HOUSTON — To a man, the New England Patriots insist they are not fretting about last season’s collapse, when they squandered a fourth-quarter lead in Super Bowl LIII against the Los Angeles Rams.
The Patriots needed a miracle catch by tight end Rob Gronkowski to avoid being the first defending champion in the last 30 years to lose its first three playoff games.
“We’re not even a year removed from being Super Bowl champions,” running back James White said before the Patriots’ final practice of the week before Sunday’s second preseason game, against the Houston Texans. “We’re not talking about last year. We’re just talking about this year. We’re trying to win games.”
The Patriots routed the Texans 51-23 in the opener last week at Gillette Stadium, and even without injured running back Sony Michel, the running game outgained Houston during a 30-point first half.
“We were still able to wear them down,” Brady said. “We’ve got a lot of room to get better, but there’s a long ways to go.”
Brady will have a new look on offense. The Patriots traded for tight end Martellus Bennett on Friday and drafted Texas A&M’s James O’Shaughnessy in the fifth round.
In addition, New England has released veteran tight end Dwayne Allen.
Coach Bill Belichick agreed the offseason trade for Bennett, who can sign with a different team as a free agent in March.
“I think everyone has something that they bring,” Belichick said. “We were looking for some receivers, and Martellus is certainly going to help us and he can help our offense.”
Brady said Bennett’s arrival gives New England “great options” at tight end.
“He can block, he can catch, he can do it all,” Brady said. “We’re happy to have him.”
Belichick admitted the Patriots defense faces an early challenge.
“We haven’t played a game yet,” he said. “I’m really excited about some of the young players that we have, but we have a lot of work to do.”
Houston is coming off an unusual offseason in which general manager Brian Gaine signed a bevy of free agents, including wide receiver Will Fuller and defensive lineman J.J. Watt. The Texans signed former New York Giants quarterback Geno Smith as an insurance policy after Deshaun Watson suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament, and the first-round pick won the starting job.
Brady said Smith can stand out as the season progresses.
“Geno’s played in this league for a while,” Brady said. “He’s got a great arm, he’s confident and we have a great group of quarterbacks around him that will compete.”
Watson had a 27-9-1 record as a starter the past two seasons before becoming the 10th quarterback to take the field for the Texans during their march to the playoffs in 2017.
Watson threw three touchdown passes against New England in the opener last week. He has been battling a sore shoulder.
“I don’t really know,” he said about his shoulder. “If I did it was subconscious. If it’s conscious, I’m trying to figure it out, trying to fix it. It feels good. I’m getting it better.”
Brady has played in 49 preseason games and three regular-season games since the start of the 2002 season. He has lost his last two games to the Texans.