In the end, the New England Patriots got what they wanted in Houston as they came away with their fourth win in five games, holding on to beat the Houston Texans 34-31.
The win boosted the Patriots on the season to 9-3 and kept their lead as the #2 seed in the AFC Playoff hunt over Indianapolis who also won on Sunday and went to 8-4 with a victory over the Titans. The team also kept a three game lead over the Dolphins who beat the Jets on Sunday in the race for the AFC East crown.
But once again the Patriots were weighed down by a poor first half performance that saw the (2-10) Texans jump out to a 17-7 halftime lead and put a lot of pressure on the offense. In the last four games the Pats are averaging only nine points per game in the first half.
The defense continues to get gashed, especially by the run, but the offense in the second half bailed them out again scoring 27 points, just enough to get them past a game Houston squad. Here are some observations from Sundayâ€™s game:
Stephen Gostkowski Is As Clutch As They Come: What a year #3 is having for the Patriots. As always his kickoffs travel deep into the endzone and he only allowed two to be returned on Sunday.
After suffering only his second FG miss of the season earlier on Sunday, Gostkowski nailed two 53 yard field goals in the fourth quarter to win the game in Houston. On the road in a close game with the cruddy Reliant Stadium turf makes the task even harder but Gostkowski came through on both kicks with flying colors.
Brady is Heating Up For The Stretch Run: Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is playing really sharp since getting all of weapons back in the offense, albeit one that was withoutÂ Stevan Ridley and Aaron Dobson today.
Going against the #1 statistical defense against the pass, Brady shook off the teamâ€™s lethargic first half to put 27 points on the board in the second, and more than double the amount of yards the Texans have been allowing on defense.
Houston entered allowing only 171.8 yards per game through the air, Brady on Sunday went a stellar 29 of 41 for 371 yards, 2 TDs and 1 INT for a QB rating of 104.8. This New England offense has shook off the early season struggles and is now the #6 scoring team in the NFL.
Gronkowski and Edelman Shine Again: The New England offense is so much more potent with a healthy Rob Gronkowski and Shane Vereen in the lineup. And against the Texans, Gronkowski and Julian Edelman both had big games again for the Pats.
Edelman hauled in nine passes for 101 yards and the Gronk caught six more for 127 yards and a touchdown. Gronkowski is rapidly rounding into shape and appears his normal, unstoppable self right now. Edelman has really stepped into his role this season and now has 70 catches for the year.
Rush Defense A Big Issue: Once again the Patriots run defense was gashedâ€¦to the tune of 121 yards by the Texans with 102 coming from Ben Tate. And this time, it wasnâ€™t scheme-related. Against Denver, they played a six man box and were conceding the run to stop the pass.
Sunday, they played a lot of 3-4 and the alignments no matter who was in there, Joe Vellano, Chris Jones, Sealver Siliga played for the most part; they were pushed around in the running game, were not shedding blocks and werenâ€™t finishing tackles.
Four more games remain and this has to be addressed as soon as possible.
Pats Go Zone and Donâ€™t Fare Well: All season it seems the Patriots have played man coverage and done a good job of jamming receivers at the line. Against the Texans on Sunday and one of the rare times in 2013, the Patriots played a lot of zone coverage and the results werenâ€™t entirely positive.
They gave up far too many big plays to a 2nd year QB who leads only a middling passing game. Case Keenumâ€™s final numbers werenâ€™t great, he finished with a 50 percent completion percentage and 67 QB rating, but he passed for 271 yards and had a very good 9.1 yard per pass attempt average.
While it is only one game and the team was due for an emotional letdown after two big prime time games back-to-back, they need to do a better job down the stretch.
Ridley Sits/Thompkins Latest Injured Player: Stevan Ridley was a healthy scratch on Sunday, as a result of his fumbling issues and was replaced by LaGarrette Blount. Blount responded with 12 carries for 44 yards and a touchdown. But overall the running game was inconsistent, averaging only 3.3 yards per carry and 88 yards overall.
Kenbrell Thompkins was starting over the injured Aaron Dobson and one catch before injuring his hip in the first quarter. He in turn was replaced by Josh Boyce who had one catch but did a nice job in the kick return game.
Both of these developments will bear watching as the team moves forward and the team returns home to face a tough Cleveland defense.