4:16 PM ET
Mike ReissESPN Staff Writer
- Covered Patriots since 1997
- Joined ESPN in 2009
All those good vibes for the New England Patriots after winning two straight games? Poof! They’re gone, and so too might be their playoff hopes.
The Patriots dropped a 27-20 decision to the host Houston Texans and slipped to 4-6 on the season.
The last time the Patriots lost six games in a season was 2009. They made the playoffs that season, but were knocked out in the wild-card round (33-14 loss to Baltimore).
The last time they didn’t make the playoffs was the 2008 season, and to qualify this year they likely won’t be able to lose another game.
With remaining contests against the Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Chargers, Los Angeles Rams, Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills and New York Jets, that’s a tall task.
Which is what made their performance Sunday — after a riveting win over the Baltimore Ravens the week before — so disappointing.
Describe the game in two words: Lost opportunity. The Patriots started fast by getting a defensive stop and scoring a touchdown on their first possession, which has previously been a problem for them, and then never seized control against a team that entered with a 2-7 record.
Biggest hole in the game plan, Part I: The Patriots got off to a great start on offense, aided by the Damien Harris-led running game, to take an early 7-0 lead. But then they seemed to get away from the run, as Harris (11 carries, 43 yards, TD) went an extended stretch of time without touching the ball in the second quarter. That’s about the time when the Patriots started to lose control of the game.
Biggest hole in the game plan, Part II: Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson never seemed to be disrupted, as the Patriots were balancing sending too much pressure and leaving themselves exposed on the back end against the Texans’ speedy receivers. But when they did blitz, Watson made them pay. He was just a step ahead of whatever the Patriots dialed up on defense for most of the day.
Promising trend: The offense opened up a bit in the second half, with Cam Newton’s 41-yard touchdown pass to Damiere Byrd in the third quarter providing a spark. It was just the second receiving touchdown by a Patriots receiver this season, and the first thrown by Newton. The touchdown was thrown 41 yards down the field, which was the second-deepest completion for Newton this season (46, to Julian Edelman, in Week 2). Byrd, who has already matched his career high for catches in a season (32) with six games remaining, was a top performer.
QB breakdown. Newton continues to play the way the Patriots need him to — turnover free. It seemed like they were conservative with him early, focusing more on the shorter passing game, before opening things up in the second half. Newton, who finished 26-of-40 for 365 yards and one touchdown, wasn’t as much of a factor in the running game (3 carries, 6 yards).