NFL: New England Patriots at Houston Texans

New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones lines up behind the offensive line during the first quarter of last Sunday's game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. 

What a pleasant surprise.

Down four starters and after a week of worry, the Patriots offensive line was never better Sunday.

Rookie quarterback Mac Jones was sacked just once during a 25-22 win over Houston, matching a season best. He was hit only three other times, even while passing frequently during a 13-point second-half comeback. Jones had starting center David Andrews to lean on, plus three other backups and practice-squad guard James Ferentz filling in.

The O-line had previously been a weakness for the Pats’ struggling offense and instead fronted a much-needed win Sunday.

“Just shows that you must be ready, and they stepped up to the opportunity. I told them that after the game that they all did a good job stepping up and just taking advantage of their opportunities,” Jones said. “They played great.”

Third-year offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste earned the first offensive snaps of his career and started at right tackle. He blocked next to interior backup Ted Karras, who flanked Andrews in the middle with Ferentz at left guard. Second-year tackle Justin Herron protected Jones’ blind side at left tackle, after predominantly playing right tackle this season as an injury replacement for Trent Brown.

Together, they cleared room for 126 rushing yards and allowed Jones to get hit on just 13% of his dropbacks.

Brown was placed on injured reserve Saturday, when it was learned left tackle Isaiah Wynn and left guard Mike Onwenu would remain on COVID-19 reserve through the game. After the game, Bill Belichick shared that the team was hopeful to return Onwenu for kickoff, but he wasn’t cleared. Belichick also remarked losing four starting offensive lineman was a first for him in his 47 years of coaching in the NFL.

“Other than the replacement games and all that back in ’87 (during an NFL players’ strike), but you can’t even count that. So, no,” Belichick said before adding: “I’m not saying it was perfect, but I thought they battled. For the most part, Mac had some time to throw, and we made some yards in the running game to stay balanced. We were able to run the ball in on the goal line, so that was a good thing there, too.”

Added Andrews: “We’ve taken a lot of criticism, and rightfully so. I thought we did a better job today, and we just have to keep building on that.”