Patriots

Patriots had a lot of issues against the Texans, but patchwork offensive line was not one of them

Mac Jones was dependable under duress, but he had decent protection, too.

Jim Davis/Globe Staff
Backups Ted Karras (left) and James Ferentz were part of a Patriots' offensive line that allowed just one sack Sunday.


COMMENTARY

So in the end, the Patriots’ makeshift offensive line, pieced together with backups, practice-squad call-ups, and other assorted parts from the junk drawer, held up.

In fact, the line, which was missing four starters, was pretty close to the least of the Patriots’ problems in a last-minute 25-22 win over the Texans Sunday at Houston. But a win is a win is a win, right?

The Texans outplayed the Patriots for the first two-thirds of the game. Rookie quarterback Davis Mills, who looked way out of his element while throwing four interceptions last week, took advantage of repeated discipline mistakes in the Patriots’ secondary as the Texans built a 22-9 lead.

Advertisement:

Aided by costly Texans penalties, coach David Culley’s perplexing timeout usage, and the absolute dumbest play call against them since the “Colts Catastrophe” in 2015 — this one a cutesy punt formation that culminated with punter (and Bill Burr lookalike) Cameron Johnston ricocheting the ball off a teammate’s helmet — the Patriots rallied from down 22-9 in the third quarter.

The patchwork line, which included guards Ted Karras and James Ferentz and tackles Justin Herron and Yodny Cajuste — permitted a season-low one sack of quarterback Mac Jones. With decent protection, Jones, although benefiting from some steel-handed Texans defensive backs (he threw one interception and could have ended up with a couple more), was steady enough and undeterred, finishing 23 of 30 for 231 yards and a touchdown pass.

Advertisement:

Jones was dependable under duress, and with crucial assistance from kicker Nick Folk (four field goals, including the winner with 15 seconds left), he led the Patriots to victory in a game they had to have. It was ugly, and it left us with more questions than answers, but a win is a … well, you know.

Some further thoughts, upon immediate review . . .

THREE PLAYERS WORTH WATCHING

(Players suggested in Unconventional Preview: Brandin Cooks, Jakobi Meyers, Matthew Judon)

Hunter Henry: Call this the tight end’s best game as a Patriot. He had six catches for 75 yards — his previous high this season was 42 yards, in Week 2 against the Jets — and caught a touchdown pass for the second straight week, this one a crucial 13-yard grab on third-and-6 to tie the score with under 10 minutes left. He later added a third-and-6 conversion with just under four minutes left to keep the winning drive alive at the Houston 42. Good player, this guy, and fitting in more and more each week.

Advertisement:

Matthew Judon: Sometimes he looks like he’s the only Patriots defensive player out there playing with energy and bad intentions. Judon finished with four tackles, three quarterback hits, two tackles for losses, and snagged a pair of sacks on the Texans’ third possession, both in the red zone. It was his fourth straight game with a sack, and five games into the season, his total of 6½ has eclipsed Chase Winovich’s team-leading total of 5½ from last season.

Jamie Collins Sr.: The veteran linebacker, signed for a third stint with the Patriots this week after he was dismissed by the Lions, didn’t play a lot, but he did make an important contribution. With 8 minutes 37 seconds left, he blasted up the middle on second down and sacked Mills, setting up a third and 16. The Texans ended up punting, setting up the Patriots’ game-tying drive. The play was a welcome glimpse at how Collins, who turns 32 Oct. 20 but remains freakishly athletic, can help a linebacking corps that has looked painfully slow at times.

Advertisement:

GRIEVANCE OF THE GAME

This whole game was a grievance for a while, but it was the defensive performance — or lack of performance — that stood out. I’m not going to suggest Steve Belichick is bad at his job, let alone a nepotism case. That’s patently unfair. This defense is just a week removed from holding Tom Brady without a touchdown pass and putting him in a lousy mood for most of last Sunday night. But the defensive backs gave up repeated big plays early on to Mills and the Texans’ mediocre group of receivers, and there are legitimate questions about the mental focus of this group as a whole. On the Saints’ clinching touchdown in Week 3, the Patriots had just 10 players on the field. Last week, they were flagged for having 12 men on the field at one point against the Bucs. Where’s the discipline?

Advertisement:

KEY MATCHUP

Texans receivers that aren’t Brandin Cooks vs. Patriots defensive backs

The Patriots did a good job on the speedy and oft-targeted Cooks, who finished with three catches for 23 yards. It was the Texans’ other receivers that gave the Patriots trouble. Chris Moore, elevated from the practice squad prior to the game, finished with five catches for 109 yards, both career highs. He scored the second touchdown on a 67-yard catch-and-run in which J.C. Jackson couldn’t get high enough to break up the pass, while safety Devin McCourty took a terrible route allowing Moore to scoot by him. Former Chief Chris Conley was nearly as productive, with three catches for 84 yards, including a 37-yard touchdown catch off a flea-flicker.

THREE NOTES SCRIBBLED IN THE MARGINS

(Predicted score: Patriots 30, Texans 3)

(Final score: Patriots 25, Texans 22)

Damien Harris had the ignominious achievement of becoming the third Patriots running back benched for fumbling this season after he lost the ball on his way into the end zone on the offense’s second possession. Belichick allowed him out of the doghouse in the second half, and after running for minus-4 yards last week, he ended up with a fairly productive day (14 carries, 58 yards, 1 TD) before leaving with a rib injury … Kyle Dugger finished with 10 tackles and seemed to be all over the place, but he did get beaten on Antony Auclair’s touchdown catch on the Texans’ first drive. … This has to be the first time in the modern NFL that the first three extra-point attempts of a game were not converted, right?

Jump To Comments

Conversation

This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on Boston.com