By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Path is rapidly closing on the Patriots if it isn’t already, as a 27-20 loss to the Texans on Sunday set them back in the AFC. It was a bad afternoon for the defense, and a down day for the offense in big situations. Here are the “ups” and “downs” from a devastating blow to the Pats’ hopes of fighting back into the playoff hunt.
WR Damiere Byrd. The wideout showed up big-time for his best performance as a Patriot, reeling in six catches for 132 yards and a touchdown. He made two third-down conversions on a key drive in the fourth quarter. It was encouraging to see Byrd get open and make big plays when the opportunities presented themselves.
LB Chase Winovich. He had two total tackles and drew two holding penalties, as the lone bright spot in the Patriots’ front-seven – perhaps the entire defense. He needs to play more, even if it means there will be mistakes and growing pains. It’s clear the Pats need consistent playmakers at the first level of the defense, and Winovich is one of them.
P Jake Bailey. Never a good sign when your punter is one of the “ups.” But Bailey had three punts for 151 yards, including a 59-yard bomb. He did his job in the field position battle, but the Patriots defense couldn’t complement their rocket-footed punter.
Patriots’ pass-rushers not named Winovich. The story of this game was the Patriots’ inability to get to Deshaun Watson with their pressure. And when they got close to getting home, Watson danced around and escaped pressure with his feet to make plays with his arm. Chase Winovich made some plays and Josh Uche had a key third-down tackle in the second half, but other than that, a nonexistent afternoon for the Patriots’ front-seven in the passing game. It was the lack of pressure that made it hard for the Patriots’ secondary to cover.
S Devin McCourty. While it’s tough to be too hard on the Patriots’ defensive backs with the time that Watson had to throw for most of the game, they got shredded over the middle of the field and gave up seven plays of 20 yards or more. The onus for that falls on Devin, who is typically a major reason the Patriots defense doesn’t usually give up so many big plays. He also let Watson truck him on his way to the end zone for a rushing touchdown, as the quarterback made him and linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley look silly.
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QB Cam Newton. While Newton did make some big plays through the air that kept the Patriots in the game, he couldn’t come through in crunch time on the Patriots’ late fourth-quarter drives. He took two sacks and was hit eight times, and part of it appeared to be that the right protections weren’t being set. Newton also short-armed a few pass attempts into the turf when under duress. It was encouraging to see more explosive plays in the passing game, but it still wasn’t enough for Newton to give the offense a real chance to win.
LT Isaiah Wynn and RT Michael Onwenu. J.J. Watt had easily one of his best games ever against the Patriots, and part of it was that he had his way with rookie right tackle Michael Onwenu. The Pats may have been better served giving Onwenu help against the future Hall of Famer from the start. Wynn also gave up one of the two sacks off the edge. Pressure against Newton was an issue for most of the day. When the offensive line has a down day, the Patriots won’t have a great chance of winning.
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? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff or send him a nasty email at firstname.lastname@example.org.