By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Beginning their season in what feels like a rare Sunday 1 p.m. at Gillette Stadium setting, the New England Patriots have wasted no time trying to blow the doors off the visiting Houston Texans, and carry a 21-6 lead into halftime.
Led by Tom Brady, who returns to the Patriot locker room after completing 16 of 26 passes for 154 yards and three touchdowns, the Patriots capped their first half with what an absolutely surgical two-minute drill to put the Texans down by double digits.
Deshaun Watson and the Houston offense, meanwhile, has totaled just 142 yards of offense with two turnovers.
Here are three quick takeaways from the opening 30 minutes of play…
1. Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski still a lethal combination
The Patriots may have taken some serious offensive losses over the offseason — Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola are gone, and a trio of expected-to-be-noteworthy wideouts failed to make it out of training camp — but the Patriots’ most important one-two punch is still very much intact, as their first score of the season undoubtedly proved.
In a first quarter that started with a three-and-out behind three straight running plays, a Texan turnover on their first play of the season put New England’s offense back to work. And it was right back to business for quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski, as Brady found the hulking No. 87 for his first catch (and touchdown) of the year with a 21-yard strike.
STILL GRONK pic.twitter.com/k6Uwgnx67V— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) September 9, 2018
With the touchdown, the Brady-Gronkowski combination has come through with 76 touchdowns. It’s the fifth-most all-time between any duo, and the second-most between an quarterback-tight end connection.
2. This Patriot pass rush is a nightmare for the Texans
Here’s how the first quarter broke down for Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson: 1-for-6 passing, a total of three passing yards, one seven-yard sack, and a fumble lost. Watson narrowly avoided taking a safety into his own endzone, too, but threw it at the feet of Houston tight end Jordan Thomas with actual milliseconds to spare before he was driven into the Gillette turf.
The Texans already entered this game with a considerably mediocre offensive line, and it certainly got worse when Seantrel Henderson was carted off the field with a lower-body injury. This, along with New England’s aggression, has made this an opening 30 minutes of hell for the second-year Watson.
What’s been even more impressive, though, has been the Patriots ability to hold Watson in check even when he breaks free from the pocket and gets into scramble mode. This has left Houston’s face of the franchise with absolutely no answer. For anything.
3. New England secondary looks up to task
Seemingly limited at the cornerback position on Sunday, Jonathan Jones has come through with some great plays in the slot, while Stephon Gilmore made Watson pay on what was a downright stupid throw.
The Gilly Lock. @BumpNrunGilm0re | #GoPats | #HOUvsNE pic.twitter.com/OEU9hNt9tl— New England Patriots (@Patriots) September 9, 2018
Given the fact that the Texans effectively have just one legitimate weapon at wideout in DeAndre Hopkins (Will Fuller V was ruled out of this game), this has forced Watson to look elsewhere again and again. To no avail, too. This has come back down to how the supporting cast members — both in the secondary and within the linebacking corps, as well — have handled their assignments against the likes of Ryan Griffin, Jordan Thomas, Jordan Akins, and Lamar Miller.
Also, as a quick aside: Is J.J. Watt even playing in this game?
Ty Anderson is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.