Curran: Texans' turn at trying to roll with Patriots

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Curran: Texans' turn at trying to roll with Patriots

I finally figured out why Monday nights game against Houston feels so appealing and has created so much anticipation. Novelty.

The Texans are new blood.

With Matt Schaub under center, Houston is 18-4 since the start of 2011. But it doesnt have a signature win against a conference power that stamps it as truly legit.

Are the Texans just a really good team that like so many in the AFC over the past decade is about to slam into reality and have its shortcomings exposed? Or are the Texans ready to break the absurd stranglehold the AFC has been locked in for more than a decade?

Do you realize that, since 2001, the AFC has sent four teams to the Super Bowl?

Aside from the Raiders outlier appearance after the 2002 season, true parity in the AFC has been an illusion. New England went and won in 2001, 2003 and 2004 and lost in 2007 and 2011. The Steelers went and won in 2005 and 2008 and lost in 2010. The Colts split their appearances in 2006 and 2009.

On the other side, the NFC has been represented by 10 different teams since 2001 (the Giants are the only team to get there twice).

Think of the really good teams and players in the AFC that have seen their primes come and go without getting to the Super Bowl since the Patriots became great. The Chargers. The Ravens. The Broncos. The Jaguars. The Titans.

For more than a decade, the Patriots and, to a lesser extent, the Steelers have been annually swatting back pretenders.

Now here come the Texans in their letterman jackets understanding EXACTLY what theyre up against. Why would they bill this as the biggest game in franchise history when they played two playoff games last year? Because they played those playoff games with third-string quarterback T.J. Yates as their starter. That wasnt the Texans. It was a team trying valiantly but vainly to survive when it knew it was ultimately doomed.

These are the Texans. Does the same fate that Jeff Fisher, Marty Schottenheimer, Norv Turner, Jack Del Rio, Mike Shanahan, John Harbaugh, Brian Billick, Rex Ryan all tasted await Gary Kubiak tonight? Or is Houston in a position to elbow its way into the conversation.

Even if the Patriots lose on Monday, this will be no changing of the guard. The Patriots are not a team of grizzled veterans holding on to greatness. They already negotiated their rebuilding process in 2009 and 2010 and went 24-6 during that span.

Theres a lazy tendency around here for media types to point out that the Patriots havent won a Super Bowl in eight seasons, as if thats a damning fact.

That stat - like so much of what we in the media sadly offer our consumers - is devoid of context and thought, merely a ploy to agitate when we havent bothered to investigate.

The current Patriots are along with the 80s and 90s 49ers, the 60s Packers, and the 70s Steelers the most successful organization the NFL has seen.

And there is no end in sight, especially with their 35-year-old quarterback playing better with each passing season.

You dont get to hear that enough. Why is that?

Well, the formative years of Boston media members born before 1983 was spent watching mostly talented but flawed teams that would faceplant at crucial moments. That left us sitting on the ends of our beds, pimply-faced and wondering what might have been. It made us cynical, the kind of people who walk out on a clear, spring day, look at the sky and wonder when the meteor will hit.

Those born before 1960 are afflicted with a more virulent strain of miserable. They romanticize the 1967 Red Sox, a team that didnt even win the friggin World Series, as the pinnacle of their sports-viewing lives. They remember a time when the teams they covered needed them because they were the only voice in town. Now, not so much.

They could only take so much success from one franchise before reverting to the hackneyed, sky-is-falling, you dont know what we know storylines that get them to deadline and onto their next gig.

If the Patriots beat the Texans, the fossils will tell you its the outcome everyone expected anyway. If they lose, its comeuppance for the arrogant Patriots.

Its neither. The Texans are trying to be successors to the Colts, the Steelers, the Ravens and the Chargers. We will find out tonight whether they may be worthy adversaries to the one AFC constant since 2001. The Patriots.

Patriots sign TE Rob Housler to future contract

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Patriots sign TE Rob Housler to future contract

FOXBORO -- The Patriots have signed free-agent tight end Rob Housler to a future contract. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound target last played for the Bears but was released at the end of training camp.

Housler won't be eligible to participate with the Patriots during the postseason, but he will be available for the offseason program and training camp leading up to the 2017 campaign. 

Housler taken in the third round by the Cardinals with the 69th overall selection in 2011. In 65 career games, he has 109 catches for 1,166 yards and one touchdown. 

The Patriots may have been intrigued by Housler's skill set last summer when he caught one pass for 52 yards -- making two Patriots defenders miss in the process -- during a preseason game at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots and Bears held joint training camp practices in August that would have given Patriots coaches and scouts a closer look at everything Housler has to offer as a player. 

Housler was one of the better athletes at the NFL Scouting Combine in 2011, running a 4.55-second 40-yard dash (fastest among tight ends), posting a 6.9-second three-cone drill, and recording a 37-inch vertical leap.

Bill Belichick and his staff hit big on a future-contract signing two years ago when a running back with a significant injury history was available to scoop up at the behest of then-assistant to the coaching staff Michael Lombardi. Since then, the Patriots still have never lost with Dion Lewis in uniform. 

Edelman, Bennett marvel at Harrison's longevity

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Edelman, Bennett marvel at Harrison's longevity

FOXBORO -- On a daily basis, Patriots players are in the presence of perhaps the best late-30s player to ever lace up cleats. That's why it's noteworthy when those who inhabit the same locker room as Tom Brady marvel at another player playing at a high level despite being one of the oldest in the league. 

That's exactly the case with Steelers linebacker James Harrison, 38, who is the oldest non-quarterback, non-kicker in the NFL. 

Since the Patriots last saw Harrison, he's become an every-down player for Pittsburgh's improving defense, missing just nine total defensive snaps for the Steelers since Week 14. He's saved his best football for the postseason -- three sacks, two quarterback hits and seven quarterback pressures in the last two weeks, per Pro Football Focus -- and the Patriots have noticed.

Julian Edelman, who wears the same Kent State t-shirt to every Patriots practice, raved about his "fellow Flash."

"He’s an unbelievable stud," Edelman said of Harrison, who went undrafted seven years before Edelman was taken in the seventh round. "The guy has been doing it consistently for a long time.

"I’ve been a huge fan of him before I got in the league, and just to see and kind of have an idea where he came from, it’s unbelievable to show how hard he’s worked to get to where he’s got. He’s a large man that is fast, explosive, and if he’s coming my way, it’s going to be a 'get down.' "

While Edelman will do his best to avoid the 6-foot, 242-pounder, Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett will likely be asked to block Harrison at some point. The Steelers defense will move Harrison to different spots at times, but he does much of his work on the outside where Bennett will be situated. 

"Harrison is playing well," Bennett said. "He’s almost as old as my pops, and he’s still playing like a beast out there."