Belichick coy, Texans energized entering Thursday matchup
FOXBOROUGH, MASS. >> Bill Belichick has never been one to tip his hand on anything, especially his plans leading into a game.
He was even more coy than usual in this short week as New England prepared to host the Texans (2-0) Thursday night in the aftermath of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo injuring his throwing shoulder in last week's win over Miami.
With Tom Brady still two weeks shy of the end of his "Deflategate" suspension, rookie Jacoby Brissett is the next healthy man in line. But two things complicate him possibly getting his first start.
First, Belichick has only once started a rookie quarterback — Eric Zeier during his final season as coach of the Browns in 1995. Secondly, there's the very real question whether Belichick feels comfortable enough throwing Brissett into his first NFL start opposite an active Houston defense that leads the league with nine sacks in two games.
Add to that Garoppolo hasn't been completely ruled out, after he returned to practice on a limited basis Tuesday.
"Each week it seems like there is always some position that you have to take into consideration what your depth is there," Belichick said. "Obviously, you take into consideration your opponent and how you want to try and play the game, what you want to try and do against them, and put it all together and do the best you can."
New England (2-0) will match up with a Houston quarterback with some success against it on his resume. Brock Osweiler was under center last November in Denver when the Broncos overcame a 14-0 deficit for a 30-24 overtime victory to give New England its first loss of 2015.
Osweiler said coach Bill O'Brien told him that game went a long way in him wanting to bring the 25-year-old to Houston, and that he certainly gained confidence from it.
"I definitely am looking at it as two different football games, but I definitely went back, I looked at last year's game, I looked at my notes from last year and I can definitely use that as a tool moving forward," Osweiler said.
Here are some other things to look for on Thursday:
TRAINER'S ROOM: Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski began the week still limited by a hamstring injury that kept him sidelined for the first two games. He said after Tuesday's practice that he felt "decent" and hopes to play. "Just trying to do everything I can right now to be as healthy as I can be," he said. LB Dont'a Hightower (knee), who sat out last week's win, was also inching closer to getting back on the field with his return to practice this week.
GETTING DEFENSIVE: Whomever the Patriots put at quarterback, he will face a defense that ranks in the top 10 in seven categories. Houston's defense hasn't allowed a touchdown in six consecutive quarters.
WATT WARMING UP: Last year's NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt isn't quite back to full form after July surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back. But after getting 1 1/2 sacks and recovering a fumble last week, the defensive end knows he's getting close. "It's just a continuous process of getting myself back and even better," he said. "The goal is to be better than before. I don't want to just be as good as I was before. I want to be better. It's a process of making sure that I do everything I can to get there."
Watt, who led the NFL with 17 1/2 sacks last year, has 76 in his career.
FULLER'S FAST START: Houston receiver Will Fuller has a chance to make NFL history on Sunday. The 21st overall pick in this year's draft needs one more 100-yard receiving game to become the first player to start his career with three straight such games. Pro Bowl receiver DeAndre Hopkins also finished with more than 100 yards receiving last week to give the Texans two 100-yard receivers in the same game for the first time since 2013. Fuller was drafted to take some pressure off Hopkins, and so far he's filled that role perfectly. However, Hopkins isn't quite ready to heap praise on the rookie. "He has a lot to improve on, that's for sure," Hopkins said.
THURSDAY FOOTBALL: Belichick is 10-2 in Thursday games, including 9-2 as coach of the Patriots. Houston is just 2-5 in Thursday games. It marks the first Thursday the Texans are playing on the road since 2013.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.