Sloppy Execution But The Pats Prevail
The Patriots advance to the AFC Championship Game for a record sixth year in a row with a 34-16 win over the Houston Texans. It was an uncharacteristically sloppy game for the Patriots especially in the first half, but the team persevered and forced turnovers on defense and won over a tough, determined Texans team.
It was the little big men for the Patriots, Dion Lewis and Julian Edelman who did the damage for the Pats offense. Lewis had a 13-yard touchdown reception, a two-yard touchdown run and a 98-yard touchdown on a kickoff. He’s the first player in NFL playoff history to have a run, reception and a return for a score.
Lewis carried the ball 13 times for 41 yards, had two receptions for 23 yards and returned three kickoffs for 123 yards. But he had two fumbles, one of them directly led to the Texans only touchdown of the night.
Edelman gave Kareem Jackson fits all night and caught 8 passes for 137 yards and is now the Patriots all-time leading receiver with 76 catches.
QB Tom Brady was under a lot of pressure tonight, the most he’s seen all season and was hit numerous times. He completed 18 of 38 passes for 287 yards with 2 TDs and 2 INTs off of deflections. Brady threw only two picks all season and he equaled that number tonight. Houston’s defense deserves a lot of credit, they had a good game plan and executed it very well for this game.
The Texans moved Whitney Mercilus and Jadaveon Clowney to the inside and their pressure up the A-gap was the cause of great disruption for the Patriots offense, mostly early in the game. The Pats countered by trying to force the Texans linebackers to play in space and take advantage of mismatches there.
After trading possessions where neither team could move the ball, and get a first down the Patriots struck first. They went 65 yards in just three plays for the first touchdown of the game. A pass interference foul on Chris Hogan was good for 35 yards. On the next snap, Brady found Hogan down the right sideline for 22 more down to the Houston 13.
On the ensuing play, Brady hit Lewis in the backfield in the left flat, he juked Bernadrick McKinney, cut back against the grain and raced just inside the pylon for his first touchdown of the year. The score made it 7-0 New England.
The defense had Osweiler facing a third and 18 from deep in the Houston zone but a dumb penalty on Eric Rowe gave them life and a 15-yard boost as well. Houston then put together their best drive of the night resulting in a 33-yard field goal by Nick Novak. The drive consumed eight minutes and three seconds.
On Novak’s kickoff, Lewis ran it back 98 yards for a score giving the Patriots a 14-3 lead. He received good blocks from Matthew Slater and Geneo Grissom to spring him for the touchdown.
After holding Houston for a three and out, Brady’s next pass was picked off by A.J. Bouye and returned to the Patriots 27. Brady intended to hit Floyd on a slant but the ball was just a bit too far in front and when it hit Floyd’s hands it bounced straight up and into Bouye’s hands.
But the defense stiffened and held Houston to just another field goal to make it 14-6. Then disaster struck, Lewis returned the kickoff to the 12 and fumbled, recovered by the Texans and they were in business. Two plays later, Osweiler hit a wide open C.J. Fiedorowicz for a 10-yard touchdown pass and Foxboro began to get restless. Patriots social media right about then was full of gloom and down as the score became 14-13.
Brady would lead the Pats down the field just before the half but the team fell short of the end zone and had to settle for a Stephen Gostkowski chip shot field goal after LeGarrette Blount was stuffed at the 1-yard line. The Patriots despite playing sloppy football in the first half led 17-13.
In the third quarter, Brady led the Patriots best drive of the game going 90 yards in 9 plays in just under three and a half minutes to give the Patriots a 24-13 lead. Brady started off with two passes to Edelman that went for 40 yards. He followed that up with a 21-yard pass to Hogan. The drive culminated with a beautifully designed play that had Brady hit James White for a 19-yard touchdown pass over McKinney.
The Patriots defense held Osweiler and the Texans to just three second half points while forcing three turnovers. Osweiler’s second interception was tipped and Logan Ryan returned it down to the Houston five-yard line. Ryan had a fantastic night in the secondary providing good coverage and breaking up pass plays.
Two plays later, Lewis powered it in from the one-yard line and it was 31-16 Patriots.
They would add a final field goal by Gostkowski to round out the scoring at 34-16.
It wasn’t the way they drew things up but the mark of a good team is one that can play poorly and still win by three scores. Our prediction of 34-13 was very close, but the game played out pretty differently.
Now the Patriots await the winner of the Kansas City – Pittsburgh game tomorrow night. They’ll face off with the victor on Sunday evening at 6 p.m. in Gillette Stadium.