FOXBOROUGH – Shame on Patriot Nation for assuming a cakewalk win over the Houston Texans.
And the same to Texans Nation for assuming the same.
It was said following the Patriots’ epic upset of the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI that it is better to be 15-point underdogs than 15-point favorites. Teams with large point spreads in their favor are susceptible to complacency, playing uncharacteristically poor, and inspired performances by the underdog. The Patriots had the fourth highest point spread in an NFL postseason game in the Super Bowl era, and everyone from here to Harris County, Texas assumed an easy Patriot win.
It was so bad, that Houston Chronicle beat writer John McClain stated on a Patriot pregame show that he wanted the Patriots to win, then come back to Houston for the Super Bowl and beat the tar out of the Dallas Cowboys. He said that Texans fans basically felt the same way as Patriot fans. Patriots win easy, and everyone deep in the heart of Texas accepts that.
Let’s once again listen to the retiring Chris Berman.
That’s…(long pregnant pause) why they play the game.
The Patriots did prevail in the end, outlasting the game but error-prone Houston Texans on Saturday night at Gillette Stadium, 34-16. The Patriots advanced to their sixth straight AFC Championship Game, a new NFL postseason record for consecutive trips to a conference final. They now await the outcome of Sunday’s Pittsburgh-Kansas City game, moved to the evening due to an ice storm in western Missouri, to see who their opponent will be next Sunday at Gillette.
The win, while still a nice margin which covered the point spread, was not convincing nor was it an artistic success. The Patriots committed three turnovers, the same as Houston. The vaunted Texans defense, led by Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus, did indeed give Tom Brady and the offense fits for much of the evening. There were a few penalties against the Patriots that aren’t what you ever see from a Bill Belichick-coached team.
After an exchange of three and outs to begin the game, the Patriots got the ball at their own 35. An interference penalty by A.J. Bouye on Chris Hogan gave the Patriots 30 yards, then Brady hit Chris Hogan on a lob pass for 22 yards to the Houston 13. On the next play, Brady flipped a nice flat pass to Dion Lewis, who ran a nice wheel route, outran linebacker Bernardrick McKinney and scored to make it 7-0 Patriots. The Texans got the ball back and suffered their third straight three and out. The rout was on.
Not quite. On third down and 18 from the Houston 15, Brock Osweiler dumped one over the middle to DeAndre Hopkins for 10 yards and seemed content to punt. A scuffle broke out after the play, and Eric Rowe foolishly tried to pull a Texan player off a pile of players. He was flagged for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty, and the rule prohibiting pulling players off a pile is clearly stated in the rulebook. Houston got a gift first down, Belichick gave Rowe an earful on the sideline, and the Texans marched all the way down to a 33-yard Nick Novak goal.
Lewis would take the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown to make it 14-3 Patriots. Lewis would later score a rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter, becoming the first player in NFL history to score a rushing, receiving and kickoff return touchdown in the same postseason game. But Lewis would flush most of that goodwill down the toilet two possessions later.
After the kickoff return, the Texans went three and out, and the Patriots got the ball back at their own 20. On first down, Brady tried to hit Michael Floyd on a left slant route. The ball glanced off his fingertips and into the hands of Bouye. Six plays later, Novak hit a 27-yard field goal to make it 14-6.
Lewis took the ensuing kickoff and ran it back, but got hit by Akeem Dent at the 12-yard line and fumbled. Eddie Pleasant recovered the fumble, and two plays later Osweiler found tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz wide open in the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown. Osweiler executed a nice fake reverse which Duron Harmon bit on, leaving Fiedorowicz so blatantly wide open. It was 14-13 Patriots at this point, and Patriot Nation was aghast.
Give the Patriots credit for never panicking. At no time did Houston ever have the lead. The Patriots managed to take a 17-13 lead into halftime, despite settling for a 19-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal with ten seconds left after being stuffed twice at the one-yard line.
Brady threw a second pick late in the third quarter. On second and ten at the 23, Brady tried to hit Julian Edelman over the middle, but did not see McKinney approaching from the left. He batted the ball into the air, and Andre Hal made the pick. Five plays later, Novak connected from 46 yards out to make it 24-16 Patriots.
The Patriots managed to hang in there and were fortunate to prevent the turnovers from becoming touchdowns. They were also the benefactors of some bad Houston execution, as evidenced by three Osweiler interceptions, and a dropped 45-yard touchdown pass to Will Fuller late in the third quarter as he managed to get a step behind Malcolm Butler but bobbled the perfect throw.
Both Brady and Osweiler had bad passing numbers, but Osweiler’s were abysmal. Brady was 18 of 38 passing for 287 yards, two touchdowns, two picks and a 68.6 passer rating. It was the first time since 1997 that a quarterback attempted 35 or more passes in a postseason game and completed less than half of them. Osweiler was 23 of 40 for 198 yards, one touchdown, three picks and a 47.7 rating. Edelman and Hogan made some clutch catches, with Edelman snagging eight passes for 137 yards and Hogan four catches for 95 yards.
The two potential opponents for the Patriots, Pittsburgh and Kansas City, pose different problems. Kansas City has the better defense, Pittsburgh the better offense. Which do you prefer?
At least you get to offer an opinion. Houston fans have no such luxury.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary