Final, Patriots 27-20: The New England Patriots began the 2018 season with a victory, withstanding a late push by the Houston Texans to win 27-20 at Gillette Stadium.
A perfect punt by Ryan Allen pinned the Texans at their own 1-yard line with less than a minute remaining, and Deshaun Watson’s desperation heave fell incomplete as time expired.
Tom Brady completed 26 of 39 passes for 277 yards and three touchdowns and one interception in the win. Rob Gronkowski led all pass-catchers with seven receptions for 123 yards and one touchdown, and Phillip Dorsett set a new career high with seven catches for 66 yards and a score.
The Patriots will hit the road next Sunday for a AFC Championship Game rematch against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Fourth quarter, 2:08, Patriots 27-20: A muffed punt by Riley McCarron, who’s making his NFL debut today, gave the Texans new life at the Patriots’ 16-yard line.
Ex-Patriots cornerback Johnson Bademosi recovered the muff, and after two defensive holding penalties on Stephon Gilmore moved Houston even closer to paydirt, Deshaun Watson hit Bruce Ellington on a slant for a 2-yard touchdown.
It’s a one-score game here in Foxboro. The Texans still have all three timeouts.
Fourth quarter, 5:17, Patriots 27-13: A three-and-out for the Patriots included Houston’s second sack of the day. New England’s offensive line hasn’t held up quite as well here in this fourth quarter.
Fourth quarter, 7:09, Patriots 27-13: A sack by Trey Flowers and Lawrence Guy and a great effort play by Devin McCourty halted a promising Texans drive.
McCourty sprinted across the field to tackle DeAndre Hopkins at the line on a third-down screen pass.
The Texans are running out of time here.
Fourth quarter, 9:48, Patriots 27-13: Phillip Dorsett, who’s in the midst of by far his best game as a Patriot, continued his strong afternoon with this nifty display of footwork:
Center David Andrews surrendered New England’s first sack two plays later, though, forcing the Patriots to settle for a field goal after a 13-play, 58-yard drive that took 7:04 off the clock.
Third quarter, 1:52, Patriots 24-13: Touchdown, Texans.
Deshaun Watson led Houston on a 10-play, 73-yard scoring march that culminated in a 1-yard touchdown run by running back Alfred Blue.
Third quarter, 6:02, Patriots 24-6: Earlier fumble aside, Rob Gronkowski has been an absolute menace today.
The Patriots’ latest possession featured a 30-yard strike from Tom Brady to a well-covered Gronkowski, who now is over 100 receiving yards for the 27th time in his career. Phillip Dorsett also caught two more passes, giving him a career-high six for 56 yards on the day.
New England was forced to settle for a field goal after Brady threw incomplete on second and third down from Houston’s 20-yard line. J.J. Watt hit Brady on the second of those throws — the first QB hit of the game for a Texans defense that sacked Brady five times last season.
Third quarter, 9:40, Patriots 21-6: Deshaun Watson guided the Texans into the red zone for the third time today, but Houston again was unable to reach the end zone.
This Texans drive didn’t yield any points, as Watson missed an open Ryan Griffin on fourth-and-goal from the Patriots’ 19.
Third quarter, 12:09, Patriots 21-6: A long completion to Rob Gronkowski wound up resulting in Tyrann Mathieu’s second takeaway of the day after Kareem Jackson punched the ball out of Gronkowski’s hands.
Things then went from bad to worse for the Patriots when fullback James Develin inadvertently hit running back Jeremy Hill in the knee while both were attempting to tackle Mathieu. Hill was examined on the field by members of the Patriots training staff and then taken to the sideline medical tent.
Hill later walked down the tunnel toward the locker room under his own power.
Third quarter, 12:54, Patriots 21-6: Kyle Van Noy dropped DeAndre Hopkins for a 7-yard loss on the opening play of the second half, and Houston’s offense couldn’t recover. The Texans punted three plays later.
Halftime, Patriots 21-6: An incredible catch by Rob Gronkowski and the best sequence of Phillip Dorsett’s Patriots tenure helped the Patriots find the end zone for the third time today in the final minute of the first half.
Shortly after Gronkowski hauled in a 28-yard grab with two defenders practically hanging off his jersey, Tom Brady targeted Dorsett three times in a four-play span, producing a 12-yard gain, a 14-yard gain and a 4-yard touchdown.
It was Dorsett’s first touchdown in a Patriots uniform.
On Gronkowski’s big play, replays showed the ball might have hit the ground before the tight end had control, but the Patriots ran their next play before the replay official could call for a review.
Second quarter, 4:30, Patriots 14-6: The Patriots forced a Texans punt, giving Tom Brady the chance to pad their lead before halftime.
Running back Jeremy Hill helped the offense’s cause by partially blocking Trevor Daniel’s punt, giving the Patriots the ball at their own 21.
It was interesting to see Nicholas Grigsby take a snap at middle linebacker during that drive. Grigsby primarily is a special teamer, but he played an increased role on defense during the regular season, and he has the speed to run with a mobile quarterback like Deshaun Watson.
Grigsby chased Watson down on third-and-3, but not before the QB reached the first-down marker.
Second quarter, 4:30, Patriots 14-6: How poor was Deshaun Watson’s last throw? Eric Rowe and Stephon Gilmore both had a chance to intercept it.
Gilmore ultimately came down with Watson’s deep heave, which was intended for Vyncint Smith in the end zone. It was an ill-advised decision by the young Texans QB, who absorbed a big hit from Lawrence Guy just as he released the ball.
The Patriots went three-and-out on the ensuing possession, giving the ball back to Houston.
Second quarter, 7:09, Patriots 14-6: Tom Brady ended the Patriots’ latest drive with three consecutive incompletions, including one to a triple-covered Chris Hogan on third-and-10. Texans ball after a Ryan Allen punt.
Second quarter, 9:01, Patriots 14-6: The Texans were forced to settle for another field goal after Deatrich Wise brought Deshaun Watson to the turf for the second time today.
Wise’s sack came after Houston used a 27-yard completion to Jordan Thomas, a 9-yard screen pass to DeAndre Hopkins and a 9-yard run by Alfred Blue to march into the red zone.
In addition to swarming Watson, the Patriots also have done a nice job of limiting Hopkins, who has just one catch on three targets thus far. Stephon Gilmore broke up a pass intended for the All-Pro wideout on the latest drive.
Second quarter, 12:38, Patriots 14-3: A successful Tom Brady sneak on fourth-and-1 extended a Patriots drive that culminated in a 12-yard touchdown reception by James White.
Seven different Patriots players had carries or receptions on the drive: Brady, White, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jeremy Hill, Rex Burkhead, Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett. Rob Gronkowski also drew a pass interference call that picked up 14 yards.
Patterson set up White’s score with a 10-yard pickup on a jet sweep — the wideout’s second carry of the afternoon.
One thing to watch: LaAdrian Waddle played right tackle on that last drive over Marcus Cannon, who was questionable for this game with a hamstring injury. Waddle is the Patriots’ only backup tackle.
First quarter, 2:33, Patriots 7-3: Tyrann Mathieu’s first interception in a Texans uniform set Houston up just outside the red zone.
Tom Brady tried to hit James White across the middle on third-and-6, but former Patriots practice squadder Angelo Blackson got his hand on the pass, deflecting it right to Mathieu.
The Patriots were facing third-and-6 rather than third-and-1 because of an illegal procedure penalty on Cordarrelle Patterson, who didn’t get set before a Brady sneak attempt.
The interception gave Houston the ball at the 22-yard line, but it couldn’t find the end zone. Keionta Davis hit Deshaun Watson to force an incompletion on first down, the Patriots stuffed Lamar Miller for no gain on second down, and Deatrich Wise and Trey Flowers teamed up to sack Watson on third down. The Texans had to settle for a 42-yard field goal by Ka’imi Fairbairn.
Poor offensive line play by the Texans has helped matters, but New England’s pass rush looks much-improved thus far.
And speaking of O-line issues, Texans right tackle Seantrel Henderson has been ruled out with an ankle injury he suffered on Davis’ strong rush.
First quarter, 5:39, Patriots 7-0: Malcom Brown came within milliseconds of recording a safety on Houston’s latest possession.
Brown marauded his way into the Texans backfield and got his hands on Deshaun Watson. While he was being pulled down, Watson threw the ball at the feet of one of his tight ends, with officials ruling the play an incomplete pass.
That call initially proved costly for the Patriots, as the next two plays resulted in a 31-yard run by Lamar Miller and a 13-yard scramble by Watson. New England’s defense buckled down, though, sandwiching two incompletions around a 4-yard Miller rush to force a Texans punt.
First quarter, 7:51, Patriots 7-0: The Patriots’ passing game has run through their tight ends and running backs thus far.
Tom Brady has targeted a wide receiver on just one of his first six passes (a 6-yarder to Cordarrelle Patterson), and fullback James Develin leads all Patriots pass-catchers thus far with two receptions.
The Pats picked up a first down on Patterson’s catch but were forced to punt shortly thereafter.
First quarter, 10:21, Patriots 7-0: Three-and-out for Houston. Tight end Ryan Griffin had a half-step on linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley on third down, but Deshaun Watson overthrew him.
After a poor 36-yard punt by Trevor Daniel, the Patriots will take over at their own 33.
First quarter, 11:50, Patriots 7-0: The Texans’ first drive lasted just one play.
Deshaun Watson’s handoff to Lamar Miller went awry, resulting in a fumble that Dont’a Hightower pounced on, giving the ball back to the Patriots.
Tom Brady overthrew Rex Burkhead in the end zone on the first play of the ensuing possession, but he connected with Rob Gronkowski on a 21-yard touchdown pass two plays later.
Two defenders converged on Gronkowski as Brady’s pass reached its target, but neither could prevent the hulking tight end from crossing the goal line.
First quarter, 13:20, 0-0: The Patriots kept it on the ground for the duration of their opening possession, calling 8 yards on three running plays before punting.
Rex Burkhead got the start at running back and had one of those three carries. James White had the two others.
First quarter, 15:00, 0-0: Game time. The Texans will kick off first after winning the coin toss and deferring.
Boston Celtics guard Terry Rozier made an appearance during the pregame ceremony, opening the door to the Patriots’ locker room. This has been quite the weekend for Rozier, who also joined Drake on stage last night at TD Garden.
12:34 p.m.: De facto Patriots defensive coordinator Brian Flores utilized a traditional 4-3 defense for much of the preseason. But based on pregame warmups here, it appears New England might line up in a 3-4 today — a departure from what we’ve seen all summer.
We’ll see if that alignment sticks once the game begins.
11:32 a.m.: Here are the Patriots’ inactives for today:
Derek Rivers is the most surprising name on that list. He’s a healthy scratch for what would have been his first regular-season NFL game. It’s also interesting to see both rookie cornerbacks (Keion Crossen and J.C. Jackson) sitting out.
Hollister is projected to have a larger role in the Patriots’ offense this season, but he’ll miss today’s game with a hamstring injury.
Defensive end Trey Flowers, running back Rex Burkhead, offensive tackle Marcus Cannon and special teamers Matthew Slater and Nate Ebner all are active for the Patriots after not playing during the preseason.
Wide receiver Riley McCarron will make his Patriots debut after being promoted from the practice squad earlier this week. Expect him to return punts today.
9:08 a.m.: Sony Michel’s NFL debut will have to wait.
The Patriots first-round draft pick, who is listed as questionable with a knee injury, is not expected to play today, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
That’s not a surprising development, as Michel sat out the entire preseason and remained limited in practice this week.
New England will have three running backs at its disposal against the Texans: James White, Rex Burkhead and Jeremy Hill.
8:30 a.m.: An interesting report this morning from Ian Rapoport, who said Rob Gronkowski made it clear this offseason he would rather retire than play for any team other than the Patriots. This made New England halt what had been “intense” trade talks involving the All-Pro tight end, per Rapoport.
8:15 a.m.: The Texans reportedly will be without one of their top offensive weapons today.
Wide receiver Will Fuller, who is listed as questionable with a hamstring injury, is not expected to play, a source told NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport.
Fuller, a speedy third-year pro out of Notre Dame, is Houston’s No. 2 wideout behind All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins. He didn’t play in last year’s Patriots-Texans matchup as he recovered from a broken collarbone.
With Fuller out, undrafted rookie Vyncint Smith will start opposite Hopkins with Bruce Ellington in the slot. Fellow Texans wideouts Sammie Coates and Keke Coutee also are listed up as questionable with hamstring injuries.
8 a.m. ET: Good morning from Gillette Stadium, where the New England Patriots are preparing to open their 2018 regular season against the Houston Texans.
The Texans nearly upset the Patriots in Foxboro last season, and Houston stars Deshaun Watson, J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus all are back after recovering from season-ending injuries.
New England, as it has for the past 17 years, will be led by quarterback Tom Brady, whose receiving corps experienced an unusual amount of turnover this summer. Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson — plus tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Jacob Hollister and running backs Rex Burkhead, James White and Jeremy Hill — will look to hold down the fort until Julian Edelman returns from suspension in Week 5.
Hollister, running back Sony Michel, offensive tackle Marcus Cannon and safety Nate Ebner all are listed as questionable for New England.
Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. ET. Click the link below for a full game preview, and be sure to check back throughout the morning for full pregame coverage, including the premiere of NESN.com’s Patriots Chat at 11 a.m. on Facebook Live.
Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images