As 2019 draws to a close, we’re counting down the greatest New England Patriots games of the last decade.
At No. 15: Patriots vs. Houston Texans, Week 3, 2017
Expectations were sky-high for the 2017 Patriots, who reloaded their roster after knocking off the Atlanta Falcons in one of the greatest Super Bowls of all time. Brandin Cooks, Stephon Gilmore, Lawrence Guy, Dwayne Allen and Rex Burkhead all came aboard, and a 19-0 season was considered a realistic possibility.
Julian Edelman tore his ACL in the preseason, and the Pats then were punched in the mouth by the Kansas City Chiefs in the season opener, losing 42-27 on their home turf. After rebounding with a convincing road win over the New Orleans Saints in Week 2, New England prepared to host a Texans team led by rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson, who at that point had started just one NFL game.
HOW IT HAPPENED
A 44-yard bomb from Tom Brady to Cooks on New England’s opening drive set the tone for a high-scoring thriller. Brady found tight end Rob Gronkowski for a touchdown to cap that series, but Houston jumped ahead late in the first quarter on a 29-yard bullet from Watson to Bruce Ellington.
That was the first of six lead changes in the game, as Watson and the Texans’ ferocious defensive front matched Brady and Co. shot for shot.
The Patriots’ defense, which resembled a turnstile for the first month of the 2017 season, repeatedly struggled to contain Houston’s dual-threat QB, allowing Watson to pass for 301 yards and rush for another 41. Star pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney had a monster game for the Texans, finishing with two sacks, three QB hits, four tackles for loss and a fumble return for a touchdown. J.J. Watt also added two QB hits and three TFLs, and the Texans racked up five sacks.
But that couldn’t stop Brady from delivering a dazzling performance. He threw five touchdown passes — including a 47-yarder to Chris Hogan late in the second quarter and a 42-yarder to Cooks to open the second half — with no interceptions and posted a passer rating of 146.2.
New England’s offense stalled early in the fourth quarter, however, and two Kai’mi Fairbairn field goals put the Texans ahead 33-28 with 2:24 remaining. Brady responded by marching the Patriots 75 yards in eight plays, completing passes of 19, 15, 18 and 27 yards and converting two third-and-longs before threading the needle to Cooks for a 25-yard go-ahead touchdown with 23 seconds remaining.
Cooks, who led all receivers with 131 yards on five catches, added a two-point conversion, and Duron Harmon intercepted Watson’s Hail Mary bid to seal the win.
Final score: Patriots 36, Texans 33
Thirty seconds left, Clowney in his face, two defensive backs closing in. Brady’s game-winner to Cooks still stands as one of the most impressive touchdown passes of his storied career.
Danny Amendola caught just three passes, but two moved the chains on third down, including a highlight-reel 27-yard pickup on third-and-18 that set up Cooks’ final score. This would become a trend throughout the season for the veteran slot receiver, who routinely delivered in clutch situations for New England.
THEY SAID IT
“(I saw) Tom Brady making a special throw and just me sitting there catching the ball. That’s all I could see. Those are the throws where it’s just like, ‘C’mon, hurry up and get to me.’ But it was a perfect throw, perfect timing, and I expect nothing less from Tom.” — Cooks on his game-winning touchdown.
“Legendary. He’s just a legend.” — defensive end Deatrich Wise on Brady
“That was a great NFL football game. After that win, I was like, ‘That’s what NFL football is right there.’ ” — Gronkowski, who caught a game-high eight passes for 89 yards and a touchdown
This was the seminal game of Cooks’ Patriots tenure, which lasted just one season. It also provided a glimpse of greatness to come for Watson and offered more proof that Brady, who’d just turned 40 six weeks earlier, had not lost a step. The 2017 season wound up being one of Brady’s best, earning him his third NFL Most Valuable Player Award.
The Patriots lost to the Carolina Panthers in another shootout the following week (36-33 on a last-second field goal) but rallied to win 13 of their next 14 games en route to another AFC title before falling to the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII.
Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images