The Houston Texans are no stranger to the New England Patriots. This week, the NFL regular season kicks off with Houston trekking up to Foxborough for the fourth time in three seasons.
The last time the Texans were at Gillette Stadium, a 25-yard pass from Tom Brady to Brandin Cooks earned the home team the win with just 23 seconds to go in the game. So it’s fair to say the Texans have a pretty good idea of what they’re up against this coming Sunday.
In interviews this week, Texans defensive end J.J. Watt kept his thoughts on the Pats pretty straightforward: “Probably the best quarterback of all time; one of the best coaches of all time,” Watt said of the Patriots. “Their track record speaks for itself. They’re phenomenal.”
Watt, having missed majority of both the 2016 and 2017 seasons due to injuries, is eager to get back on the field and face whatever challenges the game may bring, even if that challenge is Brady.
“It’s always exciting to get out on the field and play against a team of the caliber,” Watts said. “I’m very much looking forward to the challenge and I’m looking forward to getting back on the field myself.”
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick praised Watt earlier this week, calling him “a very smart player, as well as one that has outstanding physical skill.” Watt effortlessly returned the favor during a press conference, saying that any praise from “the greatest coach of all time” was an honor.
On Houston’s side, head coach Bill O’Brien has similarly sang praises of the Patriots offensive line and, more specifically, tight end Rob Gronkowski.
“Where do you want me to start? He’s 6’7, 265 pounds, he’s got excellent athletic ability, he can run like a wide receiver, he’s got great flexibility, he’s tough, everybody talks about his range, his ability to catch any ball that’s thrown to him,” O’Brien said.
For O’Brien, it appears that the biggest challenge will be getting his defense to contain Gronkowski, something that cornerback Johnathan Joseph echoed, saying that his team must “challenge him each and every play.”
“[Gronkowski is] a really hard guy to match up against. He’s a consistent performer. He’s probably one of the best tight ends, obviously in the game right now, maybe in the history of the game,” O’Brien said.
And though he’s just a rookie, safety Justin Reid is up to the task of matching up to Gronk.
When asked how tough it is to stop Gronkowski, Reid replied, “That’s what I’m trying to find out!”
Sunday’s game will be Reid’s NFL regular season debut, and he said that playing against Brady and Gronk in his first game is going to be “an incredible experience.”
When it comes to Brady, many Texans players have praised the quarterback for his excellence, making good use of the G.O.A.T acronym.
DeShaun Watson, the Texans’ 22-year-old quarterback, is going toe-to-toe with Brady in only his eighth NFL game ever– Watson tore his ACL during practice last year, prematurely ending his rookie season. But when asked about what it feels like to play against Brady, Watson made it clear that he is strictly business.
“Last year was kind of a surprise, seeing all of the athletes that I’d looked up and had been watching for a long time,” Watson said during a press conference. “But now I’ve been through that stage, I’ve been kind of starstruck. Right now, the guys that you look up to become your rivals, and you’ve just got to be able to go out there and compete.”
But O’Brien, a former quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator with the Patriots, recalls his years spent working hands-on with Brady and knows that beating the Pats might be easier said than done.
“I can remember when I was there, phone calls in the offseason, you know, What’s happening here? Hey, I was thinking about this.’ You know, always thinking about football and how to get the edge and that’s why he’s the player he is and he’s had the career that he’s had and that’s why he’s still playing,” O’Brien said. “Because he’s found that edge and he continues to try to get better every single day.”
Houston center Nick Martin might have put it most simply, telling a reporter: “At the end of the day, it’s all about execution.”