FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The more assets the Patriots lose this season, the better they seem to play.
New England entered Week 3 of Tom Brady’s four-game “Deflategate” suspension down to just one healthy full-time quarterback following backup Jimmy Garoppolo’s shoulder injury last week against Miami.
But not even one of the NFL’s top-ranked defenses could slow down a Patriots train that has barely missed a beat while getting off to a 3-0 start.
The latest exhibition was a 27-0 dismantling of the Houston Texans (2-1), a team that suddenly looked very pedestrian.
“We really asked a lot out of the team this week — they responded,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “Just really proud of the way our guys competed.”
Belichick rolled the dice by not adding another quarterback to the roster during the short week, and the trust he had in rookie Jacoby Brissett proved to be spot on .
Brissett began the season as the third-string quarterback behind Brady and Garoppolo. He trotted out on the field Thursday as the first rookie start for the Patriots since Drew Bledsoe in 1993.
He didn’t have a stats-rich game, but was composed and made plays when it counted. He finished the night 11 of 19 for 103 yards, and ran eight times for 48 yards and a touchdown.
“You just always want to be ready and we have a great team, so players just welcome you no matter who is in the huddle,” Brissett said. “At any moment in the game no one wavered, no one flinched, and the results proved themselves with what our team did tonight.”
Under Belichick, quarterbacks are 6-0 in their first career start.
The Patriots have 10 days to recuperate, with only a game against Buffalo (0-2) on Oct. 2 remains before Brady could inexplicably return to a 4-0 team.
Meanwhile a Texans team that looked so promising after wins over Chicago and Kansas City, was lethargic in all three phases.
But Houston coach Bill O’Brien said it’s much too early to panic.
“Losing is horrible. I mean it’s absolutely horrible,” he said. “There is nothing really in my mind that comes out good, but what I will say is that there is a resilient team in that locker room. These guys work hard. …There is a lot of season left. We haven’t even played a division game.”
GRONK’S DAY: Rob Gronkowski finally made his 2016 debut after sitting out the first two weeks of the season nursing a sore hamstring. He wasn’t his normal self by any means. He played 14 snaps and was targeted just one time. It was the first time he appeared in a regular-season game and went without a catch.
“I got to get my feet wet,” he said. “It felt great just to get out there. I blocked the whole time, but it feels great just playing football again.”
WATT’S UP?: J.J. Watt was a non-factor one a week after he had 1 1/2 sacks and seemed to be on his way back to the form that won him the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award last season. Watt assisted on just two tackles in the game, and the Texans were only able to sack Brissett once in the game, for a loss of 6 yards.
“They never really put him in a situation where he had to be throwing the ball too much,” Watt said. “They did a great job at the run game, and did a great job all around and he played well being in a tough situation.”
Watt is 0-5 (including one playoff game) against the Patriots, recording only a 1/2 sack in those contests.
VERY SPECIAL TEAMS: Belichick has always been a stickler about special teams. It paid off big time on Thursday. New England forced and recovered two fumbles on Texans’ kickoffs that led to 14 points. Brandon Bolden forced the first one in the first quarter, which was scooped up by Duron Harmon on Houston’s 22 to set up Brissett’s touchdown run. Later in the third quarter Nate Ebner forced another fumble that was recovered by Jordan Richards on the Texans’ 21. It set up a 1-yard score by LeGarrette Blount.
GROUND GAME: Blount has scored touchdowns in all three games this season. He ran 24 times for 105 yards and two touchdowns, including the 41-yarder in the fourth quarter to give New England a 27-0 lead Thursday. It’s the third time in his career he has had back-to-back 100-yard games, and the first time since 2011. Blount also had a 1-yard TD run in the third quarter.
LEAPING WITH LAMBEAU: With the win, Belichick tied Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame coach Curly Lambeau for fourth on the NFL’s all-time list with 226 regular-season victories.
“You know how much respect I have for Curly Lambeau and what he accomplished in his great career, but really today’s not about me,” Belichick said. “This is about our team. … I wouldn’t really want anything to deflect the credit that they deserve for what they accomplished tonight.”
Up next is Tom Landry (270), with George Halas (324) and Don Shula (347) atop the list.
Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/khightower