FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Brandin Cooks started his day by being booed. He ended it with one of the biggest moments of his short New England Patriots tenure.
Cooks was one of a group of Patriots players jeered as they stood locked arm in arm next to a group of players that knelt during the national anthem Sunday. The display was in response to criticism President Donald Trump levied against Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players and teams over the weekend.
All was forgotten by the home crowd about three hours later when Cooks was on the receiving end of a 25-yard, toe-tapping touchdown pass from Tom Brady with 23 seconds left in the game as the Patriots rallied to beat the Houston Texans 36-33.
Brady finished with five TD throws. Cooks caught five passes for 131 yards and pair of scores . It was the fifth multi-touchdown game and eighth 100-yard game of his career.
Cooks, in his first season with the Patriots, made clear his pregame demonstration wasn’t meant to disrespect the military. Cooks’ father, Worth Cooks, served in the Marines and died of a heart attack when his son was 6.
“It’s one of those things where you want to stand with your brothers, kneel with your brothers and be by their side,” Cooks said.
Brady finished 25 of 35 for 378 yards as New England (2-1) won its fifth straight regular-season meeting with Houston (1-2) and seventh of eight overall.
“I think no matter how you get it, you’ve got to figure out how to win the game,” Brady said.
Brady stood next to Cooks pregame.
“I speak for myself. I believe what I believe,” Brady said. “We all go through ups and downs and there’s struggles and it’s life and we’re all trying to navigate it as best we can.”
Texans rookie Deshaun Watson was strong in his second career start. The Patriots were thin on the edge without linebacker Dont’a Hightower (knee) for the second straight week, and Watson took advantage, completing 22 of 33 passes for 301 yards and two touchdowns.
But he did have two interceptions, including one that set up a New England first-half touchdown.
“It was really painful. That’s all I can really say about that,” Watson said.
The Patriots extended their halftime lead to 28-20 in the third quarter before Houston used a 12-yard TD pass from Watson to Ryan Griffin, and a 31-yard Ka’imi Fairbairn field goal to edge back in front 30-28 early in the fourth quarter.
The Texans forced New England to punt with just over seven minutes to play, but had to settle for a 36-yard Fairbairn field goal with 2:24 left. Houston failed on a third-and-1 at the Patriots 18.
That left Brady room. After an early holding penalty pushed New England back to its 15, Brady used a 15-yard pass to Rob Gronkowski and 27-yarder to Danny Amendola to the Houston 25. But the Texans had a chance to end the game prior to the Amendola reception when safety Corey Moore dropped an interception on Brady’s second-and-18 pass attempt to Cooks.
Instead Cooks made good on his second chance for the go-ahead score. He also caught the ensuing 2-point conversion.
Houston wasn’t intimidated by the Patriots in the first half.
With Houston trailing 7-3 after an early Brady touchdown pass to Gronkowski, the Texans’ defense handed Watson great field position on the Patriots 44. The rookie responded with a 29-yard touchdown pass to Bruce Ellington.
Watson got caught trying to do too much a few drives later and paid for it when Stephon Gilmore intercepted his pass intended for DeAndre Hopkins and returned it 39 yards to the Houston 12. Brady took the lead back two plays later when he hit a wide-open Chris Hogan across the middle for a 7-yard score.
It was 14-13 when Whitney Mercilus got free around the end and sacked Brady from the blind side. The ball popped free on the hit and it was picked up and returned 22 yards by Jadeveon Clowney for a touchdown.
But the Patriots responded again late in the half when Brady found Hogan wide open again for a 47-yard touchdown.
“I could have pushed him out of bounds. I am trying to relive the play and I could have done a lot of things a little bit differently.” — Texans safety Corey Moore on defending Cooks’ final touchdown
CLOWNEY’S BIG DAY
Clowney had two sacks along with his fumble return. He became the third player in Texans history with two sacks and a fumble return for a touchdown in a game, joining Mario Williams and J.J. Watt.
The two sacks also matched a career high for Clowney.
BRADY AND BREES
Brady had his sixth game with five TD passes and no interceptions, one behind New Orleans’ Drew Brees for the most in a career.
In addition Patriots players knelt or locked arms during the national anthem, Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who’s been a strong supporter of the president, expressed “deep disappointment” with Trump in a statement. Texans owner Robert McNair also called the president’s comments “divisive.”
Texans: Safety Andre Hal was shaken up in a collision with Amendola late in the fourth quarter.
Patriots: Tight end Jacob Hollister limped off the field early in the third quarter after a hard hit from Johnathan Joseph.
The Texans return home for an AFC South matchup with the Tennessee Titans.
New England hosts the Carolina Panthers.
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