Texans' Kubiak: To achieve greatness, have to go through Patriots

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Texans' Kubiak: To achieve greatness, have to go through Patriots

FOXBORO -- When the Houston Texans lost to the Patriots at Gillette Stadium in December, they left New England saying that they found out what "championship football" was.

Just over a month later, they found out once again.

"It's very frustrating," said Texans defensive end J.J. Watt after their 41-28 playoff loss to the Patriots on Sunday. "Because, I mean, we've been here before. You don't want to get back to where you were before. You want to move on, you want to get better, and you want to move forward. And we didn't do that."

The Texans find themselves still searching for the answer to playing championship football. Because their season is now over. And as usual, it seems, the Patriots are the ones moving on. This time, to the AFC Championship.

As they enter the offseason looking for those answers, they already seem to have found one. If they want to play championship football, they know they'll have to eventually knock off Tom Brady and the Patriots.

"I think every team in the National Football League knows how good this opponent is and what they've done over a period of time," said Texans coach Gary Kubiak after the season-ending loss. "If you want to achieve greatness, you're probably going to have to go through them at some point. That's part of this league. This organization will keep battling to do that."

And as long as they're battling, they'll need to stop Brady.

"He's a very good football player," said Watt. "He's a heck of a quarterback, obviously. He's one of the best for a reason. And we needed to hit him, we needed to knock some balls down, and we didn't do that. We lost, we lost."

Injury report: Amendola out for Ravens game, Bennett questionable

Injury report: Amendola out for Ravens game, Bennett questionable

Wide receiver Danny Amendola was officially listed as out on the injury report for the Patriots' Monday night home game against the Baltimore Ravens.

Amendola injured his ankle on a punt return against the Los Angeles Rams last Sunday. It will be the first game he's missed this season. The Patriots signed veteran wide receiver and kick returner Griff Whalen during the week.

Tight end Martellus Bennett (ankle, shoulder) is among the Pats listed as questionable, along with special teams ace Matt Slater (foot), who missed the Rams game, safety Jordan Richards (knee), linebacker Elandon Roberts (hamstring) and cornerback Eric Rowe (hamstring).

Whalen, part of Colts' infamous fake punt play, settles in with Patriots

Whalen, part of Colts' infamous fake punt play, settles in with Patriots

FOXBORO – Griff Whalen was at the epicenter of one of the stupidest, funniest, most “did that just happen?!” plays in NFL history.

So indescribable it never even really earned a name, it was the fourth-down gadget play the Colts tried to run against the Patriots on Sunday Night Football in the first meeting between the teams after Indy ran to the principal’s office to start Deflategate. 

Whalen was the center on that play (I tried to call it “Fourth-and-Wrong” but it didn’t take) and the millisecond between him snapping the ball and the three players processing that the ball had indeed been snapped is perhaps my favorite moment of the past several seasons. 

Whalen is a Patriot now, brought in this week in the wake of Danny Amendola’s knee injury presumably to fill Amendola’s role as a punt returner and wideout. The Colts released him last January, the Dolphins picked him up and cut him at the end of training camp and the Chargers had him on their roster from mid-September until releasing him last month after eight games, two catches and 22 yards. He returned kickoffs for San Diego but no punts since 2015.

The primary area of need for the Patriots is on punt returns. Rookie Cyrus Jones’ transition to appearing comfortable remains glacially slow. It was Jones’ muff last week that brought on Amendola in relief. When Amendola hurt his ankle on a late-game return, the Patriots were forced to decide between Jones, wideout Julian Edelman (who doesn’t need extra work) and making a move.

Whalen is a move they made.

The slight and baby-faced Whalen indicated he had fielded some punts in practice, saying it went, “Fine.” Punt returns are something he’s done “since I was a kid.”

His first impression of the team was, "A lot of what I expected to see. A lot of detail. A lot of effort in practice. Good coaching all-around. I am excited to be here. I was excited to come into a good team that I’d gone against a few times. Hopefully come in and help out the team with whatever I can.”

I asked Whalen if he saw much of the commentary or creativity last year’s failed play spawned.

“I wasn’t paying too much attention,” he said. “When it’s during the season guys are pretty locked in on what they’re doing inside the building. But I heard more about it later on afterwards.”

Asked if he’d heard anything about the play since being here, Whalen replied, “I haven’t. Kinda was [expecting it].”

The Patriots will be hoping Whalen remains as productive for them on fourth down this year as he was in 2015.