By: Bob George/BosSports.net
December 01, 2013

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HOUSTON -- Sooner or later, this near-the-bottom of the league defense will have to be dealt with, as it is a potentially bigger problem than fumbleitis.

But as long as the Patriots don't mind falling behind and continue to score at will in the second half, maybe it won't matter.

It will matter, of course, come playoff time. But for the second week in a row, the Patriots spotted the opponent a first half lead, then played a near flawless second half offensively to come from behind and win. This week it was the 2-9 Houston Texans, who seemed on the cusp of AFC domination but have found closing out games in 2013 near impossible. This week was no exception, as Tom Brady threw two touchdown passes, the porous New England defense managed to get stops when needed, and the Patriots held off the Texans 34-31 at Reliant Stadium on Sunday.

The win was important for the Patriots in trying to secure at least a first round bye at season's end. With Denver beating Kansas City later on in the afternoon, 35-28 at Arrowhead Stadium, Denver takes over the AFC West lead, and now has the inside track to the top playoff seed in the conference. Denver has a cupcake schedule the rest of the way and doesn't figure to allow the Patriots to pull even in the win column, in which the Patriots would win a tiebreaker based on head to head. Instead, the Patriots will need to finish ahead of whomever wins the AFC South and North to nail down the two seed. Winning out will accomplish such a feat.

Tom Brady managed to top the 100 mark in passer rating despite throwing an interception. Brady finished 29 of 41 passing for 371 yards and two touchdowns. After getting off to a slow start (he threw for only 108 yards in the first half), Brady whistled through the top-rated Texan defense with relative ease in the second half. The Patriots scored on their first five possessions in the second half, and the final drive was merely a clock-killing drive where Ryan Allen perfectly dropped a punt at the Houston 5 with seven seconds left and no timeouts to clinch the win for the Patriots.

Still, the Patriots did allow the Texans an awful lot of total yards despite no Arian Foster or Matt Schaub. Local boy Case Keenum (of the University of Houston), the third quarterback Houston has used this year, hooked up with old warhorse Andre Johnson for 121 yards on eight catches. In previous meetings, the Patriots had been able to neutralize Johnson, who recently made some overtly disparaging remarks about his team. But on this day, Johnson was able to find holes in the Patriot secondary with regularity and showed his All-Pro form.

But Johnson wasn't the biggest problem the Patriot defense faced. Ben Tate rushed for 102 yards and three touchdowns. In the Red Area, Tate at times was unstoppable, thanks to his power style and a terrific job by the Houston offensive line. Tate's touchdown runs were 8, 20 and 10, mostly power runs up the middle or off tackle, with gaping holes Tate was able to blast through. As a team, Houston averaged 4.3 yards per carry.

The Texans built a 17-7 halftime lead, totally outplaying the Patriots for most of the way. Keenum took early advantage of superior field position and led the Texans on a 52-yard scoring drive on their second offensive possession. Johnson caught two passes for 42 yards before Tate blasted in from eight yards. The drive took only five plays.

On the next drive, Brady foolishly tried to hit Rob Gronkowski on a deep seam pattern and Johnathon Joseph jumped the route, intercepted the pass and returned it 31 yards to the Patriot 31. This drive would only yield a field goal, but it was 10-0 Houston and Bill Belichick had to instantly go into anti-trap game mode.

Brady would hit paydirt on the next drive. A nice but painful leaping grab by Kenbrell Thompkins begat a nifty 23-yard touchdown pass to Gronkowski. Logan Ryan got the ball back for the Patriots with a pick deep in Patriot territory, but the drive stalled at the Houston 37 and Stephen Gostkowski was wide right on a 55-yard field goal attempt. Houston answered right back with a 55-yard drive which ended in Tate's 20-yard scamper right up the gut to make it 17-7 Houston.

The second half, for the most part, was a shootout between Brady and Keenum. The Patriots finally got their first lead at 24-21, but Houston was able to match the Patriots on touchdown runs by Keenum and Tate. It was 31-28 Houston with 11:35 left in the game.

Gostkowski might get lost in the shuffle, but he might make a claim as the star of the game. He was asked to kick three field goals from beyond 50 yards in the game. While he missed his first one, he made both of his last two kicks, both from 53 yards out, both of them would have been good from 60 yards, and the kicks tied the game and then gave the Patriots the lead for good. The top-rated Texans were finally able to keep Brady out of the end zone, but Gostkowski made that achievement pretty much moot.

The Patriot defense finally put the clamps on Keenum with two stops in the final minutes of the game. With 7:16 left in the game, Keenum threw three incompletions in a row thanks in part to drops on first and second down by Garrett Graham and Johnson. With 3:12 left, Keenum went to work and threw twice to Johnson for 25 yards. But the Patriots stopped the Texans on four straight plays, the last of which was thanks to pressure by Chandler Jones and Andre Carter at the two-minute warning which pretty much put the game in the win column for the Patriots.

The Patriots will come home and face another weak opponent on paper in Cleveland. They will once again hear it from the coach about not getting complacent and allowing the Browns to pull a trap game on the Patriots like Houston nearly did. The Patriots will be solid favorites given the mess at quarterback the Browns are going through. Add to that the Browns losing at home to Jacksonville this Sunday, and it makes a Patriot win a certainty if the Patriots don't prepare poorly or execute badly next Sunday.

The Patriots still don't have to come to grips with the holes in their defense. Brady and his offense are making that possible. Again.


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