The best thing that came out of Saturday’s divisional game between the Patriots and the Texans is that New England played one of their worst games of the season.
Their offense was utterly ineffective throughout the first half, and improved little in the second half. They had two costly fumbles. Their interior offensive line fell apart under the ferocious attack of the Texans front seven. Tom Brady threw two terrible interceptions. The team had a number of costly penalties that gave Houston life in a game that they had no business playing in.
How, might you ask, is any of that a good thing for the Patriots? It is the perfect scenario for the New England because it means that they will be more focused than ever going into the AFC Championship game next Sunday night. Instead of riding high, and potentially getting distracted by overconfidence, their brush with defeat will make their preparation this week even more intense. That attitude will come from the top down, as Bill Belichick will not take the mistakes of Saturday’s game lightly.
Here are some of my thoughts about what transpired in Foxboro over the weekend:
– Tom Brady did not play well against the Texans. He was 18 for 38, with 287 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. While his first interception can be blamed partially on Michael Floyd (Brady’s throw wasn’t great), the second interception was due to Brady completely missing the linebacker in the middle of the field, which is a rarity. Brady’s accuracy was also unusually poor; he missed Julian Edelman on what would have been a key third down pick up, as well as under throwing Dion Lewis on a wheel route where he had beat the linebacker in coverage. Some of Brady’s struggles can be attributed by the solid play of the Texans defense, but Tom was also off of his game.
– The Patriots youth of the Patriots interior offensive line was on display Saturday night. The Texans front seven abused them with strength and finesse moves all night. Houston only recorded two sacks, but that was more from Brady’s ability to get the ball out quickly than the blocking of the Patriots center and guards. Brady took a beating all night from crushing blows that came right after he released the football. David Andrews, New England’s sophomore center, could not seem to find an answer for Whitney Mercilus or Jadeveon Clowney. Left guard Joe Thuney did not do much better. The hope for the Patriots is that the poor play by both players can be attributed to this being the first playoff game that each one has started (Bryan Stork started at center for the Patriots in last year’s playoffs).
– Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan both had exceptional games. Edelman finished with eight catches for 137 yards, and Hogan caught four passes for 95 yards. Each also had key 40+ yard catches that kept alive Patriot drives that were quickly stalling. Chris Hogan left the game early with a leg injury, which could be an important factor going into next weekend.
– Dion Lewis had a record-setting game for himself, recording a rushing touchdown, receiving touchdown, and a kickoff return touchdown. He carried the ball 13 times for 41 yards (averaging a respectable 3.1 yds/carry), and carried the brunt of the Patriots running back workload on offense. The best thing about his night however, was his reaction after the game. When being interviewed, Lewis spent more time berating himself for his two fumbles rather than lauding his accomplishments. That attitude is emblematic of a Bill Belichick-coached team.
– LeGarrette Blount only had eight carries in the game against Houston. His limited play is most likely due to the illness he was suffering from throughout the week. His workload will likely increase slightly next weekend.
– The Patriots front seven was great Saturday night as they put pressure on Brock Osweiller from the start of the game. Logan Ryan, Malcolm Brown, and Rob Ninkovich each recorded a sack. The biggest issue for them is containing the quarterback. Osweiller escaped the pocket once and managed to scramble for an 18 yard gain. If the Patriots defensive line can keep the QB contained, they are talented enough to break through an opposing offensive line and get to the quarterback.
– The game was a highlight reel for Logan Ryan. He finished with an interception, a sack, seven tackles, and three pass defenses. He was the best player on a Patriots defense that held the Texans offense to just six points (the other ten came off of turnovers in Patriots territory, which I blame on the offense). The only problem with Ryan playing that well is that he is not consistent. Through experience, seeing him play like that this week makes me worry about how he will play next week in the AFC Championship game.
– If I were the Texans, I would try to trade my first and fourth or fifth round pick for Jimmy Garappolo. Houston has a great defense, and impressive offensive weapons. They are a quarterback away from being a legit Super Bowl contender. Also, rumors of Bill O’Brien getting fired is ridiculous. The Texans had a 9-7 record because they didn’t have any sort of offense. You can’t fault O’Brien for the team signing Osweiller when it was a decision he did not make.
The game was ugly for the Patriots. They did not play nearly up to their talent level or potential. However, they still managed to score 34 points and beat the 16.5 point spread. Bill Belichick will have them prepared and ready for next week, and I would look for them to be playing at an elite level next Sunday night.
Until next time -B$