Patriots overcome sloppy play in comeback win over Texans

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Coming off a closely contested 19-17 loss to Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week, Sunday’s matchup against the struggling Houston Texans looked like the perfect opportunity for the New England Patriots to get back on track. After all, the Texans were starting a rookie quarterback in Davis Mills, they had lost, 40-0, the previous week and their defense has been among the worst in the NFL.

But nothing comes easy for the Patriots this year, who again played a sloppy brand of football. The way they played, they probably should have lost. Instead, the Texans were as bad or even worse. Despite falling behind, 22-9, the Patriots battled back in Houston in this mistake-filled contest and somehow found a way to win, 25-22.

Take the game-winning drive, for example. With 1:56 remaining and the score tied, 22-22, Rhamondre Stevenson ran in for a 5-yard touchdown. However, the TD was nullified by a Patriots illegal shift penalty. Nevertheless, Nick Folk kicked a 21-yard field goal with 15 seconds left to give the Pats the victory. It was Folk's fourth field goal of the game.

While the game wasn’t pretty, the Pats were still able to come away with a win. Here are the main takeaways:

New England Patriots kicker Nick Folk (6) reacts after making a field goal during the fourth quarter against the Houston Texans.
New England Patriots kicker Nick Folk (6) reacts after making a field goal during the fourth quarter against the Houston Texans.

The Patriots defense had an embarrassing start

Less than a week after trading Stephon Gilmore, the Patriots defense got off to a horrible start against the Texans. Mills became the second rookie quarterback to throw three or more touchdown passes against a Bill Belichick Patriots team. He joined Russell Wilson, who did it in 2012.

The Texans opened the game with an 18-play, 79-yard touchdown drive that ate up 10:06 on the clock. Houston converted 3-of-4 third downs and had a fourth-down conversation in the series, which was capped off with a Mills' 11-yard touchdown throw to Antony Auclair at 4:45 of the first quarter.

On the second drive, Mills hit Chris Moore for a 67-yard touchdown pass at 12:56 of the second quarter. On the third drive, Houston completed two fourth-down conversions. The biggest was a 40-yard pass to Chris Conley at 2:50 of the second quarter. That led to a Kaimi Fairbairn 33-yard field goal. The fourth drive saw the Texans execute a flea-flicker with Mills hitting Conley for a 37-yard touchdown at 13:31 of the third quarter. That put Houston up, 22-9.

The defense stopped the bleeding after that, but the performance was worrisome nonetheless.

The Houston Texans' Chris Moore celebrates a touchdown during the first half against the New England Patriots.
The Houston Texans' Chris Moore celebrates a touchdown during the first half against the New England Patriots.

The Patriots offense keeps beating itself

On Sunday, there were a number of mistakes from this group, including another costly fumble.

At 8:54 of the second quarter, it looked like Damien Harris ran in for a 5-yard touchdown. However, the running back fumbled the ball just before the goal line and officials overturned the score and gave the ball back to the Texans. Houston cornerback Terrence Mitchell punched the ball out of Harris' grip and recovered the fumble.

This is Harris’ second fumble of the season. He lost the ball in Week 1 en route to a potential game-winner with 3:35 left in that contest. The Pats lost, 17-16, to the Dolphins. Last week, the Pats lost by two points (19-17 to the Buccaneers) after J.J. Taylor fumbled the ball while the offense was in field-goal range. Taylor was inactive on Sunday in favor of Rhamondre Stevenson, who hasn’t played since fumbling in Week 1.

That wasn’t all. With 57 seconds left in the first half, Jakobi Meyers dropped a Mac Jones deep pass along the left sideline. It would have been a big play — perhaps a touchdown. The Pats ended up with a 52-yard Folk field goal and were losing, 15-9.

Jones opened the second half with an interception to Lonnie Johnson at 14:19 of the third quarter.

Houston Texans wide receiver Chris Conley (18) runs with the ball after a reception as New England Patriots cornerback Joejuan Williams (33) defends during the second quarter.
Houston Texans wide receiver Chris Conley (18) runs with the ball after a reception as New England Patriots cornerback Joejuan Williams (33) defends during the second quarter.

Houston’s special-teams play was terrible

The Pats were bad on Sunday, but how did they get back in the game?

Special-teams play. For Houston, that included a missed field goal and two missed extra points from kicker Kaimi Fairbairn. The Texans were up, 22-9, and then three special-teams blunders later, the Pats tied the game.

Following a three-and-out, Houston punter Cameron Johnston punted the ball off his own teammate's head. It was a weird play in which the Texans tried to make it look like they were going for it on fourth down. Instead, the play gave the Pats good field position and it resulted in a Folk 52-yard field goal at 8:25 of the third quarter.

The next time the Pats got the ball, Gunner Olszewski returned the punt 13 yards to set up the offense at the 39-yard line. Two first down throws later and they were in field goal range. Folk hit a 32-yard field goal with 1:50 left in the third quarter.

With 13:29 remaining, Fairbairn missed a 56-yard attempt. That put the Pats at the 46-yard line. Seven plays later, Jones hit Hunter Henry for a 13-yard touchdown to tie the game, 22-22, with 9:31 remaining.

In the Patriots game-winning drive, Houston’s Maliek Collins was flagged for unnecessary roughness on a third-down incomplete pass. That moved the chains and led to the Patriots setting up Folk’s game winner.

This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Patriots beat Texans, overcome sloppy play, defense embarrassing start