FOXBORO — Entering this season, the lasting impression of the Patriots defense was a unit so inept, it cost the team a Super Bowl championship. The lasting memory was of a pass rush that was nonexistent and of a secondary that couldn’t stop a backup quarterback.
Well, Malcolm Butler still isn’t walking through that door, but on Sunday, the Patriots didn’t need him.
New England kicked off its 2018 season with a defensive unit that looked completely different from a year ago. After allowing 33 points to the Houston Texans last season, the Patriots slammed the door shut and stifled quarterback Deshaun Watson in their regular-season opener.
Tom Brady will always garner the headlines in Foxboro, but on Sunday, the defense was the main attraction in the Patriots’ 27-20 win.
“Obviously, that season didn’t end like we wanted it to, but it’s a brand new season,” Trey Flowers said. “We’ve got a lot of different guys in here. I think overall as a team, our goal is the same every year. We work hard toward that goal.”
For the Patriots, the ultimate goal of winning another championship will likely hinge on their defense continuing to improve throughout this season. As we saw in Super Bowl LII, Brady can throw for 500 yards and it’s possible to still lose.
On Sunday, that unit was markedly better than last season, when Watson threw 302 yards against the Pats. This time around, the quarterback was hit 12 times, sacked three times and intercepted once. He finished 16 of 30 for 162 yards and one touchdown. Flowers (1.5 sacks, three hits) and Deatrich Wise (1.5 sacks, three hits), led the way for an impressive front seven.
“I think it was just a good mix — the defensive line, front seven and secondary all playing off each other,” Duron Harmons said. “When we do that, we can be a pretty good football team.”
The defense’s first play of the game was a sign of things to come.
On the first Houston offensive play, Watson fumbled a handoff to Lamar Miller. Dont’a Hightower jumped on the ball at 13:04 to give Brady the ball back at the 19-yard line. Brady (26/39 for 277 yards) turned that turnover into his first of three touchdowns. The quarterback hit Rob Gronkowski (seven catches, 123 yards for a 21-yard touchdown pass at 11:58 of the first.
Early on, the defense showed that they wouldn’t wilt under pressure. At 4:12 of the first quarter, Brady was intercepted by Tyrann Matheiu after his third-down pass was tipped at the line by Angelo Blackson. The turnover put Houston at the New England 17-yard line. After a split sack by Flowers and Wise, on third down, Houston settled for a 42-yard field goal at 2:37 of the first.
“We just kind of banded together as far as coach said earlier this week, just defend a blade of grass,” Flowers sad. “Just give us a blade of grass and a lot of guys went out there and we responded well on the sudden change interception.”
Following a Brady touchdown pass to James White, at 12:45 of the second, defense’s impressive red zone showing continued. Houston ended up at the 15-yard line, but the Pats pass rush factored in again. Wise sacked Watson for a loss of four on second down and then the pressure got to the Texans quarterback on a third down incompletion. The Texans settled for another field goal.
Things wouldn’t get better for Watson on Houston’s next series. At 5:39 of the second quarter, Lawrence Guy crushed the second-year quarterback as he threw the ball. Stephon Gilmore finished the play by intercepting Watson in the end zone.
“Coach always say we got to have the rush and coverage married so that big plays happen,” Wise said. “If their receivers are covered and we create pressure on the quarterback, something’s going to happen — either interception, PBU or sack. That’s’ what we want to do.”
Phillip Dorsett hauled in a 4-yard touchdown pass to put the Pats up 21-6 at the half. The Texans would continue to charge, but the defense held strong. A Houston turnover on downs turned into a Stephen Gostkowski field goal.
The Texans got an Alfred Blue touchdown at 1:54 of the third. A Riley McCarron muffed punt set up Houston at the 16-yard line with 4:41 left. The defense was called for two holding penalties, but slowed the pace down. Houston needed 2:16 to get in the end zone.
The Texans had one more chance – a Hail Mary – that Jason McCourty batted to the turf.
“Everything goes hand in hand,” said cornerback Eric Rowe. “D-line gets the pressure, makes the quarterback throw it quicker or maybe make a bad decision. At the same time, for us to cover so he can hold the ball so the d-line can get there. All just works hand in hand. When things like that are clocking, it’s pretty hard to get past us.”
Published at Mon, 10 Sep 2018 02:18:25 +0000