New England Patriots

The New England Patriots followed up a mostly strong first half with an uneven second half against the Houston Texans. But ultimately, they did enough to get the win and that’s what matters most to Bill Belichick.

There’s clearly a lot that the Patriots can take away from the win and feel good about heading into Week 2. Their receiver situation might not be so dire, thanks to Phillip Dorsett. The defense continued to look good in the areas where they looked improved over the summer.

But by the same token, a win that felt like it was on its way to a laugher at halftime ended up just a one-score game. Patriots-Texans wasn’t quite as close as the 27-20 final suggested, but the home team had some issues that kept the Texans in contention and threatened to catch up to them in the end.

So whose stock is rising (or falling) after the Patriots’ season-opening victory?

Rising: Phillip Dorsett

At the end of the day, Dorsett is only going to have to be the third or fourth receiving option for Tom Brady. Rob Gronkowski always takes precedence and they’re now just three games away from getting Julian Edelman back. But the wideout did look to be gaining Brady’s trust over the summer, and it’s carried over to the regular season.

Dorsett caught all seven of his targets for 66 yards and a touchdown against the Texans, including an eye-opening three-play sequence on the Pats’ scoring drive at the end of the second quarter. Brady targeted Dorsett in three of the final four plays of the drive, which ended with a four-yard touchdown where the receiver simply executed his motion and route perfectly, getting in the right spot for Brady to get him the ball. Before that, he snatched the ball away from his body on an out route to set up a first down, then caught another on the opposite side to set up first-and-goal.

Sep 9, 2018, Foxborough, MA: New England Patriots wide receiver Phillip Dorsett runs with the ball against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium. (David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports)

Sep 9, 2018, Foxborough, MA: New England Patriots wide receiver Phillip Dorsett runs with the ball against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium. (David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports)

Dorsett did sound satisfied about getting his first score as a Patriot.

“It was big,” said Dorsett. “We needed something; we needed to get into the end zone because that defense was stout. They were stopping us on some things where we just needed to get a few plays going, just get in a groove, and get in the end zone.”

Falling: Riley McCarron

McCarron consistently fielded punts in practice over the summer with minimal mistakes, but the 25-year-old messed up at one of the worst possible times on Sunday. McCarron’s muffed punt eventually led to a Texans touchdown to cut the lead to seven. The Patriots suddenly have a major question mark at the punt return spot if they don’t feel they can continue to employ McCarron in that role. Muffed punts can’t happen, especially in those crucial moments.

Rising: Jonathan Jones

With rookie Duke Dawson on injured reserve and his status for the entire season up in the air, the Patriots are really going to need Jones to step up in the slot. He’s off to a good start. He had tight coverage on the Texans’ Bruce Ellington on an early third-down incompletion that forced a punt.

Even better, Jones broke up another third-down attempt on Ellington in the fourth quarter, which led to the punt that McCarron fumbled. In total, Deshaun Watson was 0-for-3 when targeting Ellington against Jones. The receiver only caught the ball when matched up against linebackers Elandon Roberts and Ja’Whaun Bentley.

Jones told NESN’s Doug Kyed after the game that he finds purely getting “experience” an important factor in his continued improvement.

“That’s one thing you can’t buy is experience, so game after game, I’m just going to try to keep getting better and not make the same mistakes and improve and make plays,” Jones said.

Jones appears to be the answer to a sneaky question mark for the Patriots defense this season. If he can be consistent and build off Week 1, he’ll have a chance to be a very good slot corner for an improved group.

Falling: Chris Hogan

Brady targeted Hogan five times, and the receiver could only catch one of them for 11 yards on a curl by the left sideline. To be fair, one of Hogan’s targets was an ill-advised throw by Brady into triple-coverage. Two others were errant throws disrupted by J.J. Watt. But Hogan mostly struggled to get open against Johnathan Joseph and the Texans secondary, which appeared to mix up its coverages against Brady’s de facto No. 1 wideout. It won’t get any easier for Hogan next Sunday at Jacksonville, when he’s likely to get a heavy dose of either Jalen Ramsey or A.J. Bouye.

Sep 9, 2018; Foxborough, MA: Houston Texans linebacker Zach Cunningham breaks up a pass intended for New England Patriots wide receiver Chris Hogan with the help of defensive back Justin Reid during the second quarter at Gillette Stadium. (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

Sep 9, 2018; Foxborough, MA: Houston Texans linebacker Zach Cunningham breaks up a pass intended for New England Patriots wide receiver Chris Hogan with the help of defensive back Justin Reid during the second quarter at Gillette Stadium. (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

Rising: Ryan Allen

Allen showed why he never came close to relinquishing his hold on the Patriots’ punting job late in the fourth quarter. If he can consistently bury teams severely deep in their own territory the way he did on his beautiful punt in the final minute, he can be a flat-out weapon in the field position battle. Jones also deserves credit for downing the ball perfectly at the 1-yard line, but Allen came as close as you can to a punter making a game-changing, highlight-reel kind of play.

Falling: Kickoff coverage

For whatever reason, the Patriots’ coverage on kickoffs weren’t as sharp as other special teams units on Sunday. Texans kick returner Tyler Ervin averaged 31.2 yards on five kick returns in the game. His “worst” return was 27 yards. This game showed the importance of field position and avoiding big mistakes on special teams, and the Texans’ strong kick returns kept them in a game that didn’t need to be as close as it did. There will be some things for this particular group to tighten up.

Rising: Patriots pass rush

Three sacks and two fumble recoveries for the Patriots’ clearly improved front-seven, against a quarterback in Watson who was not nearly as sharp or productive as he was in last year’s game. They also should have had a safety against Watson, when Malcom Brown had Watson in his grasp in the end zone. By rule, that should’ve been two points for the Pats, but the officials simply made an egregious error.

But despite that, the Patriots pass rush consistently looked like a major upgrade during the preseason. For one afternoon, it’s translated to regular season success. Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise were disruptive forces off the edge, while Lawrence Guy had one of his most explosive games as a Patriot on the interior. Keionta Davis got in the mix with a QB hit on Watson, too.

Sep 9, 2018; Foxborough, MA: New England Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers reacts after a fumble recovered by the New England Patriots against the Houston Texans in the first quarter at Gillette Stadium. (David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports)

Sep 9, 2018; Foxborough, MA: New England Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers reacts after a fumble recovered by the New England Patriots against the Houston Texans in the first quarter at Gillette Stadium. (David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports)

Wise credited the front-seven and secondary working together to cause plays to break down for the Texans.

“It’s a combination between rush and coverage,” said Wise. “Coach always says we have to have the rush and coverage marry so that big plays happen. If the receivers are covered and we create pressure on the quarterback, something’s going to happen.”

Falling: Ball Security

McCarron’s muffed punt certainly falls under this umbrella. But the offense also had two turnovers by their two best players. Brady’s interception was more of a great play by Texans defensive end Angelo Blackson to bat the pass, but it was still a potentially costly mistake in the red zone. Rob Gronkowski’s fumble, where he got the football punched out after making a catch and taking a few steps, was more of a head-scratcher. Rex Burkhead also fumbled, but Hogan recovered it.

Ball security is most definitely an area where Belichick will be able to point to the offense and say, “Not good enough.” They won’t be able to afford to be as careless with the ball against Jacksonville’s defense on the road.

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

Matt Dolloff 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 Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at matthew.dolloff@bbgi.com.