FOXBORO, Mass. — Jamie Collins was the MVP of the New England Patriots’ Thursday night victory over the Houston Texans, racking up 14 tackles to go along with one interception and one pass breakup.
But Ryan Allen was a very close second.
Yes, the punter.
Allen was phenomenal in New England’s 27-0 win, pinning Houston inside its own 20-yard line on each of his seven punts. In fact, the Texans finished the game without a single punt return yard — zero.
Five of Allen’s punts were fair-caught, and two were downed by the Patriots’ coverage team, including one at the 5-yard line with less than seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
“Man, that was unbelievable,” Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater said after the game. “I don’t think they had any return yards. They fair-caught everything. I can’t say enough good things about what (Allen) did (Thursday night). I know he was feeling good. I know he was chomping at the bit to come out and have a great game, and I think he did exactly that.”
And Allen wasn’t the only special-teams standout for the Patriots. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who’s found ways to subvert the NFL’s new touchback rule all season, forced the Texans to return three of his six kickoffs, and two of those returns resulted in fumbles.
Brandon Bolden knocked the ball from returner Charles James’ hands late in the first quarter, and Nate Ebner followed suit midway through the third, channeling his Olympic rugby prowess as he separated Tyler Ervin from the football. The Patriots recovered both fumbles inside the Texans’ 25-yard line and turned them into 10 points (a Jacoby Brissett touchdown run and a Gostkowski field goal).
“That’s just complimentary football where all three phases are helping one another,” Ebner said. “To have a turnover like that and give our offense the ball, to see them convert, that’s what you want to do every time. And to see it play out like that — both turnovers like that — it was great.”
That kind of success on special teams, coupled with a dominant defensive effort, made life much easier for Brissett, who was starting his first NFL game in place of the injured Jimmy Garoppolo. The rookie quarterback started five of his 13 drives in Houston territory, while the Texans started all 11 of theirs inside their own 25-yard line and did not advance past midfield until the last two minutes of the third quarter.
“One play, whether it’s on offense, defense or special teams, can flip the momentum,” Allen said. “And whether you’re a spectator or a player, I think everyone can witness when the momentum changes from side to side. So, if we can be of significance and create that momentum swing or keep it in our favor, I know that’s a huge help for the other two phases of the team.
“I think that’s a big deal.”
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images