The New England Patriots dropped their 6th game of the 2020 season on Sunday afternoon against the Houston Texans, losing 27-20. Despite entering the game as road favorites, the game was a struggle for the Patriots on the defensive side. Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson retained his status as a Patriots killer, and future hall of fame defensive end J.J. Watt was a wrecking ball against New England’s offense.

Here are my instant observations:

The Good

– Cam Newton continued to perform well for the fourth consecutive game, leading four scoring drives on his way to 365 passing yards. Other than four bat-downs by J.J. Watt, Newton was accurate and on time throughout the game. He hit wide receiver Damiere Byrd on a beautiful deep ball for a touchdown, and was particularly accurate in the intermediate throughout the game. For the third straight game, Newton kept the ball out of harm’s way with no turnovers. 

Over the past four games, Cam Newton is 81/117 (69.2%) for 920 yards with 2 touchdowns and 0 interceptions, as well as 3 rushing touchdowns.

– Wide receiver Damiere Byrd had a career day, catching 6 passes for 132 yards and a touchdown. That score was the first by a Patriots wide receiver all season, and came on a 40-yard bomb that Byrd caught over the shoulder. Even beyond that on play, Byrd had an excellent game, showing off his speed as a route runner and with the ball in his hands. Counterpart Jakobi Meyers had a solid performance as well, giving New England a nice-looking 1-2 punch.

– New England’s run defense did what they should have against the uninspiring Texans rushing offense, holding the Houston running backs to just 19 yards on 13 carries. It was a dominant performance by the defensive line in this regard, partly due to the Texans starting multiple backups on their offensive line. For a defense that came in ranked 24th in the league in rushing yards against, it was an encouraging performance. 

– New England’s 21 personnel (2 running backs, 1 tight end) continued to be effective for the Patriots offense. Particularly in the first half, the Patriots got their offense going with this personnel grouping. Running back Damien Harris scored on a “pin and pull lead toss” call, a play that saw Jakobi Meyers level J.J. Watt.

– Nick Folk hit his 16th and 17th consecutive field goals, and punter Jake Bailey continues to bomb them on command.

The Bad

– New England’s coaching staff continues to make curious decisions with their clock management that have cost the team in big moments. Against Buffalo, New England was lethargic on their final offensive drive that resulted in a fumble. Had the offense played with a sense of urgency, there would have been enough time for another offensive possession with a defensive stop.

Well, a similar scenario played out against the Texans. New England took over with 4:11 remaining in the game and trailing by 7 points, but had all 3 timeouts at their disposal. Instead of playing fast, they continued to huddle and only got 6 offensive snaps before the 2-minute warning despite two incomplete passes. Coming out of the 2-minute warning, New England completed a pass for a first down, but wasted 24 seconds before the game was stopped for an injury timeout.

New England would eventually drive inside the Texans 30 yard-line before stalling out and turning the ball over on downs. The defense did their job forcing a 3-and-out, but the offense was left with just under 10 seconds remaining after Houston punted. They were unable to get within a reasonable range for a Cam Newton hail mary pass with such limited time, and it stemmed from the wasted time during their offensive drive.

The Patriots coaching staff simply cannot continue making these inexcusable clock management mistakes.

– New England’s defense failed to sack quarterback Deshaun Watson despite constant pressure against the banged up Texans offensive line. Additionally, there were numerous missed tackles that led to first down and explosive pays for the Texans offense. Tackling cannot continue to be an issue or the defense, otherwise today’s product will become the norm.

The Ugly

– Patriots linebacker J’Whaun Bentley was the worst player on the field on Sunday, registering 1 solo tackle despite an abundance of playing time. His inability to flow sideline-to-sideline or be a factor in coverage was constantly exposed. Bentley was a non-factor in stopping Deshaun Watson’s scrambles, was lost in his zone responsibilities when Houston sent their tight ends on crossing routes, and continued to be unable to play in conflict. 

– New England dropped to 4-6 in the standings and will face four teams with winning records over their remaining six games. They are likely to need 5 wins in order to be a factor in the playoff race, which seems like a tall task.

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