HOUSTON — Quarterback Tom Brady played his first game of 2017 in the same place where the 2016 season ended in euphoric fashion, and that was one of the highlights of the New England Patriots‘ 27-23 preseason loss to the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on Saturday night.
Brady started and played the first two series of the game, totaling 17 snaps and finishing on a high note by leading a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. The march ended with a 22-yard catch-and-run touchdown to running back Rex Burkhead. Brady went 6 of 9 for 67 yards, with one touchdown and no interceptions.
Brady’s workload should increase in next Friday’s road game against the Detroit Lions, as coach Bill Belichick sometimes plays starters into the third quarter of the team’s third preseason game so they can build their stamina and experience what it’s like to come out of the locker room after halftime and go back on the field.
Some thoughts and notes from the game:
That guy could start: Burkhead, who spent the first four years of his career as a backup in Cincinnati, looked like a nice fit in the Patriots offense as a dual threat. He showed decisiveness and toughness when running between the tackles and sure hands as a pass-catcher in finishing with 20 yards on seven carries and 50 yards on three receptions. The 5-foot-10, 210-pound Burkhead didn’t play in the preseason opener, which was a coach’s decision reflecting that he is a big part of the team’s plans. With fellow running back Mike Gillislee still sidelined with a reported hamstring injury, Burkhead is making a case to be the Patriots’ top running back in what figures to be a committee-type approach.
Gronkowski surprise: The biggest surprise of the night was that tight end Rob Gronkowski played in his first preseason game since 2012. In all, he was on the field for 15 of the team’s first 17 snaps, but was never targeted with a catchable pass. He came out of the game injury-free.
Roberts a notable injury: It is sometimes said that a successful preseason game is one in which there are no major injuries. The Patriots didn’t come out of Saturday night unscathed as second-year linebacker Elandon Roberts was carted to the locker room in the third quarter. He appeared to be in significant pain, hunched over after taking a blow to his ribs on a 63-yard catch-and-run reception by running back D’Onta Foreman.
One reason to be concerned: The team is thin at defensive end after top draft pick Derek Rivers sustained a season-ending torn ACL on Wednesday. That might have factored into the thinking in the Patriots not having Trey Flowers play on Saturday night. Flowers led them with seven sacks last season, and there is plenty of uncertainty at the position after him. Another defensive end, Geneo Grissom, didn’t suit up as he appeared to be testing out an undisclosed injury before the game.
Rookie watch: Undrafted linebacker/defensive end Harvey Langi (Brigham Young) started and played deep into the game, as the Patriots continue to evaluate him for a possible spot on the 53-man roster. The 6-foot-2, 252-pound Langi had some struggles in containment on the edge, but his aggressive, physical style has obviously made an impression for him to rise up the depth chart this quickly. He could benefit from the team’s current shortage at defensive end and some injuries at linebacker.
When it was starters vs. starters, the Patriots looked …: Not great on defense, as cornerback Malcolm Butler had some struggles playing the ball. Texans quarterback Tom Savage was 8 of 9 for 98 yards, with one touchdown and no interceptions, as he put a firmer grip on his hold of Houston’s starting job. Offensively, Brady got it going on the team’s second drive, which almost ended after one play on an interception along the sideline. But the pick was overturned on replay.