The Patriots’ 27-20 win over the Texans reinforced the star status of several players while also pushing the spotlight in a few new directions.
Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski thrived, reminding the league that they remain a dynamic duo in the New England offense. Yet Gronkowski wasn’t the only player to turn a few heads in the passing game.
And when the offense was unable to ice the game late in the fourth quarter, special teams stepped up to make a big play.
Alongside the successes from Week 1 were those who struggled or – in one unfortunate case – saw the season come to an abrupt end. Here’s a look at a few players who saw their stock rise, as well as a few who saw it fall.
Ryan Allen, Jonathan Jones: With all three timeouts in hand, and the two-minute warning, Texans coach Bill O’Brien elected to kick the ball deep late in the fourth quarter as Houston trailed 27-20. The Patriots managed to convert a first down, but were stopped three-and-out over the ensuing plays.
So with 51 seconds remaining, Patriots punter Ryan Allen stepped back to try and pin Houston deep in its own territory. The result was as dramatic as it gets for a punter:
Allen’s 54-yard punt was downed by special teams gunner Jonathan Jones inside the one-yard line. It was a perfect punt (hit with proper loft and angle to make it impossible for a return), combined with perfect coverage.
The result ensured that the Texans would have to drive the entire field to get a potential game-tying score. Given that Deshaun Watson’s end-of-game pass didn’t even reach the end zone, it again showed how every yard counts, especially on special teams.
Phillip Dorsett: The pressure was on Dorsett to deliver in Week 1 after a preseason of mounting expectations. And not only did he do so, but in a slightly unexpected way.
Known throughout his career (both in college and in the NFL) as a deep threat, Dorsett caught seven passes for 66 yards and a touchdown against the Texans. His longest catch of the day was only 14 yards. Still, that’s reason for Patriots fans to be optimistic.
For those looking for signs of Dorsett’s growing importance in the Patriots’ offense, his usage in the short passing game is encouraging. Here’s an example:
His touchdown – in which he displayed discipline to not break off his route too quickly – showed that he’s maturing in the New England offense:
Stephon Gilmore: Gilmore’s status as the Patriots’ top cornerback is well established, so he’s less of a person who moved “up” as he is someone who merely stayed at the top. His play against the Texans warranted credit beyond his (impressive) end zone interception.
As has been pointed out, the communication in the Patriots’ secondary was immediately better to start 2018 than it was a season ago. The result was a lackluster passing day from Watson, who found no wide open targets for much of the day.
While DeAndre Hopkins managed eight catches, they only amounted to 78 yards (fewer than 10 yards per catch). Gilmore wasn’t directly on Hopkins for the entire game, but he helped limit the star wide receiver when lined up across from him.
Riley McCarron: After being activated for Week 1 mostly for his ability to return punts, McCarron fumbled (and lost) a punt return in the fourth quarter. The Texans promptly made the Patriots pay for the turnover, scoring a touchdown to close within seven points. McCarron acknowledged his mistake in the postgame, but it ultimately cost him a place on the team’s roster.
LaAdrian Waddle: As starting tackle Marcus Cannon moves back into the lineup from an injury, Waddle saw 29 snaps at the position. He struggled at times blocking J.J. Watt. And while blocking one of the NFL’s premier defensive lineman is no small task, there was an appreciable gap in Waddle’s performance vs. Cannon’s.
Jeremy Hill: This obviously has nothing to do with Hill’s actual performance on the field as a running back (he contributed efficiently when given carries). And he also made a partial block of a punt. It pertains to the unfortunate injury he suffered in the third quarter, forcing his exit from the game. The result was a torn ACL, meaning that Hill will miss the rest of the season.