FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Rob Gronkowski saw the looks in his teammates’ eyes in the huddle before his team’s final drive Sunday.
“We all looked at each other and counted on each other to make plays,” Gronkowski said. “Not one player in that huddle didn’t make a play.”
And the leader of that huddle, quarterback Tom Brady, again worked his magic, taking his team 75 yards to pull out a dramatic 36-33 victory over the Houston Texans.
Brady, pulling off the 52nd fourth-quarter comeback of his proud career, hit Brandin Cooks with a 25-yard touchdown pass and then with a 2-point conversion with 23 seconds left to pull out what could be a very special win, on a very warm (and emotional) day at Gillette Stadium.
Cooks began his day as one of the players getting booed by the Gillette crowd for being one of 16 players taking a knee during the national anthem. He ended it by being the hero, catching his fifth pass and second touchdown of the day — and getting it done by keeping both feet inbounds with some nifty tightrope walking.
“It was just awesome to see Cooks tap his toes,” said Gronkowski, who had eight catches for 89 yards and a touchdown — the most important catch coming on a third-and-12 for the initial first down of the drive — using his brute strength to get the first down.
Cooks, talking about his taking a knee, said it was done to support his “brothers” and added, “A lot of people think we’re disrespecting the flag and the military, but my father was a marine, my uncle was a marine, family fought in the Vietnam war — I have the utmost respect for the men and women that fight for our freedom.
“So that’s the first statement I want to make — and quite frankly I feel (conflicted); I have no courage to do something like that and I feel the magnitude that they’re fighting across the world for our freedom; so that’s not the message we’re sending. The message is we just want respect and unity and there’s only so many ways you can do it.”
After the Patriots stopped the Texans on a third-and-1 to force a field goal, Brady completed two straight passes to Gronkowski (for 23 yards), then hit a third-and-17 to Danny Amendola for 27 (after Houston’s Corey Moore dropped an interception at his own 2) before the winner.
“We just kept fighting, that’s the most important thing,” said Brady, who avoided losing two straight home games for the first time in 11 years. “There was nothing easy out there. We battled.”
Before the late heroics, Texans rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson used his right arm and his legs to put his team in position to give the Patriots (2-1) back-to-back home losses for the first time in nine years. But he came up short as rookie road quarterbacks fell to 0-9 against head coach Bill Belichick and the Texans dropped to 0-6 all-time at Gillette Stadium.
Brady finished 25 of 35 for 378 yards and five touchdowns. He also fumbled three times, one of them returned 22 yards for a touchdown by Jadeveon Clowney.
Ka’imi Fairbairn kicked his third and fourth field goals of the game in the fourth quarter to give Houston (1-2) the lead.
Watson finished 22 of 33 for 301 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions — the second on a Hail Mary on the final play of the game.
That came after the rookie lost 10 of the game’s last 13 seconds without calling timeout after a 21-yard pass to DeAndre Hopkins to get to his own 46.
“The future is very bright but we are looking at the now,” said Texans tackle Chris Clark. “We will remember this day. I want everybody to remember what this feels like because sometimes for a team this needs to happen.”
Chris Hogan also caught two touchdown passes, while Hopkins caught seven passes for 76 yards for Houston.
NOTES: Patriots T Nate Solder was missing from pregame warmups, but started and was one of the players with locked arms during the anthem. “People come from all different backgrounds and I believe they do what they believe is right,” he said. “And I totally support them.” ... While TE Rob Gronkowski and three injured wide receivers, including Danny Amendola, were able to play, LB Dont’a Hightower and T Marcus Cannon were scratched for the Patriots. ... The Texans were missing RB Alfred Blue and WR Will Fuller for a third straight game, both having returned to practice this week. ... The Patriots honored new club Hall of Famer Raymond Clayborn at halftime. ... The Texans host the Tennessee Titans and the Patriots the Carolina Panthers next Sunday.