By: Steve Balestrieri
The New England Patriots put a beat down on the Houston Texans behind a solid defensive effort and MVP type performance by Tom Brady 42-14 on Monday Night Football in Foxboro.
Brady, who plays best in games where he is mainly overlooked as the primary focus was sharp, especially in the early going and had the Patriots score on their first three possessions putting Houston in a big hole that they were never able to recover from.
Brady Steps Up: Brady completed 21-35 for 296 yards and 4 touchdowns with 0 interceptions against a tough Houston defense. He was under pressure many times but was sacked only once, a testament of how quickly he can get rid of the football. For the season, Brady has thrown 29 touchdowns against only 4 interceptions for a ridiculous TD to INT ratio of better than 7:1.
But Brady was far from alone in setting the tone on Monday night; Wes Welker started it all with a big 30 yard punt return and then with a big 28 yard reception down to the 2 yard line to set up the first Patriots touchdown.
Aaron Hernandez led the Patriots in receptions with 8 for 58 yards with 2 touchdowns. Donte Stallworth was re-signed this week and in his first regular season game with the Patriots since the end of the 2007 season had a 63 yard touchdown that effectively put the game away.
Offensive Line, Together Again: For the first time in more than a month and only for the 5th or 6th time this season, the Patriots OL had all their starters in. And it couldn’t have come at a better time against the top ranked Texans.
While it wasn’t perfect, their performance was very good, Brady was sacked only once, Watt was held without a sack or a tackle for a loss, and didn’t knock down any passes, which is huge.
Even better was the fact that once again they were able to close out the game by pounding the ball in the running game, rushing for 130 yards against a team that gives up only about 87 yards per game. Stevan Ridley started slowly but finished with 72 yards on 18 carries.
Lloyd Quiets Critics: One of the big knocks on Brandon Lloyd this season is that he hasn’t stepped up and been a bigger part of the offense. Much of that however has been simply a game-planning decision rather than one of performance.
Lloyd was brought in to stretch the field, both vertically and horizontally and has done so, but was never going to replace the top three weapons in the passing game with Welker, Gronkowski and Hernandez. So while his numbers will never be eye-popping, he is doing what he’s been brought here for and a first quarter play was the best evidence of that.
On a 1st and 10 at the Houston 37, Brady ran a beautiful stretch play-action pass that both safeties bit on hard, Lloyd blew by CB Jonathan Joseph and with no safety help, Brady lofted a perfectly thrown pass for a touchdown to put the Patriots up 14-0. Lloyd finished with 7 catches for 89 yards and two touchdowns as well.
Wilfork Increases His Watt-age: The much maligned Patriots defense stepped up in a big way shutting down the second ranked scoring offense in the NFL limiting them to just 7 points with another 7 in garbage time against mainly second teamers. And it all started with Vince Wilfork, the Patriots big man in the middle stepped up big in a big game with a great performance. Disrupting and blowing up plays in the back field, batting down balls at the line of scrimmage and strip-sacking Houston QB Matt Schaub for a big loss on third down to force a punt. It was a J.J. Watt-type performance by Wilfork as
Jerod Mayo had a big game as well, flying all over the field and delivering big hits, blitzing up the middle and being extremely physical at the point of attack. The Patriots defense held Houston to only 4 for 14 (29%) on third down and 0-2 on fourth down attempts.
After being gashed on the first couple of Texans stretch running plays, Bill Belichick called time-out and whatever adjustments they made were successful because by and large after that, the Texans Arian Foster was held in check. Foster gained only 46 yards on 15 carries and the play-action passes which is such a big part of the Houston offense was rendered ineffective.
Secondary Play Solidifying: Since acquiring CB Aqib Talib from Tampa and moving Devin McCourty to safety the Patriots points allowed in the last 5 games has been steadily moving downward. After allowing 31 points against Buffalo, they’ve allowed 24, 19, 16 and now 14 points. That’s trending in the right direction and they’re playing with a renewed sense of confidence.
The Patriots secondary also blanketed TE Owen Daniels and WR Kevin Walter who were no factors in the game. Daniels was held to two catches for 24 yards and Walter was shut out. In our pre-game analysis, we said that those two would tell the story one way or another as the Patriots would attempt to blanket Andre Johnson. Johnson had 8 catches for 95 yards but the Patriots and Talib did a great job of limiting his effectiveness. Walter and Daniels didn’t step up and the results were plain to see.
Patriots Peaking At Right Time: With the win, the Patriots remain in the #2 position in the AFC at 10-3 with a head-to-head win against Denver (10-3), Baltimore (9-4) falls to #4 with their loss. Houston despite the loss remains entrenched at #1 with an 11-2 record.
New England has won 7 in a row and host another tough, physical team with the San Francisco 49ers coming to Foxboro on Sunday night. The Texans have two games remaining with the upstart Colts, so there remains little time to regroup. Denver travels to Baltimore this weekend. So the playoff picture remains very fluid.