Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, center, is sacked by the New England Patriots defense during the second half Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots defense faced a huge challenge Sunday afternoon against the Houston Texans and quarterback Deshaun Watson, who puts a lot of pressure on opponents with his ability to run and extend plays.
For the most part, the Patriots defense stood tall in a 27-20 season-opening win at Gillette Stadium. Yes, the final score was probably closer than they wanted, with the game coming down to one final Hail Mary heave by Watson that was knocked down by New England’s Jason McCourty at about the 10.
But the defense clearly got the Patriots going in the right direction, starting with Dont’a Hightower recovering a fumble on Houston’s first play of the season, and played a big role in New England opening a 24-6 lead in the third quarter.
“I thought we did some good things,” coach Bill Belichick said. “We certainly played him better than last year, not that that would take much. Again, no one guy can stop Watson, so it’s got to be team defense, it’s got to be coverage, it’s got to be pass rush, it’s got to be discipline.”
The Patriots put plenty of pressure on Watson, especially in the first half. They finished with three sacks and had 12 quarterback hits.
Stephon Gilmore made an interception in the end zone, and Watson was only 17 of 34 for 176 yards. Houston was 2 for 11 on third-down conversions 0 for 1 on fourth down.
The Patriots seemed prepared for anything the Texans threw at them, including a reverse by wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins that was snuffed by Kyle Van Noy for a 7-yard loss on the first play of the third quarter.
“Everything goes hand in hand,” cornerback Eric Rowe said. “The D-line gets the pressure, makes the quarterback throw it quicker or maybe make a bad decision. But at the same time, we have to cover so he can hold the ball so the D-line can get there. It all works hand in hand, and when things like that are clicking, it’s pretty hard to get past us.”
Safety Duron Harmon said Watson never seemed comfortable and credited the defensive line. “It all started with them,” he said.
Then he added, “It was a great start, but we know we’ve got a lot to work on.”
THE McCOURTY brothers, defensive backs Devin and Jason, became the first set of twins to play together on the same team since 1926, when Gene and Tom Golsen played for the Louisville Colonels. Later Sunday, twins Shaquill and Shaquem Griffin took the field for the Seattle Seahawks.
BILL BELICHICK moved past Tom Landry for third place in regular-season wins with 251. Belichick has a record of 251-118; Landry was 250-162-6 with the Dallas Cowboys.
Don Shula holds the all-time record with 347 wins. George Halas is second at 318.
JEREMY HILL, the running back acquired as a free agent in the offseason, suffered a knee injury in the third quarter while trying to make a tackle after Rob Gronkowski caught a 25-yard pass, then fumbled. Hill was helped off the field, then walked into the tunnel leading into the locker room.
Hill rushed for 25 yards on four carries and caught one pass for 6 yards. He also deflected a punt.
DEREK RIVERS, the second-year defensive end who was born in Augusta, was among the inactive players for the Patriots. Rivers missed his entire rookie season because of an injury but had a decent preseason, with six tackles, including two sacks, and two quarterback hits.
Other inactive Patriots were rookie running back Sony Michel (who was slowed by a knee injury in preseason), defensive backs J.C. Jackson and Keion Crossen, tight end Jacob Hollister (hamstring), wide receiver Chad Hansen and offensive lineman Brian Schwenke.