By: Steve Balestrieri
The New England Patriots rolled over the Houston Texans for the second time in a month this time in the Divisional Playoff game by a 41-28 score. With the win the Patriots will return to the AFC Championship Game to be played in Foxboro next week against the Baltimore Ravens.
The Patriots were once again clicking on all cylinders offensively and show that they will be tough to stop for any team. Houston, once again the early season sexy pick to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl this season shows it is not ready yet.
Here are some quick observations from the game:
Brady Shines Again: Tom Brady with the win has now been victorious in 17 playoff games besting his boyhood idol Joe Montana. Brady now has the same amount of playoff victories as Peyton Manning and Dan Marino combined. He joined Montana and Favre as the only QBs in history with 40 or more TD passes in the post-season.
While he wasn’t perfect on Sunday, there were a few throws he’d love to have back, overall Brady was outstanding, completing 25-40 for 334 yards to go along with 3 TDs and 0 INTs. Like Montana, he’ll now be in his seventh conference championship game, Montana’s record is 4-3, Brady is 5-1 going in.
Fool Me Twice….: After the first game against Houston where Brady shredded the Texans defense when they sent five or more rushers after him, Texans Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips tried it again.
The results were similar, Brady completed 12-19 for 208 yards, 2 TDs and 0 INTs against the pressure the Texans sent. J.J. Watt was rendered largely ineffective for the majority of the game as Brady got rid of the ball quickly.
Running Backs Very Effective: The Patriots made a conscious effort this season to put more emphasis on the running game and it has paid off, the 557 points the offense scored this season are testament to that. With the increased balance, it brings an added dimension to this team, giving it, in my opinion the best offense the team has had in the Belichick era.
And on Sunday against a tough Houston run defense, the running backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen stepped up, rushing for 122 yards and a 5.1 yard per carry average. With Danny Woodhead going down on the first snap with a thumb injury Vereen played a big role in the offense and he shined, catching five passes for 83 yards and 2 TDs, and rushing seven times for 41 yards with 1 TD.
Wes Welker, Pay the man: Once again Wes Welker stepped up big in a big game, and on Sunday he was huge especially in the first half when Rob Gronkowski went down with a re-injured forearm and the team was had to change up the gameplan. Welker caught 8 passes for 131 yards, having 6 for 120 in the first half. Welker had a couple of drops, but when Tom Brady needs the tough yards or a key first down, he always looks to Welker. Houston, who did a great job on Welker in the first meeting, was searching for answers this time around.
Josh McDaniels Gameplan on the Fly: After the game, Tom Brady spoke highly about McDaniels and his gameplan which initially had both Rob Gronkowski and Danny Woodhead featured highly. Both went down quickly with injuries and it left the Patriots without the two biggest weapons in their plan.
But McDaniels gathered himself and adjusted quickly, and Shane Vereen stepped in for Woodhead and Welker and Aaron Hernandez stepped up for Gronk. But it is a testament to the preparation of the coaches and players that the two biggest pieces of the plan went down early in the game and McDaniels seemingly didn’t miss a beat, with the team scoring 41 points.
Coverage Units a disaster: The Patriots special teams film room will not be a pleasant place to be this week. They picked a heck of a time to have their worst game by far this season. Danieal Manning returned the opening kickoff, 94 yards to the Patriots 12 yard line. To add insult to injury, he later added a 35 yard return and in the fourth quarter broke another for 69 yards, averaging 54 yards per return on the game.
With Baltimore and their dangerous return game coming to Foxboro next weekend, this is not the time to be handing easy points to the opposition.
Patriots Defense Steps Up: The game plan once again was to stop Arian Foster and make Matt Schaub beat them and it worked. Foster did gain 90 yards but the majority of those were on one drive at the end of the first half. Overall, Foster wasn’t the big factor he’s been in the Texans offense all season.
Houston likes to establish Foster to set up the play action passing game and through the first quarter, he averaged less than a yard per carry. Vince Wilfork in the middle was again outstanding clogging up running lanes and Rob Ninkovich was again a big contributor with an interception and recovering an on-sides kick.
Schaub did gain over 300 yards passing but averaged only 6.2 yards per pass and the Patriots did a great job of taking away the deep ball and forcing Schaub to pick his way down the field. The defense was especially good on third downs allowing the Texans only 4 of 15 on the day.
Gronkowski Woodhead Injuries A Big Blow: With Gronkowski lost for the rest of the post-season, it is a big blow to the Patriots offense. He is virtually irreplaceable as he brings a unique skill set to the tight end position.
He’s a devastating run blocker as well as a tremendous target in the passing game, especially in the red zone. While Fells and Hoomanawanui have played well in his absence, neither brings the matchup nightmares to the table of Gronkowski. It’s not known how serious the injury is to Danny Woodhead, who was hurt on the first snap of the game. Woodhead has been an extremely valuable member of the offense as well. He’s always at his best in the big games, this will bear watching going forward.