|Texans open on road vs. Brady, Patriots|
Tom Brady turned 41 years old last month and has said he wants to play until he's 45. Given his performance last season, who's to argue?
Fresh off winning his third NFL Most Valuable Player award in a season that culminated with a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII, Brady and the New England Patriots open the season against the Houston Texans on Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.
Brady is entering his 19th season and has guided the Patriots to nine consecutive AFC East titles. In fact, New England has won the division in 15 of the 16 seasons in which Brady has been the starter.
"I think the last eight years of my career have been better than my first 10, so I should just prolong it, and that's what I'm trying to do," Brady said Wednesday in the last episode of his Facebook Watch documentary series "Tom Vs. Time."
Brady threw for an NFL-leading 4,577 yards with 32 touchdowns against only eight interceptions a year ago. He added eight TD passes and zero picks in the postseason, including 505 yards and three scoring passes in the 41-33 loss to the Eagles in the Super Bowl.
"I mean, obviously you're facing the best quarterback of all time and possibly the best coach of all time," said Houston defensive end J.J. Watt, in referring to Brady and Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "It's always a good challenge and so for us to open up the season against a team like that and a player like Tom, it's a great challenge right out the gate."
Brady threw for 378 yards and five touchdowns in a last-minute 36-33 win over the Texans last season as the Patriots improved to 7-1 against Houston.
Among the reasons for optimism for the Texans following the 4-12 debacle in 2017 is the return of three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Watt and rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson, who each suffered season-ending injuries a year ago.
Watt has been limited to only eight games the past two seasons. He suffered a broken leg and missed the final 11 games in 2017, depriving Houston of one of the league's most dominant defensive players.
"We expect every player that we to be at their best. We always expect their best performance, and we usually get that," said Belichick. "That's what we'll expect from J.J. J.J's a great player, he's very talented, he's got great motor and very instinctive. He's a very smart player, as well as one that has outstanding physical skill. So, we always expect their best and prepare for it."
Watson was on his way to a sensational rookie campaign before tearing an ACL in practice in early November. Prior to the injury, Watson threw for 1,699 yards and 19 touchdowns in seven games, adding 269 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 36 carries.
From Weeks 4 to 7, Houston averaged a staggering 40.5 points as Watson accounted for 16 TD passes versus only five picks while registering four consecutive 100-plus passer ratings. In his second career start, Watson finished with 301 yards with two TD passes and two interceptions in last season's loss at New England.
"I think that obviously whatever happened last year, it was basically a six-game window into what he can do and that's what obviously teams have been studying a lot of relative to us this year," said Houston head coach Bill O'Brien, a former offensive coordinator with New England. " I think Deshaun works very hard. He is just not a guy that rests on any kind of laurels, he's a guy that really works hard to get better every day."
Watson's top target is DeAndre Hopkins, who hauled in 96 receptions for 1,378 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. Speedster Will Fuller had only 28 catches but seven of them went for touchdowns.
Lamar Miller will handle the bulk of the ground game with D'Onta Foreman opening the year on the physically unable to perform list. Miller rushed for 888 yards and three scores last season.
Brady will be playing with a revamped wide receiving corps that will be without Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola, who left via trade and free agency, respectively. In addition, Julian Edelman will serve a four-game suspension for violating the league's policy on performance enhancing drugs.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski finished with 69 catches for 1,084 yards last season, and his eight scoring receptions pushed his career total to 76 -- third on the all-time list at his position.
The Patriots also feature new faces in the backfield with first-round pick Sony Michel and former Cincinnati Bengal Jeremy Hill joining Rex Burkhead and James White.