It wasn’t pretty by any means, but the Patriots escaped Houston with a 25-22 win over the Texans on Sunday. New England trailed by 10 as late as eight minutes to go in the third quarter, but managed to score 13 unanswered to close the game.
Rookie third-round pick Davis Mills gave the Patriots defense fits throughout almost the entire game. He was 21-of-29 throwing the ball for 313 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. Behind Mills, the Texans converted on 10 straight sets of downs, and didn’t end up kicking until late in the first half.
On the other side, the Patriots’ offense was once again bitten by turnovers. They gave the ball away twice, dropping their turnover margin to -2 on the season.
Houston’s first drive was an absolute march. The Texans drove the ball 79 yards in 18 plays, taking 10:06 off the clock. It was just the third drive of 18-plus plays allowed by the Patriots since 2001. They capped it with a Davis Mills 11-yard touchdown pass, and following a missed PAT had a 6-0 lead.
In turn, the Patriots put together an impressive drive of their own. Their 10-play, 60-yard trip up the field carried over into the second quarter, and was capped by a Damien Harris touchdown run. New England would miss their PAT as well, tying the game at 6-6.
Getting the ball back, the Texans didn’t need 18 plays or 10 minutes on their next drive. On a 3rd & 2, Davis Mills rolled out and hit Chris Moore downfield between two Patriots defenders. Moore pulled away from both J.C. Jackson and Devin McCourty for a 67-yard touchdown, but another missed extra point from Ka’imi Fairbairn made it 12-6 Houston.
It looked like the Patriots were going to answer once again, but Harris had the ball punched out just before the goal line. Houston recovered the fumble.
That set up another long march for Houston. 15 plays and 65 yards later, a Fairbairn field goal extended the game to a two-score lead at 15-6. Mac Jones got a shot to run the two-minute drill with no timeouts, and was able to get within range for a 52-yard Nick Folk field goal. At the half, the Texans led 15-9.
New England had a chance for a double-score, but Jones’ first pass of the half was intercepted. That turned into yet another Texans touchdown, with Mills finding Chris Conley down the sideline on a flea flicker for a 37-yard score to make it 22-9.
After the teams traded three-and-outs, Houston punter Cameron Johnston shanked a kick, setting New England up in plus territory. Yet the Patriots managed just three yards on the next three plays, and had to settle for a 52-yard Nick Folk field goal to cut the score to 22-12.
The next pair of drives copied that format. Houston stalled out and punted after five plays, and the Patriots drove to the Texans’ 14 before stalling out on back-to-back screens and turning to Folk again to make it 22-15.
David Culley made a questionable decision on the ensuing drive, sending Fairbairn out for a 56-yard field goal attempt. The kick missed wide right, keeping it a one-score game.
It wouldn’t stay a one-score game for long. Showing a strong sense of urgency, the Patriots moved the ball 54 yards in seven plays, with Jones hitting Hunter Henry in the back corner of the end zone on third down to tie the game at 22-22 with 9:31 to go.
A quick stop highlighted by a Jamie Collins sack got the ball right back in the hands of the Patriots offense. A roughing the passer call bailed the Patriots out after an incompletion on 3rd & 17, and a few plays later an 18-yard Brandon Bolden run got them into the red zone.
Mac Jones finished the game 23-of-30 for 231 yards, with a touchdown and a pick. His top receiver was Hunter Henry, who in his best game with the Patriots totaled six catches for 75 yards and a score. Jakobi Meyers had a big game two, catching four passes for 56 yards.
Damien Harris led the Patriots in rushing, despite being in and out of the game while dealing with a chest injury. He had 14 carries for 58 yards and a score. Rhamondre Stevenson, active for the first time since Week 1, had 11 touches for 23 yards on the ground.
Defensively, the Patriots got another big game from Matt Judon, who had two sacks. Newly-signed linebacker Jamie Collins added a sack as well. Kyle Dugger led the team with 10 tackles.
Nick Folk kept the Patriots in the game throughout the afternoon. He was 4-of-4 on field goal attempts from 52, 52, 32, and 21 yards, although he missed one of two extra point attempts.
The win improves the Patriots’ record to 2-3 on the season. That’s good for second in the AFC East, with the Dolphins and Jets both losing on Sunday.
Next week the Patriots return home to face Texas’ other team, the Dallas Cowboys. That game is a 4:25 kickoff, with pregame coverage beginning at 1:30 on 98.5 The Sports Hub.
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Alex Barth is a writer and 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. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.