With just five catches through his first two games in New England, Brandin Cooks wasn’t exactly lighting the world on fire in his new haunts.
The third game, as it turns out, was the charm.
Cooks hauled in five catches for 131 yards and two touchdowns, none bigger than his 25-yard touchdown reception with 23 seconds to go in the fourth quarter to help put the Patriots on top for good, 34-33. Cooks caught the ensuing two-point conversion to tie the bow on one of the more improbable finishes in Gillette Stadium’s history and give New England a 36-33 win over the Houston Texans.
“They were playing a two-high defense and we got [Cooks] behind the corner,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said after the game as he broke down the game’s defining play. “We had Danny [Amendola] going up the middle of the field, so I tried to stare down the middle and then put it up and didn’t really see the end of it until I saw it on the scoreboard. It was close, and they reviewed it. I’m glad we got the two-point play.
“It was a great win. Got to play to the last second.”
Two of Cooks’ catches went for 40 yards or more, giving him three such plays on the season. The Randy Moss comparisons are starting to be justified.
Brady threw for 378 yards and five touchdowns in all, completing 25 of his 35 passes. Following back-to-back listless three-and-outs for the Patriots, Brady was sharp as ever on the go-ahead drive, converting a pair of third-and-long situations with throws to Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski to set the stage for the heroics of Cooks, who tapped each of his feet along the side of the end zone to secure the biggest catch of his career to date.
“Tom Brady made a special throw and I was just sitting there catching the ball,” Cooks said of his game-winning grab. “It was a perfect timing and I expected nothing less from Tom.”
The Patriots are now 9-1 all-time vs. Houston, but one thing is very clear after four quarters of football against the Texans: DeShaun Watson, Houston’s first round pick this April, has clearly added a dimension to the Texans offense that’s never existed.
Watson’s eight carries for 41 yards aren’t exactly eye-popping, but his ability to keep plays alive with his legs resulted in a strong 90.6 passer rating for the rookie making jus the second start of his career. Watson completed 22 of 33 passes for 301 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions – the latter of which came on a last-ditch effort from the Houston 46-yard line as time expired. Duron Harmon came down with the ball to officially seal the deal for the Patriots.
Watson’s signature play came on a drive late in the fourth quarter with Houston nursing a two-point lead, 30-28. Facing first-and-20 deep in New England territory, Watson evaded four different tacklers with a dizzying display of spin moves, jukes and general elusiveness to bide enough time to find a wide-open D’Onta Foreman for a 31-yard gain. The play was the catalyst for the Texans driving deep into Patriots territory and killing plenty of clock in the process, the end result being a Ka’imi Fairbairn 36-yard field goal with 2:24 remaining.
The only time Watson didn’t look like a polished product was an awful decision early on in the second quarter. The Texans had a first down at their own 25-yard line as Watson dropped back with play action and looked for DeAndre Hopkins, Houston’s No. 1 receiver.
Deatrich Wise Jr. blew up Texans right tackle Breno Giacomini, forcing Watson into an errant throw before Hopkins had finished his route. Stephon Gilmore had plenty of room to come up with his first interception as a Patriot, returning the ball 39 yards to the Houston 12. Gilmore left the game at one point due to hydration but later returned.
Following Gilmore’s pick, Benardrick McKinney committed defensive holding, giving New England first-and-goal at the 7. Chris Hogan came in motion from the left and released right next to Gronkowski in the formation. With such a focus on Gronkowski in the red zone, no Texans defenders bothered to jam Hogan at the line and he found himself wide open back across the field for the touchdown to give the Patriots the lead, 14-10.
Hogan had a second touchdown later in the half – once again, left wide open by the Houston secondary – to give New England a 21-20 edge heading into the break.
But Watson continued to look poised as the game wore on, putting the Texans in position to take the lead early in the fourth quarter. He capitalized on a mismatch between running back Foreman and linebacker Kyle Van Noy in the flats – a play made much worse by Van Noy attempting to jump the route – for a 34-yard gain to put Houston in field goal territory. The Texans jumped on top, 30-28, four players later on a Fairbairn 31-yard field goal.
Starting right tackle Marcus Cannon was inactive with a concussion, forcing LaAdrian Waddle into the starting lineup. Sure enough, a starting Patriots tackle had difficulties with the Houston pass rush, but it sure wasn’t Waddle.
Left tackle Nate Solder struggled immensely to control the edge, allowing Jadeveon Clowney to sack Tom Brady for six yards on the final play of the first quarter. On another play later in the first half, Whitney Mercilus blew by Solder and forced a rare Brady fumble. The ball, still in midair, was scooped up by Clowney and returned for a touchdown to put the Texans back on top at the time, 20-14. Christian Covington beat Solder clean on a Patriots drive in the third quarter, getting credited with both a sack and a forced fumble which was recovered by New England guard Shaq Mason.
Clowney, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft, had two sacks, three QB hits and six tackles (four for a loss) in addition to the defensive score.
Gronkowski’s groin injury appears to be just fine, as he caught a team-high eight passes for 89 yards and a score. He had one of Brady’s five touchdown receptions, the 70th receiving score of Gronk’s career.
The win ensured the Patriots wouldn’t start 0-2 at home for the first time since 2000. They’ll be at home again next week, this time against former league MVP Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers for a 1 p.m. kickoff. The Panthers are coming off a dreadful 34-14 loss at home to the New Orleans Saints.
Responding to President Donald Trump's comments about NFL players protesting during the national anthem, nearly 20 players from the Patriots took a knee during the playing of Sunday's anthem, as a loud chorus of boos rained down from the Gillette Stadium crowd both before and after the anthem’s conclusion.
Speaking at a political rally in Huntsville, Alabama, on Friday night, Trump called on NFL owners to fire players who disrespected the anthem.