Veteran quarterback Steve Grogan, making his first start in more than a year, passed for three touchdowns and the New England defense sacked Archie Manning six times today as the Patriots beat the Houston Oilers, 29-21, before Schaefer Stadium's smallest NFL turnout.

The 33,602 in the 60,000-seat facility (451 more had tickets but did not show up) in sun but cold saw Grogan, replacing Matt Cavanaugh, find Stanley Morgan on scoring tosses covering 63 and 24 yards in the first period. He connected with Tony Collins for 14 yards and a safe 29-7 lead in the fourth quarter.

Second-year pro Collins had his best game, carrying 32 times for 161 yards. He set up two field goals by newly signed Dan Miller, the rookie who bid to take Mark Moseley's job before being cut by the Redskins on season's eve.

When the Oilers learned during the week that Grogan would start, "The first thing we wanted to do was stop Grogan from throwing the long bomb," said Houston Coach Ed Biles. "We didn't do it. He burnt us twice on long throws right off the bat. We knew we had to stop Tony Collins, and we didn't do that."

"It's nice to look at a .500 record," New England's first-year coach, Ron Meyer, said. "I don't know why Steve's passing was better here than in preseason. He did the job."