It was a thoroughly convincing blowout from the opening drive on. Tom Brady went 21/35 for four touchdowns and no interceptions, Stevan Ridley ran for 72 yards and a score, and Brandon Lloyd caught seven passes for 89 yards and one touchdown as well as recovering a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown as the Patriots blasted the top seeded Texans in their Monday night showdown.
It’s not often that I am so happy to be so wrong.
Going into the game, I feared a disruptive Texans’ defensive front, complemented by a balanced offense featuring a deadly rushing attack and a quarterback who doesn’t make mistakes. In the end all of those things were true… of the Patriots. Instead of JJ Watt, it was Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo that shut down the opposing offense. Instead of Arian Foster and Matt Schaub carving up a Patriots’ defense that is known for giving up yards, it was Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen who combined for 112 yards, while Aaron Hernandez was a player for whom the Texans had no answers, catching 8 passes, including two touchdown receptions. But the biggest hero of the night for the Patriots was their much maligned secondary. Aqib Talib was instrumental in limiting Andre Johnson during the first half, allowing the Patriots to bring their safeties into the box to shut down Arian Foster and the Texans’ running game. After Talib went out with an injury, rookie Alfonzo Dennard stepped in and performed admirably. While Johnson caught 8 passes for 95 yards, neither he nor Foster were able to significantly impact the game. Kyle Arrington also made several key plays last night, and Devin McCourty grabbed a red zone interception to short circuit an early Texans’ drive.
The Patriots dictated the action from the start. After some early defensive confusion forced the Patriots to call a time out on the Texans’ first drive, the Pats forced a punt, which Wes Welker returned 31 yards to set up the Patriots at their own 44 yard line. From there the Patriots needed seven plays to get in the end zone, keyed by an acrobatic Welker grab to get the ball to the 4. The Texans missed an opportunity on the next play when a Ridley fumble was recovered by Aaron Hernandez at the 7, and Brady connected with Hernandez on the next play for a touchdown and an early 7-0 lead. The touchdown pass marked Brady’s 45th straight regular season game with at least one touchdown pass.
The Texans responded well to the score, marching down the field on the Patriots with short passes before Matt Schaub hit Lestar Jean on a big 24 yard gain to get down to the Patriots’ 23. But two plays later Schaub bypassed a wide open Arian Foster trying to get the ball to Kevin Walter in the end zone, and McCourty stepped in the way to intercept it, returning the ball out to the 18. That play seemed to deflate the Texans early, and it only got worse as the Patriots then drove 82 yards on just six plays before Brady hit Brandon Lloyd on a wide open 37 yard touchdown pass keyed by effective play action. After another Texans’ punt, Brady then moved the Patriots 70 yards on 8 plays, keyed by a pass interference call against Dannieal Manning that kept alive the drive, which ended with another touchdown connection with Hernandez to run the lead to 21-0.
After that score, the game slowed down but the outcome was never really in doubt. New England seemed to move away from the running game as they went for the kill through the air, while Houston failed on two straight attempted fourth down conversions, and the half concluded with the 21-0 score. The Patriots also started the third quarter off slowly, but got a big spark with 10:00 left in the quarter when on third and long Brady connected with Donte Stallworth on a 63 yard touchdown pass to increase the lead to 28-0. The Texans then finally mounted a scoring drive in response, going 88 yards on 7 plays before Arian Foster took the ball one yard to cut into the Patriots’ lead.
The Patriots got on the board again early in the fourth quarter on a bizarre play. Brady connected with Danny Woodhead deep in Texans’ territory, who broke a tackle and was on his way to the end zone when JJ Watt came up from behind and knocked the ball out of Woodhead’s hands. But everything was going the Patriots’ way Monday night and the ball rolled into the end zone where it was scooped up by Brandon Lloyd for a touchdown and a 35-7 lead. On their next possession following a Houston punt, the Patriots ran Ridley six times and Shane Vereen twice, with Ridley getting the 14 yard touchdown to make the blowout complete. TJ Yates later scored after a Patriots’ turnover to close out the scoring.
When the Patriots ran
The Patriots ran the ball well at the beginning and the end of the game, and seemed to forget about the running game a bit in the middle, but the running display was solid. Ridley had 72 yards and Vereen added another 40, while four others combined for 18 yards. As has been the case so often this year, the Patriots ran well early to establish the threat and open up the pass, and then ran the ball to close out the game. Advantage: Patriots
When the Patriots passed
For such a blowout, the Patriots’ passing game was not overly sharp. Brady threw for 296 yards and four scores, but he misfired several times and Wes Welker dropped a couple of very catchable balls. Herenandez led the way with eight receptions and two scores, while Brandon Lloyd had a big evening with seven catches and one receiving touchdown (plus his fumble recovery). Welker had an off night, and both Danny Woodhead and Donte Stallworth helped with some big plays. The Texans’ secondary looked lost and outmatched throughout the game. JJ Watt did not record a sack or a batted pass, and the Texans only managed one sack on the night. Watt was able to get to Brady regularly, but only after Brady had already released the ball. The offensive line did an outstanding job in executing technique against the Texans’ defensive front to minimize disruptive plays. Advantage: Patriots
When the Texans ran
Because Aqib Talib was matched up one on one with Andre Johnson, the Patriots loaded the box, making it difficult for Arian Foster to find running room. Vince Wilfork was a nightmare inside for the Texans, grabbing four tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble. Foster gained 46 yards on the night, and so did Ben Tate, but Tate’s yards were in trash time after the game had long been decided. For the night, the Texans managed just 100 yards on the ground. Advantage: Patriots
When the Texans passed
Matt Schaub was not particularly sharp last night. If anything, he seemed to melt under the heat of a big game. He missed several throws and was under constant pressure from Wilfork and Jerod Mayo. The Patriots only managed two sacks on the night, but the pressure on Schaub was consistent, as the single coverage in the secondary gave the Patriots the freedom to regularly blitz Mayo against the Texans’ signal-caller. Johnson had eight catches for 95 yards and Arian Foster added four catches for 39 yards, but it was a quiet night for the Texans’ passing game against an improving Patriots’ secondary. Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard did a great job in coverage against Andre Johnson. For the night Schaub was 19/32 for 232 yards, no touchdowns, and one pick. Advantage: Patriots
Wes Welker had an early 31 yard punt return to set up the Patriots’ first scoring drive, and the Patriots’ kicking game routinely gave the Texans poor field position to open drives. Conversely, the Texans committed three special teams penalties, contributing to their own lack of good field position. Advantage: Patriots
The first intangible is that while this was a “big” game for the Patriots, in truth the Patriots are used to playing in big games and this was business as usual. For the Texans, yet another “biggest game” ended in disappointment, and this one is already being referred to as “Texas Fold ’em”; the Patriots came out ready to play, while the Texans looked like deer caught in headlights. The Patriots’ coaching staff put together an outstanding game plan on both sides of the ball, and clearly out-coached Gary Kubiak and his staff. While the turnovers were equal at one each, their impact was not. McCourty’s interception killed a potential scoring drive early in the game, while the Patriots’ only turnover was on a late Ryan Mallett pass that was deflected into the arms of a Texans’ defender. Advantage: Patriots
Key Moment: Devin McCourty’s interception in the first quarter to end a possible Texans’ scoring drive
Game Ball: Tom Brady, who executed with intensity and accuracy on the first three Patriots lead to stake the Patriots to an early 21-0 lead
Quote of the Game: “They just taught us how to play championship football,” Texans linebacker Bradie James said to the Houston Chronicle following the game. That they did, Bradie.