What we learned: No Brady, no problem for Pats in win

Fifteen years after the hit on Drew Bledsoe changed the course of New England Patriots history, Thursday's night's 27-0 Patriots (3-0) victory over the Texans (2-1) had a 2001 feel to it. *Here's what we learned from the game:*

  1. Patriots coach Bill Belichick knows there are countless ways to win football games, and many don't include a big passing attack. Third-string rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett didn't need to be the next Tom Brady to win his first NFL start.

The Patriots showed confidence in Brissett by letting him throw early, but it was Brissett's legs that made the difference. He rushed for 46 yards on seven carries, including a 27-yard touchdown late in the first quarter. Brissett was coached well to avoid the big mistake. While he only threw for 103 yards on 19 attempts, the game never looked too big for him.

  1. The Patriots won this game because of defense, special teams and opportunistic offense just like that 2001 squad often did. New England dared the Texans to run the ball and throw short and free-agent pickup Brock Osweiler took the bait too often early in the game.

Osweiler was picked off for the third straight week, failing to see Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins lurking on one throw. Osweiler missed a few other throws, but mostly looked confused against a Patriots defense that got pressure on him without sending extra rushers. It was a performance (191 yards on 41 attempts) that showed how far Osweiler still has to go as a franchise quarterback.

  1. Patriots fans shouldn't get too used to seeing offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels calling plays for the team. This three-game stretch to start the season has been a clinic in playcalling and preparation. It was remarkable to see how diverse and complex New England's running game was all night to support Brissett.

The team threw an array of looks at Texans defensive coordinator and former Belichick buddy Romeo Crennel. Some examples: An end around from Martellus Bennett, fly sweeps galore, some snaps from a T formation and even some old school counter option plays straight out of the Navy playbook Belichick loves so much.

Belichick and McDaniels relished the challenge of coaching with their rookie on a short week and it showed. The Patriots do a better job of morphing their gameplan to accentuate their team's strengths than any team in football.

  1. By the second half of the game, the Texans' defense wore down. The Patriots held the ball for nearly the first 10 minutes of the third quarter on two drives, with LeGarrette Blount finishing with 105 yards and two scores. Without Tom Brady, the Patriots have effectively run a smashmouth offense the last three weeks.
  1. J.J. Watt is clearly not himself this season and that changes this Texans defense. Watt was as invisible for 60 minutes as we've ever seen him. Houston's defense has the talent to be special this season but it's worth noting they have not faced off against an explosive offense yet.
  1. There were a lot of star performances on this Patriots defense, which is faster than we've seen in years. Jamie Collins wreaked havoc on Houston's running game and was effective in coverage. Malcolm Butler did a terrific job on Will Fuller, while Logan Ryan was a tough matchup for DeAndre Hopkins. Jabaal Sheard had two sacks while Chris Long looks like one of the best free agent values of the year.
  1. Special teams was a huge key for the Patriots. They forced two fumbles on Texans kickoffs, recovering both of them. Punter Ryan Allen had an epic night, pinning Houston inside the 13-yard line six times.
  1. The rest of the AFC East has to be frustrated with this result. The Patriots are a home win over Buffalo away from a 4-0 start without Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. Gronk was techinically on the field Thursday night for 14 snaps, yet was almost exclusively used as a blocker.
  1. This is one of those nights where Patriots fans should fully realize how incredibly lucky they have been. Belichick will go down as one of the greatest coaches of all time because of game plans like this. Dour with the media, his love for the game comes through with the zeal he prepares for just such a night.

His Patriots teams have had an uncanny ability to respond best when they face the most adversity with injuries. He is in the middle of a 15-year run that is unprecedented in NFL history. Thursday was a reminder that Belichick could someday succeed in continuing that run without Brady, if only to prove a few more people wrong.

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