By: Steve Balestrieri
The New England Patriots return to action on Sunday, Jan. 13 at home against the Houston Texans in a Divisional Game in the AFC playoffs.
Houston beat Cincinnati in the Wildcard Game on Saturday in Houston and has earned a return trip to New England where the Patriots have gotten a much needed bye to nurse a myriad of injuries that saw upwards of 20 players listed on the final injury report. The Texans have stated that they wanted another chance at the Patriots after being embarrassed in Foxboro in Week 14, 42-14 in a game that wasn’t as close perhaps as the score indicated.
And of course, unless you don’t own a computer or a smartphone, you’ve been reminded ad nauseum about the 2010 Patriots – Jets playoff game, where the Jets came in to New England in the Divisional Playoffs and knocked off the Patriots only about a month after being annihilated by the Patriots on Monday Night Football 45-3.
That is a way too simplistic and lazy approach for this game as none of the circumstances surrounding that game bear any resemblance to this week’s matchup.
Is that to say it’s impossible for Houston to come into Foxboro and beat the Patriots? No, that is hardly the case there. Houston is a very good, solid football team who can beat anyone. But the two seasons bear little resemblance to each other, first let’s look at the 2010 Patriots:
2010 Patriots Rebuilding: Everyone remembers how ugly the 2009 Patriots season ended, the late season loss to Houston where Wes Welker blew out his ACL, the blow-out playoff loss to Baltimore, the NFL Films crew overhearing Bill Belichick say to Tom Brady that he could get the team to play, et al. The 2010 Patriots were in “rebuilding mode”, Welker was running on one leg for the most part and had 86 catches, for him at least, a down year.
The Patriots waved bye-bye to Randy Moss after a blow-up with Bill O’Brien in Miami. Deion Branch was brought back and tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez were rookies. It was an offense in transition to closer to what the team runs now, but at that time, it was far less effective. The running game with BenJarvus Green-Ellis wasn’t nearly as good as the balanced attack they now use only gained about 200 yards more in total yardage.
The Pass Defense in 2010 was third worst in the league and the pass rush was non-existent. Brandon Spikes was a rookie and shared playing time with Gary Guyton. The Patriots through solid coaching from Bill Belichick and perhaps Tom Brady’s finest season won 14 games but were not a 14 win team. They persevered in a few games that perhaps they shouldn’t have and were facing a team for the third time that season.
2012 Version a much better team: The 2012 Patriots are a vastly different team and are the most balanced team they’ve fielded since 2004. The running game is much more effective and with 5 running backs that can play and be effective, it takes a lot of pressure off of Tom Brady and the passing attack. The Patriots 25 rushing touchdowns, tops in the NFL are a testament to that fact.
Tom Brady remains on top of his game, Welker chipped in with another 100+ catch campaign and Hernandez and Gronkowski will play together for only the fifth time this season as each has been banged up, provide matchup nightmares for every defense.
Brandon Lloyd has been brought in to provide the needed outside threat this season and while he’s been at times disappointing, he still caught 74 passes on the season. Offensively there is no comparison to the 2010 and 2012 teams.
Defensively, the 2012 team, the youngest team in Belichick’s tenure, started off rough but has steadily gotten better as the season has progressed. The acquisition of CB Aqib Talib and the promotion of Alfonzo Dennard to the starting lineup have made the team much more solid in the back end.
Adding to the secondary play was the movement of Devin McCourty to safety opposite Steve Gregory. Since these moves were made, the secondary communication has been much improved with few if any blown coverages that were so prevalent earlier in the season.
Jets – Texans Different Animals: The Jets were an extremely solid team in 2010 and Rex Ryan is a vastly different coach than the Texans Gary Kubiak. Ryan, like Belichick is a game plan specific coach, the Jets you face in Week 2 may little resemble the ones you’ll see in Week 11 and nothing like the ones you’ll see in the playoffs. The Jets and Patriots know each other well, playing at least twice a year and some seasons like 2010, they meet three times.
The Texans under Kubiak are basically a WYSIWYG team, they do what they do and you can try to stop them if you can. Now that isn’t to say, they won’t try to change some of the things they did, especially in the first 10 minutes of the earlier game here in Foxboro where they were basically blown out, but it’s extremely doubtful, you’re going to see a different team than they have been all season.
The Texans are perfectly capable of coming in and beating the Patriots in any given week if the Pats show up flat and aren’t ready to play. But New England has many more playmakers on both sides of the ball than they did in 2010, regardless of their record.
How ‘bout a bigger stretch: Of course if Patriots fans want to go back even further, they can point to the 1976 Patriots team that wiped the old stadium floor with the Oakland Raiders by a 48-17 score but then lost to the same Raiders team 24-21 in the playoffs when Russ Francis was mugged by Phil Villipiano on a pivotal third down pass interference play with no flag as they attempted to run out the clock. Then Ray “Sugar Bear” Hamilton was called for the infamous phantom roughing the passer penalty on Ken Stabler that set the Raiders up for the winning score. So the Patriots may be in trouble….Ben Dreith isn’t officiating this weekend is he?
We’ll break down the key matchups with the Texans later on this week, as each team will be welcoming back key players that weren’t on the field the last time they met. Until then…..let’s not worry about silly parallels to the 2010 team….there is no comparison.