*Every week, Tom E. Curran returns to his preview to see how close - or far off - he was. The review portion is italics.
FOXBORO – The Texans have lost nine straight including losses to the Jaguars, Raiders and Rams. They’ve been able to find a vast array of ways to lose. Returns. Offensive inefficiency. Inability to hold down average quarterbacks. The season’s been a waste and what Houston’s playing for now is next season. The fact Gary Kubiak has one foot out the door and another on a banana peel is probably going to make it hard for him to grab his team’s attention now.
The Patriots did their customary “fall behind in the first half and then come roaring back in the third” thingy. The Texans now have 10 straight losses. They weren’t really complicit in the loss. They just got Bradied.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
Statistically, the Texans don’t look that bad. They are first in the NFL defensively in yards allowed per game and first in passing yards allowed. Inside the numbers, though, are the details. Houston’s had five interceptions returned for touchdowns on their offense. They’ve allowed eight return touchdowns overall. So that’s eight fewer offensive drives. Meanwhile, these are the yards per carry allowed to the lead back since early October – 5.8 (Marshawn Lynch), 4.8 (Frank Gore), 4.4 (Zach Stacy), 4.1 (Jamaal Charles), 8.2 (Donald Brown), 5.0 (Andre Ellington), 6.8 (Rashad Jennings), 6.0 (Maurice Jones-Drew). And when an offense gets in their red zone, they’re allowing touchdowns 65 percent of the time (30th in the NFL). With J.J. Watt and Antonio Smith as the ends in the Wade Phillips 3-4, the Texans have plenty of talent. On the back end, Johnathan Joseph is a decent corner. The Patriots are – at this point – diverse enough offensively to make any defense sweat. One playing as raggedly as the Texans have been, it’s not going to take much to get them on their heels. Look for the Patriots to come out as they have in the past two games since the return of Shane Vereen and feature him as their bailout back. They’ll seek the soft spots in the defense and look for matchups and the best matchups – as the yards per carry shows – are on the ground. If Stevan Ridley remains grounded, Brandon Bolden figures to be the first man in, although LeGarrette Blount hasn’t been that offensive with ball security so he should be in the mix as well. It should be another big game for Tom Brady whose season is – given the circumstances – remarkable.
The Patriots started with a three-and-out and a pick by Brady on a poorly thrown ball in the general location of Rob Gronkowski. A ragged start that didn’t get better until Brady realized he was getting outstanding protection from his offensive line. The Patriots didn’t run with much effectiveness overall – 27 carries, 88 yards – but got two bullish touchdown runs inside the 10. The Patriots were pass-heavy – 41 attempts to 27 runs – and Brady went 19 for 23 to his slots (Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola) and Shane Vereen. The sooner Stevan Ridley (inactive) shows signs of getting his mind right, the better. The Patriots could have used his presence in the ground game.
WHEN THE TEXANS HAVE THE BALL
The Texans running game – so tough to prepare for with Arian Foster when he was playing – is a sputtering mess. Ben Tate, a good back, is dinged up and Dennis Johnson has been the lead back for quarterback Case Keenum. Andre Johnson is still a handful but with few other offensive weapons this year, once he’s taken away, it’s been a Herculean task for the Texans’ offense to get anything going.
Not sure if Case Keenum is really pretty decent or just doesn’t know any better but he played fearlessly. He played well enough to win but on a key fourth-quarter drive, there were two drops and a pressure leading to an incompletion followed by another drive that went up in smoke after he threw for a pair of first downs to Andre Johnson. The Patriots got gashed by Ben Tate who ran for 102 yards and three touchdowns. Dont’a Hightower again seemed to struggle in just about every facet. If he is 270, as he’s listed, he needs to get a little leaner to help him in coverage and pursuit. Also, if he is 270, as he’s listed, he needs to show a little more life getting off of blocks because it looked like a slow dance on a few of Tate’s runs, the 20-yard touchdown in particular. Without Alfonzo Dennard to play the outside, Kyle Arrington moved there and it didn’t go well on a couple of plays, particularly a 66-yarder to DeAndre Hopkins. The Patriots only sacked Keenum once but an Andre Carter hit led to a Logan Ryan pick and pressure on the final two Houston drives of consequence was decent.
THE KICKING GAME
Shane Lechler now punts for Houston and that means Julian Edelman could break one on a return because Lechler just hits it as far as he can every time he punts it. Hence, the 48 yard average with a 40 net and the 12.5 yards per return being allowed. Houston also allows 26.3 yards per kickoff return. Texans kicker Randy Bullock has been a bust. He’s 10 for 19 outside 40 yards. That’s not acceptable in the NFL In 2013. He’s last in the league in FG percentage. Steve Gostkowski is having a Pro Bowl year and the work of Ryan Allen gets more impressive every week.
Gostkowski hit two 53-yarders in the fourth quarter and missed a 55-yarder Bill Belichick later lamented attempting because of the distance and the surface. Bullock made his 43-yarder on his only attempt. The Patriots gave up a 50-yard kickoff return.
PATRIOTS SICK BAY
OUT: Marcus Cannon, OT; Aaron Dobson WR; Michael Hoomanawanui TE; QUESTIONABLE: Kyle Arrington CB; Marquice Cole CB; Alfonzo Dennard CB; Steve Gregory S; Rob Gronkowski, TE, Aqib Talib, CB, Chris White, LB; PROBABLE: Danny Amendola WR, Tom Brady, QB; Matt Slater, WR; Brandon Spikes, LB; Shane Vereen, RB.
Gregory played but was not a big factor. Talib appeared to make it through OK. Kenbrell Thompkins tweaked his hip but returned to play.
TEXANS SICK BAY
OUT: Jawanza Starling, S; QUESTIONABLE: Kareem Jackson, CB; Brice McCain, CB; PROBABLE: Mike Mohamed, LB; Shiloh Keo, S; Elbert Mack, CB; Joe Mays, LB: Derek Newton, T; Darryl Sharpton, LB; Wade Smith, C; Jeff Tarpinian, LB; Ben Tate, RB;
GAME WITHIN THE GAME
It’s the obvious question after a pair of high-profile, prime-time games – will the Patriots suffer a letdown? They are suddenly a team considered capable of playing in February. A month ago, they were being derided for the inefficiency on both sides. Will their rapid change of fortunes make their focus fuzzy? Slow starts have been an issue. Giving Houston hope is not a good idea.
The Patriots again failed to start the game with much urgency and paid the price, falling behind 17-7 at halftime. This is a concerning habit because eventually, the hole – and the opponent – will prove too difficult to overcome.
PATRIOTS GOTTA STOP …
Andre Johnson. He’s the only game-breaker the Texans have offensively. Against the Colts, Keenum found him nine times for 229 yards and three touchdowns. Expect Aqib Talib to be let loose on Johnson. Take him away and make the Texans try to win somewhere else and they will be hard-pressed to do it.
Johnson had a huge game with eight catches for 121 yards. He had a critical drop in the fourth quarter on the only missed hookup with Keenum on the day.
TEXANS GOTTA STOP …
Tom Brady. He’s rolling now. And after two months of being questioned, he’s got a scorched-earth policy for every defense he faces.
Brady’s resurgence – coinciding with the return of Rob Gronkowski and Shane Vereen and the improving health of Danny Amendola – continues (29 for 41 for 371, 2 TDs, 1 pick).
DON'T BE SURPRISED IF …
The Patriots resoundingly rectify their road woes in this one and put it away in a hurry. Houston at its best has gotten dusted by the Patriots in their last two meetings, a limping Texans team could just get flat drilled.
That didn’t happen at all.
THAT SUMS IT UP PATRIOTS STYLE
“Anything that’s happened for them this season doesn’t matter and anything that’s happened for us makes no difference either. They’ve lost some close games, we’ve pulled out some close games. I think that’s the big difference. It could just as easily go the other way. We’ve found ways to win and we have to try to find a way to win this week. They present some different challenges for us. We were in here today, we had a good practice and that’s a good way to start. Our whole season is ahead of us. I think that’s the most important thing. No one really cares what’s been done to this point. We have to go out there and try to finally play good for 60 minutes, if we can get to that.” – Tom Brady on the Patriots avoiding a letdown.
The Texans played better in this one against New England than they did when they were actually good in 2012, so Brady was on to something.
THAT SUMS IT UP TEXANS STYLE
“It would be special, period. We need a W. No, they’re a great football team. Like I think I said this the other day, to me, they’re loading up for a run for a championship. You can just see it and getting some guys back and at full strength. What they did in the second half last week, extremely impressive. We have to play as good as we’ve played all year. Obviously, we’ve had our issues. It’s going to take really something special, but I think we’re very capable of it. I know that. We’ve worked hard this week. It’s a big challenge for us in every phase of the game, but looking forward to the opportunity.” - Gary Kubiak, Texans coach, on what a win over New England would mean.
The Texans were indeed capable. And the Patriots did their best to entice them. But in the end, the 2013 Texans found a way to lose.
THE WINNER IS ...
Patriots 27, Texans 13
Patriots 34,Texans 31.