Injuries prevented the Texans from finding out exactly what their team could have been last season.
Star defensive end J.J. Watt Lance Alworth Jersey , linebacker Whitney Mercilus and quarterback Deshaun Watson were among 21 Houston players that spent time on injured reserve during the 2017 campaign. The season predictably imploded, ending with six straight losses.
But before the avalanche of injuries, the Texans gave the eventual AFC champion New England Patriots all they could handle during a Week 3 visit to Gillette Stadium.
Despite having a rookie signal caller in Watson, the Texans' offense matched touchdowns with the Patriots. Houston was headed for an improbable victory before Tom Brady rescued his team with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Brandin Cooks in the final minute to give New England a 36-33 victory.
Now healed and with a revamped defense, the Texans return to New England on Sunday, hoping to put their misfortunes in the past as they open the 2018 season.
That is particularly true in the case of Watt, who has had parts of the past two seasons derailed by injuries .
He played just three games in 2016 before being sidelined with a herniated disc. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year then appeared in five games last season before having his year ended by a fractured left tibia.
"I'm just looking forward to playing football again," Watt said. "Obviously the last two years have been very rough for me. You want to play and everything that I've had to go through in the rehabs and the recoveries and all that it took and then, obviously, (Hurricane Harvey) as well.
"But I'm just looking to getting back out on the field, playing football, flying around with the guys, doing what I love."
Meanwhile Trent Murphy Jersey , the Patriots begin yet another season as the favorite in a conference they have dominated for nearly two decades thanks to Brady. He's now 41, but has yet to show any signs of diminished capacity coming off an MVP season.
He'll have a new-look receiving corps following the offseason departures of Danny Amendola and Cooks, as well as the four-game suspension of Julian Edelman for violating the NFL's policy on performance enhancers.
Though he's already secured his place in the Hall of Fame and may possibly end his career as the most accomplished quarterback in league history, Brady reiterated this week in the final installment of his Facebook Watch series "Tom Vs Time" that he wants to play five more seasons .
"I think I can do it," he said. "It'll be a challenge for me. I don't think it's going to be easy. It's going to be hard to do. I think it's going to be very hard to do. But I think I can do it. And once you stop you're done. And I think I'm not ready to say I'm done, because I don't feel like I am."
Here are some other things to know about Sunday's matchup between the Texans and Patriots:
CLOWNEY COMING: After having the best season of his career in 2017, Jadeveon Clowney is looking to do even more this year as part of a line that also features Watt.
The top overall pick in the 2014 draft finished last year second in the NFL with a career-high 21 tackles for losses, and his 9 1/2 sacks, 21 quarterback hits and two forced fumbles were also career bests. He started all 16 games for the first time after struggling with injuries through the early part of his career, and his 59 tackles in 2017 were the most of his career.
"My goal is to make more plays than I did last year ... improving my sacks and tackles for loss and everything," he said. "I just want to do that again. With everybody back this year the sky's the limit for this defense and myself. I just have to come out and put it all together."
SPOTLESS RECORD: Houston is one of four teams New England has an undefeated regular-season home record against (4-0). The Patriots are 5-0 against Baltimore, 4-0 against Chicago and 4-0 against Jacksonville.
The Patriots also have won the last five regular-season meetings with the Texans overall.
HAVING HIS WAY: Aside from his late-game heroics last season, Brady has been equally steady against the Texans during his career. He has an 8-1 record against Houston Laremy Tunsil Jersey , passing for 22 touchdowns and 2,565 yards (regular season and playoffs).
CONTAINING WATSON: Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower will be playing in his first regular-season game since suffering a season-ending shoulder injury last October. He said he's excited about the challenge of trying to contain Watson, who had his way with the Patriots in their meeting last season, passing for 301 yards and two touchdowns. Hightower said putting pressure on Watson early will be key to trying to slow him down.
"I think that's the biggest thing ... just not letting those guys get comfortable inside the pocket," Hightower said. "Hopefully we'll do a good job this week containing him in the run and pass game."
AP Sports Writer Kristie Rieken contributed to this report.
Evander Kane knew San Jose was a good fit when Joe Thornton showed up for a late-night airport pickup following a trade deadline deal.
That comfort was only reinforced over the next 10 weeks on the ice and in the dressing room. It left Kane with an easy choice as he headed toward free agency.
Kane bypassed a chance at the open market by signing a seven-year deal Thursday worth $49 million to stay with the Sharks for the long term.
”It’s good to be wanted and I wanted them just as much as they wanted me,” Kane said. ”The fact that we were able to work out a deal so quickly reflects that. Obviously, when you’re a free agent you have the option to do what you want and I made it clear to them that I didn’t want to go anywhere else.”
Kane will be paid $9 million the first year of the deal, followed by salaries of $8 million, $6 million, $7 million, $7 million and two years at $6 million, according to a person familiar with the deal who spoke on condition of anonymity because terms were not released. He also has a limited no-trade clause.
Kane, who turns 27 in August Michael Dickson Jersey , was acquired from Buffalo at the trade deadline in February and became a key part of San Jose’s team down the stretch and in the playoffs.
Under the terms of that trade, the Sabres will get a first-round pick in 2019 instead of a second-rounder because Kane signed with San Jose. The selection is lottery-protected, so it could be moved to 2020.
The Sharks aren’t concerned about that price.
”You don’t find guys like this unless you’re picking in the top three, four guys in the draft, and no one wants to be there,” coach Peter DeBoer said.
”When you’re signing free agents, especially elite players and guys that are going to play huge roles for you, you really want to know about them as much as possible. And you really don’t know a player until you stand behind the bench and are around them every day. So that was a nice luxury to have. I think we all felt comfortable that this was a guy that could help us win.”
Kane’s status was one of the biggest questions heading into this offseason for the Sharks, who were knocked out of the playoffs in six games in the second round against eventual Western Conference champion Vegas.
Thornton is the other prominent potential free agent on the team. But he’s said he’s willing to come back on a reduced one-year deal.
The Sharks still have salary cap flexibility to make more moves, which will be easier now that Kane’s deal is done and he can be slotted in on a top line.
”He plays with great speed and fits with not only our game but where the league is trending,” general manager Doug Wilson said.
”To get him in place and secured was very important to us. Top-six forwards like that, there aren’t many out there and when you get one you want to make sure that he’s secured. It fills in our roster.”
Kane stepped right onto the top line with captain Joe Pavelski after arriving in San Jose and helped ease the loss of Thornton, who went down with a season-ending knee injury in January. Kane used speed and physical play to deliver nine goals and five assists in 17 games and helped San Jose make the playoffs Tom Brady Jersey , giving him a first taste of the postseason.
Kane shined in the first round with three goals and an assist during a sweep against Anaheim. But he struggled a bit against the Golden Knights, slowed by injuries to his knee and shoulder that lingered from the end of the regular season.
He had one goal and a minus-5 rating in five games against Vegas. He missed Game 2 of that series when he was suspended for cross-checking Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.
Kane finished last season with 29 goals and 25 assists, his second-most productive season to his 30-goal, 27-assist run for the Jets in 2011-12. Kane has 186 goals and 168 assists in 574 games since entering the NHL as the fourth overall pick by Atlanta in 2009.
Despite his credentials, there was not a robust trade market for Kane back in February in part because he had issues off the ice with some teammates during his stints with Winnipeg and Buffalo.
Kane also had legal run-ins.
In March 2016, prosecutors announced after a three-month investigation that Kane would not face a sexual assault charge. In June 2016, he was arrested for allegedly grabbing three women by the hair and neck during an altercation at a Buffalo bar. The charges were eventually dismissed on condition Kane stayed out of trouble as part of a plea agreement.
Also that year, the Sabres suspended Kane for one game for missing practice a day after pictures surfaced on social media of the player celebrating in Toronto after attending the NBA All-Star Game.
There haven’t been issues in his brief time with the Sharks.
”We really started things off on the right note and it just carried on from there,” Kane said. ”The one thing about this team and this group and this organization is that they allow you to be yourself. They embrace you for that. It’s a very unselfish group that makes it super easy to come into and mesh well with.”
AP Hockey Writer John Wawrow contributed to this report
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