O'Brien to face mentor Belichick Sunday night

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HOUSTON — When Houston coach Bill O'Brien left his job as offensive coordinator at Duke to join coach Bill Belichick's staff as an offensive quality control coach for the New England Patriots in 2007, his wife wasn't exactly thrilled at the move.

Nor by the pay cut that came with it.

"I was making a decent salary and didn't quite make that same salary in New England, so she didn't quite have the divorce papers written up just then. That came later for other reasons," O'Brien joked. "My suitcase was not on the porch, but I don't think she was real thrilled about the ol' salary."

The move ended up working out for O'Brien. He spent four years with Belichick in New England before coaching Penn State for two seasons and returning to the NFL as Houston's coach in 2014. On Sunday night, O'Brien will face his mentor for the first time when the Texans host the Patriots.

"I think Bill is a great coach, one of the best that I've had," Belichick said. "He's right up there with all those guys. Very unusual to do what he did, to go from a coordinator position to a quality control position on our staff, but I think that shows you his work ethic, the confidence he has in himself."

After that first year O'Brien was promoted to wide receivers coach, and coached quarterbacks in 2009-10 before becoming New England's offensive coordinator in 2011. So many people have worked for or played under Belichick that he's asked almost every week whether a person's familiarity with his system will be an advantage when it comes time for the game.

He scoffed at that notion.

"It's really pretty common," Belichick said. "It's probably more common that that is the case than it isn't. In the end this game is going to come down to the teams on the field, how well they can execute and make plays at critical times in the game."

The Patriots have lost two in a row after opening the season 10-0 and are looking to avoid their first three-game losing streak since dropping four straight from Sept. 29-Oct. 27, 2002. Houston will try to bounce back from a 30-21 loss to Buffalo that snapped a four-game winning streak.

Some things to know about the Patriots-Texans game:

WATT'S HAND: Houston star defensive end J.J. Watt broke his left hand on practice on Wednesday, but said he'll start on Sunday. Watt, who leads the NFL with 13 1/2 sacks, doesn't expect the injury to slow him down.

"There's really not a whole lot to it, football is a game where things happen," Watt said. "You play through it, you go out there, you do whatever you can to help your team win. So that's what I plan to do."

DROP EVERYTHING: New England quarterback Tom Brady's season-long numbers are again impressive, with 3,912 yards passing, 31 touchdowns and six interceptions in 12 games.

But they could be even better.

According to game-charting from Pro Football Focus, Brady has had a league-worst 41 passes dropped by his receivers — 11 more than the QB with the second most, Oakland's Derek Carr. In last week's loss to the Eagles, Brandon LaFell, Danny Amendola and Keshawn Martin had balls go through their hands on New England's final three plays when it had a chance to tie the game or win.

"I certainly have confidence in the guys that I'm throwing the ball to or else I wouldn't throw it to them," Brady said. "I think it's just a matter of us ultimately going and making the plays when we have the opportunity to do it."

QUARTERBACK CAROUSEL: Houston's Brian Hoyer will be the fifth quarterback to start for the Texans against New England on Sunday. The quarterback position in Houston has been a revolving door for the last few years and Hoyer is one of three quarterbacks to start for the Texans this season alone.

O'Brien has seen a lot of growth from Hoyer since he coached him in New England in the quarterback's first three NFL seasons as Brady's backup.

"With experience in different systems and ... Brian having to go through a lot in his career, being injured, being cut, he has a lot of resiliency, mental toughness, very bright guy, so yeah, he has grown a ton since I had him in 2009," O'Brien said.

LOSING STREAK: How quickly can things change in the NFL?

In eight days, the New England Patriots went from thinking about a 16-0 season to the owners of a two-game losing streak. If the season ended now, the Patriots would lose tiebreakers with Cincinnati and Denver and be the No. 3 seed in the AFC and host the New York Jets in the wild-card round.

The Patriots have had a first-round bye in every season since 2010. It would be especially useful this year, with tight end Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman nursing week-to-week injuries that could use more time to rest.


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