It wasn’t pretty, but the New England Patriots got back in the win column Sunday.
New England shook off a miserable first half defensively and overcame a 13-point third-quarter deficit to defeat the Houston Texans 25-22 at NRG Stadium.
Under the direction of rookie quarterback Mac Jones, the Patriots scored points on each of their final four possessions, culminating in Nick Folk’s game-winning 21-yard field goal with 15 seconds remaining.
Jones completed 23 of 30 passes for 231 yards and one touchdown with one interception in the win, which improved the Patriots to 2-3 on the season and snapped a two-game losing streak.
Here are seven quick thoughts on the young QB’s performance:
— Jones connected on his first nine pass attempts, scattering those to six different receivers. His first incompletion came with 61 seconds remaining in the first half.
The rookie was especially efficient on third down in the early going. Jones hit Kendrick Bourne for 15 yards (on third-and-2) and Nelson Agholor for 11 yards (on third-and-3) on the Patriots’ opening drive — which produced a Damien Harris touchdown run — and Jakobi Meyers for 17 yards (on third-and-2) on their next possession. His only third-down incompletion before halftime was a throwaway.
Jones completed 76.7 percent of his passes in the game. He’s been above 73 percent in four of his first five starts.
— Two key plays cost the Patriots points in the first half. First, Damien Harris capped New England’s second possession by fumbling just shy of the goal line. Then, Jakobi Meyers dropped a wide-open pass during a two-minute drill that might have resulted in a touchdown. Instead, the Patriots settled for a 52-yard Nick Folk field goal and trailed 15-9 heading into halftime.
That hole became 22-9 when Texans quarterback Davis Mills hit Chris Conley for a 37-yard touchdown off a flea flicker 90 seconds into the second half.
— Jones completed 73.3 percent of his passes over the first two quarters (11 of 15) but had some dicey moments during that aforementioned two-minute drill. Two passes to tight end Hunter Henry were nearly intercepted — the first by linebacker Christian Kirksey and the second by a pair of Texans defensive backs.
Jones’ luck ran out on the opening drive of the second half. He tried to fit a pass to Agholor that was picked off by cornerback Lonnie Johnson.
Agholor could have made a stronger effort on the play, but Jones also should have placed the ball better. It was the QB’s fifth interception in the last three games. Another Jones pass — a third-and-long deep ball to N’Keal Harry — was nearly intercepted, but that play was wiped out by a defensive penalty.
— Jones generated two chunk plays on a third-quarter drive that ended in a Folk field goal. He hit Henry for 21 yards, then found Agholor for 20 two plays later. The Patriots stalled in the red zone but came away with three points to cut Houston’s lead to seven.
Five different Patriots players had 15-plus-yard receptions in the game.
— Jones hit Henry for a game-tying 13-yard touchdown with 9:31 remaining.
Henry and Jones also hooked up for a touchdown last week, a sign of their burgeoning connection. The tight end led all Patriots pass-catchers Sunday with six catches on eight targets for 75 yards.
— The Patriots were playing without four starting offensive linemen, but you wouldn’t have known it by watching Jones’ dropbacks. This patchwork unit (Justin Herron, James Ferentz, David Andrews, Ted Karras and Yodny Cajuste) generally held up well in pass protection, allowing one sack and four QB hits.
Jones was flushed out of the pocket on a few occasions but wasn’t under siege the way he had been in previous games. He was hit more than 10 times in Weeks 3 and 4.
The Texans did get to Jones on two key plays late in the game. Jonathan Greenard sacked him to set up a second-and-21 with less than six minutes remaining, and Maliek Collins laid a hard hit on the QB on a subsequent third-and-17 incompletion. Collins was flagged for roughing the passer, though, after hitting Jones in the facemask. That penalty extended what proved to be the game-winning drive.
— A better day on the ground took some of the pressure off Jones’ shoulders. The Patriots rushed for 126 yards and averaged 4.2 yards per carry despite twice losing lead back Harris (14 carries, 58 yards, touchdown) to injuries. Backup Brandon Bolden ripped off a late 24-yard run to help set up Folk’s deciding kick.
Rookie Rhamondre Stevenson, back in the lineup after a string of three straight healthy scratches, mostly was held in check (11 carries, 23 yards) but followed up Bolden’s 24-yard dash with a 9-yarder of his own. The Patriots’ final drive drained exactly seven minutes off the clock.
Jones finished with a reasonable 30 pass attempts after totaling 51 in Week 3 and 40 in Week 4.
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