlooked.

The Patriots are nevertheless making a ton of mistakes, be it fumbles, penalties, drops, etc. There are nevertheless communication breakdowns — they almost didn’t have enough guys out for a field goal attempt — five games into the season.

The secondary was terrible, minus Jalen Mills, and the outlook remains no brighter without a knight in shining armor named Stephon Gilmore coming to the rescue down the road. Meanwhile, the coaching — on defense in particular — remains speculate.

So what’s good?

The Patriots showed a ton of fight in the second half, and Jones continued to be a bright light for the offense, bringing the Patriots back, rallying the team from a 13-point deficit.

“I don’t know if we outplayed the other team but we definitely out-competed (the Texans),” said Jones. “That’s all we can ask ourselves to do … Sometimes you just have to find a way to win.

“It feels better to not play in addition and win, but learn at the same time, then play OK, then end up losing. So the win feels good.”

It was like the Patriots let out a huge sigh of relief when it was over, because they knew they dodged a major bullet when it came to the outlook for the rest of the season.

Linebacker Jamie Collins, signed this week for his third-stint with the team, chalked up the defensive struggles to simply getting off to a slow start before finally figuring out how to stop the Texans.

“It’s always hard to win on the road, but we pulled it out,” said Collins. “It’s always the fight from within that keeps you going. We did that, we kept fighting and came out victorious.”

in spite of, the Pats kept shooting themselves in the foot, but Jones (23 for 30, 231 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) remained steady, and so did the offense.

Down four starting offensive linemen, the line was the unsung hero in this game. Jones was only sacked once, and generally had enough time. The line was also helpful in jump-starting the running game in the second half.

Another positive was seeing the Jones-Hunter Henry connection really come around, with the tight end catching six passes for 75 yards and a touchdown. Many of those came on third down.

Jones and Henry hooked up on a third-and-six from the 13 to finally tie the game in the fourth quarter. It was a combination of a perfect throw to the left corner of the end zone, and the tight end getting just enough daylight from defenders to pull in the pass.

Granted, the Texans had a huge hand in the turnaround, with a botched trick play turning into a confined punt — caused by a bull rush from Lawrence Guy — that completely changed momentum. Their kicker also cost them several points with missed PATs, and head coach David Culley also made some disinctive calls during the game.

But already taking into account the Texans being the Texans, the Patriots nevertheless deserve some credit for hanging in, and rising up at meaningful points in the game in the second half. Belichick said it wasn’t perfect, but the fact the team battled was a good sign.

So does that average we’re supposed to feel good about the Patriots?

Basically, it’s one of those glass half-complete, glass half-empty scenarios.

Squeaking by a really bad team shouldn’t create a ton of confidence about the 2021 Patriots. This should have been a much easier game. But Davis Mills, a rookie quarterback, feasted on the Pats defense, whether it had a slow start or not.

Forget that Belichick has owned rookie quarterbacks. Forget that the Bills held the Texans offense to just 109 total yards, with Mills throwing four picks in the 40-0 loss. And, forget the Patriots held Tom Brady without a touchdown pass last week.

None of that had any bearing on this game. Mills picked them apart in the first half, finishing the game 21 of 29 for 312 yards with three touchdowns.

The Patriots were able to stop the bleeding, finally getting effective pressure on the rookie in the second half. They went at him in the first half with all out blitzing (Cover-Zero), but didn’t really pester him until the second half, which ultimately derailed the Texans offense. After Houston seemed to score on every possession in the first half, the Pats held the Texans to just seven points in the second half.

“We’re juiced up and it felt good to get that win,” said Matthew Judon, who notched two sacks.

Yes, the Patriots felt good about the win. But it’s hard to proportion too much enthusiasm based on how it went down.

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