The New England Patriots didn’t view the Houston Texans’ zero-yard punt as a special teams blunder by the other team.
To them, it was a standout play by an underappreciated player: defensive tackle Lawrence Guy.
The scene: Early in the third quarter Sunday afternoon, the Texans attempted to catch the Patriots off guard by having punter Cameron Johnston shift up toward the line, then drop back to his usual spot. But the trickeration attempt was both ill-advised and poorly executed.
With the play clock winding down, Johnston never regained his proper depth. He received the snap from long snapper Jon Weeks at 10 yards rather than the usual 15, then drilled the ball into the back of personal protector Terrence Brooks’ helmet. It deflected horizontally, bouncing out of bounds at the original line of scrimmage and giving the Patriots possession at the Texans’ 36-yard line.
That proved to be a turning point in the game. Trailing 22-9 at the time, the Patriots rallied for 16 unanswered points, scoring on each of their final four possessions en route to a 25-22 road victory.
Speaking postgame, Patriots players were sure to point out Johnston’s pinball punt wouldn’t have happened if Guy hadn’t driven Weeks 5 yards into the backfield and into Brooks.
“From the outside looking in, you look at it like (a mistake), but a lot don’t see the guy across from him — the guy that made the play, which was Guy,” linebacker Jamie Collins, who was lined up to Guy’s left on the punt return team, told reporters. “Guy’s always just a sneaky playmaker. He’s always under the radar. He’s not a flashy playmaker, but he’s always making plays. That’s what’s great about Guy. He’s not a flashy playmaker, and (those are) the best kind, for real.”
Collins added: “Guy made a great play. Knocked the guy back into the punter. He punted off his head. We?ll take it.”
Earlier in the game, outside linebacker Matt Judon sacked Texans quarterback Davis Mills twice in a three-play span in New England’s red zone. He was asked whether that sequence was what shifted momentum toward the Patriots.
“No,” Judon replied. “It was LG’s block. They still got points out of that drive. Then I believe we came out of halftime, turned the ball over, and they got points out of that drive. Then we finally stopped them on third down, it was third-and-short, and LG just blocks the punt. That’s what turned it around. It wasn’t me. I wish it was, but it was definitely LG.”
Head coach Bill Belichick said the blocked punt “really was a big play.”
“We were able to get the call and pressure that,” Belichick told reporters. “We had some big guys in there so if they did fake it, we felt like we were covered, but at the same time, we felt like we could pressure, as well. I’m not sure exactly what happened there but know we had guys coming whether it was a fake or not. Obviously, they missed it there, and LG made a great play.”
Special teams were an issue for the Texans throughout the afternoon, with kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn also missing two extra points and a 56-yard field goal and sending a kickoff out of bounds. Patriots counterpart Nick Folk missed a PAT, too, but was a perfect 4-for-4 on field-goal tries, including two 52-yarders and a 21-yard game-winner with 15 seconds remaining.