In Rob Gronkowski’s return to the line-up, the Patriots were able to hold Bill O’Brien’s Texans out of the end zone and defeat Houston 27-6 at NRG Stadium.
The bigger story than the game itself is the Patriots position in the AFC picture. New England is once again the #1 seed in the AFC after Andy Dalton went down in the Bengals loss to the Steelers and Brock Osweiler looked like a true backup quarterback in the Broncos loss to the Raiders. A week after their worst game of the season against the Eagles, the Patriots regained first place in their conference even before the captains met at midfield for their Sunday night game in Houston.
The Patriots defense was stifling as they held Brian Hoyer to 50% passing and Jonathan Grimes and Chris Polk to a combined 87 yards rushing. With just over 13 minutes to go in the fourth quarter, Jabaal Sheard forced a Hoyer fumble that eventually set up a James White touchdown to seal the game for New England.
Sheard and the Patriots defensive line had their best game of the season. Akeem Hicks and Sheard combined for 10 tackles while Dominique Easley added a sack. The pressure from the front seven will be crucial as the status of safety Devin McCourty who left the game with an ankle injury is still up in the air.
The Patriots offensive line looked shaky at times, but more importantly they kept JJ Watt and his caveman style club away from Tom Brady. Watt looked more like JK What as he finished the game with only two solo tackles and one tackle for a loss (TFL).
Keyshawn Martin proved to be a serviceable offensive weapon for Tom Brady and Gronkowski, for only the second time in four weeks, hauled in a touchdown from Brady.
In his press conference after the game, Brady noted how there’s “no one he trusts more than Gronk.” The Patriots will not win Super Bowl 50 if 87 is not healthy.
The night after their victory over Houston, the Miami Dolphins would lose to the New York Giants to give the Patriots the 2015 AFC East title and New England’s 13th title since 2001.
Next Sunday the Patriots, in their final regular season home game, will host the 3-10 Tennessee Titans who are tied for the worst record in the NFL.