The stage was set, a Monday Night game in Foxboro, in December. ESPN and every other sports media outlet was analyzing and dissecting what was poised to be a matchup between the top two teams in the AFC. All hands were on deck getting ready for the showdown and the Patriots were fired up. They’ve been in this situation before and it was the Texans job to match their intensity. But I guess somebody should have told them that, because they were lackluster from the start.
Heading into the game these two teams were matched in a way that all you could say was “something’s gotta give”. Turns out that something was the Texans attitude. Their first drive of the game consisted of four plays for fourteen yards and resulted in a punt. Chalk it up to getting the jitters out and settling into the Monday Night Football environment. But that’s pretty much how their offense was all night. They punted seven times and turned the ball over on downs twice. And then on the other side of the field were the Patriots. Their first three drives resulted in three touchdowns and set the tone that they could not be stopped. It was clear they were feeding off an energy unlike anything we’ve seen this season.
Aquib Talib left with a hip injury in the second quarter but the defense adjusted and that made the difference. (FILE:USPresswire)Â
Both of these teams are dealing with injuries but it’s how you adjust to them that matters. For the Patriots’ part they have some missing pieces on offense with Julian Edelman out for the season with a broken foot and Rob Gronkowski out for who knows how much longer with his forearm. So that puts the pressure on the entire team to adjust and step up to the line ready to work. In the past two weeks Aaron Hernandez has done just that. Last night he had eight receptions (tying his game high for the season) for 58 yards and a season best two touchdowns. On his second touchdown of the game, with the Patriots uptempo offense, he was able to walk into the endzone practically untouched as the Houston defense was lagging behind. Brandon Lloyd also was very surprising on MNF. It seems the Patriots have adjusted to losing a weapon in their short passing game and Josh McDaniels has found a way to get back to the glory days of stretching the field. In his first game back, Donte Stallworth also was a recipient of a deep pass that resulted in a touchdown. It must be the routes or the commitment to the long ball but something changed this week and it was more than effective.
On defense the Patriots also made the necessary adjustments. Aquib Talib was playing great and working hard in man coverage which gave the front seven the confidence to blitz. The defense was kicking on all cylinders last night and there were signs of improvement. When Talib went down with a hip injury in the second quarter it could have signaled disaster but the defense stepped up. Not only did Kyle Arrington step into coverage but the linebackers did as well. It was clear that the entire defense adjusted and made the necessary moves to account for the injury. That is something you definitely wouldn’t have seen earlier this season and it takes a certain kind of unit to be able to make quick changes in game. And how could anybody miss Vince Wilfork who once again was playing out of his mind and showed he’s not just a big, immovable object. He continues to push until the play is over and his second efforts make a big difference for this team.
With about eight minutes left in the game it was clear the Texans had had enough. Matt Schaub was completely off the entire game and J.J. Watt looked obviously frustrated on the sidelines. Last night it was the Patriots deflecting passes and not him. He did hit Tom Brady quite a few times but never before he got the ball out. This was a true test for the Texans and their second loss comes at the hands of an elite team. They were blown out but don’t think they won’t be back with a lesson learned.
For the Patriots this was just what they needed heading down the final stretch. It’s one thing to blow out the Jets and completely another to blow out the Texans on Monday Night Football. The stage was big and the Patriots were ready. This win shows they’re ready and have the depth and coaching to make a deep playoff run.