Watson, Texans face bigger challenge against Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Deshaun Watson will try to do something Sunday that has never been done by a rookie quarterback.

Defeat a Bill Belichick-coached team as a visiting player.

Watson, who will be making his second professional start, leads the battered and bruised Houston Texans into Gillette Stadium for a game with the New England Patriots, who have also been dealing with assorted injuries.

And Sunday, Watson will have to deal with Belichick and his various schemes.

Rookie quarterbacks are 5-15 (in the first or only meeting of a rookie season) against Belichick through his time in New England. But the Foxborough numbers are even scarier — 0-8 with five touchdowns, 16 interceptions and a 50.7 passer rating.

“Tough, physical, disciplined, well-coached team,” Watson said Wednesday. “They play all four quarters and make you make mistakes. It’s a tough opponent.”

Beating Belichick — and Tom Brady — in Foxborough (or anywhere else) has been difficult for any player or any team, and the Texans have never won in Foxborough. They’re 0-5 there and 1-8 overall against the Patriots, with six straight losses.

The Patriots defeated the Texans 34-16 in the playoffs last season when Houston was without injured J.J. Watt. He is back and healthy, but this is a banged-up football team that will come into New England this weekend.

Watt went down with his back injury when his team lost at New England a year ago. Brady sat that one out as part of his four-game DeflateGate suspension.

“It’s a big challenge,” said Texans head coach Bill O’Brien, who used to be Belichick’s offensive coordinator. “Obviously, the Patriots played really well yesterday (beating the Saints 36-20 in New Orleans).

“It’s a road environment. We’ve got to be able to go up there and handle the road environment. Obviously, they don’t lose too often at home. They’ve got a great team.”

Both teams are 1-1, losing their openers before winning in Week 2.

Houston won with Watson making his first start as a pro. That was in Cincinnati against the Bengals. The circumstances are very different this week.

O’Brien didn’t think the environment would overwhelm his rookie.

“I think anybody that’s played in the types of games he played in — it’s different, obviously, because it’s the NFL — but he’s played in national championship games,” the O’Brien said. “He’s played in big games relative to the ACC. Dealing with the big-game environment, the noise, I think that’s important. Now, dealing with the Patriots’ defense relative to a college defense is a whole (different) thing.

“The thing about Deshaun is he doesn’t get nervous. I asked him before the (Cincinnati) game, ‘Are you nervous?’ He said, ‘Naw, I don’t get nervous.’ I see that, so I don’t really concern myself too much with that.”

While the Texans were scrambling to fill out their roster amid an avalanche of injuries, the Patriots appeared to be getting at least a bit healthier.

Linebacker and defensive leader Dont’a Hightower, who has missed the first two games with a knee injury, and key receiver Danny Amendola, out Sunday with a concussion and knee injury, were back at practice Wednesday.

Rob Gronkowski, who suffered a groin injury Sunday, said Monday that he was “day to day.” He was spotted at practice Wednesday but apparently didn’t work.

“It’s a marathon of a season and you’re going to have the ups and downs of guys being in, being out,” Brady said Wednesday. “You always love to be as healthy as possible, but that’s probably not the reality of most teams.”

Watt comes into this game without a sack of Brady.

“He’s an exceptional player,” Brady said. “They move him around a lot. Earlier in his career, you used to kind of get a beat on where he’d be, (which) could help you out a little bit. But now they move him so much he’s going to really face every guy that you have up front. (He’ll) be on both sides, be inside, be outside. They run a lot of games.

“They’ve got a lot of scheme stuff that they use to try to get their guys free in the front, but all of those guys are exceptional athletes. J.J. is an incredible player.”

The Texans, who beat the Bengals after losing three tight ends to injury, will be without cornerback Kevin Johnson, slated to be out four to six weeks with a knee injury.

“That’s big, a big loss for us,” said safety Eddie Pleasant, who slid over the play some corner last week. “Great player, great guy, great competitive spirit, someone we love having out there. We need him out there, can’t wait to get him back.”