Winners, losers from Patriots’ bizarre showing against the Texans

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The New England Patriots’ performance in Week 5 had the makings of an utter disaster. The Houston Texans were simply outplaying New England after three quarters. But it turned out that one amazing quarter from the Patriots — and one truly awful quarter from the Texans — was enough for New England and Bill Belichick to pull off a 25-22 win. The Patriots are 2-3 and second in the AFC East.

The Texans embarrassed themselves with mistakes, most notably on a punt where they blocked themselves. New England, meanwhile, found its identity at the last minute. The Patriots offense, led by an efficient Mac Jones, and the defense, led by an aggressive Matthew Judon, did just enough to win.

“They made more plays but at the end of the day, we had more points,” linebacker Jamie Collins said after the game.

That summed it up perfectly.

Here are the Patriots’ winners and losers from the game.

WINNER: QB Mac Jones

“It’s impressive,” Belichick said.

That’s how Belichick concluded his answer when discussing his rookie quarterback after the game. Belichick was talking about Jones’ situational awareness and leadership, just moments after the quarterback pioneered back-to-back scoring drives and totalled 10 points on those drives. It was enough for the Patriots to win. And you don’t hear Belichick offer praise like that.

Maybe his passing chart will show more of what we’ve seen (with Jones excelling within 20 yards from scrimmage and struggling on passes that travel 20 yards or more). Maybe Jones threw an interception (and threw two other passes that should have been interceptions). But Jones led a fourth-quarter comeback. He was more a part of the solution than the problem. That’s why Belichick showed his quarterback love when the game came to an end.

LOSER: CB Joejuan Williams

With Jalen Mills out with an injury, the Patriots decided to start Williams, a former second-round pick, at CB2. It was a massive downgrade — and a serious reminder of just how good Mills has been for the Patriots secondary in 2021.

Williams was the target on not one but two long touchdown passes. He allowed one of Chris Conley’s long receptions in the first half (above) and Chris Moore’s 67-yard touchdown in the second half. Williams has never developed into the cornerback the Patriots hoped he’d be. This performance was yet another reminder of his lack of development.

WINNER: OT Yodny Cajuste

Cajuste was the biggest surprise of the game. He started on Jones’ blindside, where he helped New England’s offensive line allow just four quarterback hits, a season low. The offensive line had been anemic with the starters in the mix. But when the Patriots were without four of their top five offensive linemen, it seemed like their blocking could be a disaster. Somehow, it wasn’t. Somehow, Cajuste was solid. He was a highly-touted prospect in the 2019 NFL draft, with potential to be a first or second-rounder. He fell into the third round, however, due to medical concerns. Cajuste missed the first two seasons with injuries, but perhaps he’ll finally reach his potential after a strong effort in his first NFL start.

It helped that the Texans are sorely lacking talent along their defensive line. But Cajuste was good. He and the rest of the offensive line deserved a shoutout.

LOSER: Texans punter Cameron Johnston

Johnston is partially to blame. Coach David McCulley is also partially to blame. Ultimately, this was one of the worst special teams mixups of 2021. Johnston punted into the head of a teammate. Yup, the Texans blocked their own punt.

Houston didn’t score another point after that play, giving way to the Patriots’ comeback.

Johnston clearly made a few mistakes on the play, failing to drop all the way back to the 15-yard spot where he should have been punting. He also — easier said than done — shouldn’t have punted into the head of his teammate.

But why even call this fake fake punt? Culley didn’t need to get this cute. His team had a big lead. This mixup simply opened the door for the Patriots to get momentum.

LOSER: RB Damien Harris

Houston Texans place kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn (7) reacts after missing an extra point against the New England Patriots during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021, in Houston. (AP Photo/Justin Rex)

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Not only did Harris fumble the ball on the goal line, but he also suffered a rib injury.

Harris’ fumble came on a play that looked like a touchdown, but the officials overturned the call, with a Texans player stripping the football before the running back crossed the goal line. His fumble in Week 1 cost the Patriots the game. Luckily, New England was able to overcome the mistake this week.

The Patriots didn’t bench him completely after the mistake — he got back in the game. But that’s when he suffered a rib injury.

How quickly will Harris return? And what will his role be after a series of fumbles?

WINNER: EDGE Matthew Judon

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

He logged two sacks in the game, and recorded them on a three-play sequence, which the Texans to settle for a field goal.

Everyone — myself included — will point to the Texans’ screwup on the punt as a turning point. But Judon showed backbone at a moment when the defense looked the worst it had looked in all of 2021. When the rest of the defense wouldn’t step up, Judon did it for them. He has 6.5 sacks this year, an absurd pace.

“Regardless of the score and our record, we’re a really good football team,” Judon said after the game. “We’re going to make that clear in the coming weeks.”

We’ll see.

LOSER: OG Michael Onwenu

Bill Belichick said after the game that Onwenu was in play to start for the team’s game after landing on the COVID-19/reserve list. He couldn’t play, however. The Patriots pulled him in Week 4 after a pair of holding penalties. He will have to wait until Week 6 to get his game back on track.

WINNER: TE Hunter Henry

It was his best game as a Patriots, with Henry serving as the team’s most reliable pass-catcher. He had six catches for 75 yards and a touchdown. His 6-point play came on a third down in the fourth quarter — and it tied the game.

During training camp, Smith stood out far more than Henry, who spent most of the spring dealing with injuries. It seems that, maybe, Henry is finally getting comfortable in this offense. It’s unlikely he’ll make a habit of these performances, just because the Patriots offense is designed to feed the hot hand (which could be Henry, Smith, Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne or Nelson Agholor). But it’s a good sign that Henry has stepped up in recent weeks.

LOSER: WR Jakobi Meyers

Meyers was the team’s second-leading receiver, with four catches for 56 yards. On paper, it was a fine game. The problems were there, when you look a little deeper. He dropped a deep ball at the end of the second half that could’ve gone for a touchdown. Later, he committed an illegal shift in the red zone that backed up the offense.

When the Patriots have such a deep group of receivers, Meyers cannot expect to see WR1 snaps if he continues to make these mistakes. Bourne, in particular, seems to be gaining on Meyers as the team’s top possession receiver.

WINNER: Fourth-quarter defense

The Patriots allowed points in every quarter except the fourth. Something seemed to change in New England’s defense, which repeatedly put the ball back in the hands of its offense. The coverage breakdowns stopped. The pass-rush got after Davis Mills. It helped, too, that Houston stopped going for it on fourth down. The Texans went 3 of 3 on fourth down in the first half then abandoned their aggressive approach in the second half. It all came together for a great fourth quarter for the Patriots defense — which salvaged their otherwise awful game.

LOSER: OC Josh McDaniels

AP Photo/Steven Senne

If anything, McDaniels’ use of wildcat was a reminder of how little the offensive coordinator uses trendy concepts. He loves the old-school approach, embracing the power run game, the quick passing attack and even the old double reverse. At times, the offense lacks imagination. At times, the play-calling lacks imagination. Most notably, the Patriots got lucky to have excellent field position and momentum after the (self) blocked punt. He ran an uninspired sequence of plays: two runs and a screen pass. Yeesh.

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