HOUSTON - When the New England Patriots rally to victory, as they did on Sunday behind a pair of Stephen Gostkowski 53-yard, fourth-quarter field goals, quarterback Tom Brady covers many deficiencies. Yet their 34-31 victory over the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium came with a dose of genuine concern.
The Patriots (9-3) snapped a three-game road losing skid as quarterback Tom Brady completed 29 of 41 attempts for 371 yards and a pair of touchdowns. New England amassed 307 second-half yards to erase a 10-point deficit courtesy of a surprisingly game effort from the Texans (2-10), who rushed for a franchise-best four touchdowns yet could not halt their franchise-worst 10-game losing streak.
But after trailing the Miami Dolphins and the Denver Broncos 17-3 and 24-0 at the half, respectively, the Patriots have adopted a troublesome trend. Sunday offered another example.
"I don't think we played the way we need to play in any area of the team, so there's plenty of room for improvement," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "From kickoff coverage to defensively giving up long drives to playing well in the red area offensively, there are plenty of things we need to work on."
Houston running back Ben Tate rushed for 102 yards and three scores while quarterback Case Keenum passed for 272 yards and added a rushing touchdown. The Texans' two second-half touchdowns were their most since Keenum took over as the starter at Kansas City in Week 8.
Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson had eight catches for 121 yards. Only one player in league history recorded 900 career receptions faster than Johnson, who did so Sunday in his 150th career game. Marvin Harrison reached the milestone in his 149th game with the Indianapolis Colts.
That accomplishment was tempered by yet another one-possession loss in a season that long ago spiraled south. The Texans have dropped their last six games by a total of 22 points.
"This season has been disappointing for everybody, a lot of frustration," Johnson said.
Said Texans coach Gary Kubiak: "As a coach you say, 'I have to find some better calls here or do something better.' You've got to coach your guys to do something special in those situations. That's what wins and loses in this league."
After mustering only a pair of field goals against the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars last week, the Texans were prolific from the onset, capitalizing on excellent field position to grab a 10-0 lead.
Houston covered a grand total of 58 yards on its two first-quarter scoring drives, with Tate capping the first with an 8-yard touchdown run. Texans kicker Randy Bullock drilled a 43-yard field goal with 4:10 left in the period, the result of a Johnathan Joseph interception of Brady.
New England totaled 146 yards in the first half, trailed 17-7 at the break, but immediately reversed course once the second half commenced. Brady passed for 176 yards in the third quarter, engineering a pair of breathless scoring drives that encountered little resistance from the Houston defense. His 9-yard touchdown pass to Shane Vereen pushed the Patriots in front 21-17 with 8:06 left in the period and, after Houston reclaimed the lead when Keenum scampered in from the Patriots 5 at the 2:11 mark, Brady led a nine-play, 81-yard scoring drive.
New England scored on five consecutive possessions in the second half. That it took so long to get the offense rolling remains a primary concern with the final month of the season at hand.
"I wish we could start fast and put the foot on the gas pedal the whole way, but we just got behind a little bit and played a lot better in the second half," Brady said. "We still had plenty of chances to convert even more and we've got to figure out a way to keep moving the ball, (keep) getting the ball in the end zone."
NOTES: After recording only two rushing touchdowns through the first 11 games, the Texans rushed for a pair of touchdowns in the first half, both by RB Ben Tate, and had two more in the second half. ... Patriots QB Tom Brady surpassed 3,000 passing yards for the 11th time in his career, becoming the sixth signal caller in league history to accomplish that feat. ... With his 43-yarder at the 4:10 mark of the first quarter, Texans PK Randy Bullock converted one field goal in his 10th consecutive game to match Kris Brown for the second-longest streak in franchise history. ... Second-year Patriots FB James Develin recorded his first career touchdown, a 1-yard plunge in the third quarter.