For Patriots, it's the little things that matter

For Patriots, it's the little things that matter
December 1, 2013, 10:00 pm
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PATRIOTS 34, TEXANS 31

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HOUSTON – Bill Belichick loves his timeouts. Like precious little flowers, he protects them.
 
So protective is he of his stoppages that, in the second quarter Sunday in Houston, Belichick passed on challenging an apparent Shane Vereen touchdown. Given the choice between risking a timeout with a challenge gone bad or having first-and-goal at the 1, the Patriots ran another play without challenging. They got in and saved the timeout.
 
But there were two junctures in the second half when the Patriots opted to spend their timeout currency. It was a risk to call them when they did but the risk, as it turned out, was worth the reward.
 
The first came very early in the second half. After the Patriots awoke from another sloppy start to make it 17-14 on the first drive after halftime, the Texans had a third-and-1 at their own 29 with 11:59 left in the third.
 
The Patriots called timeout to talk it over.
 
Remembering what happened last Sunday night against Denver when the Patriots scored twice in quick succession after halftime to get the Broncos doubled over, you knew a stop for the Patriots and ensuing touchdown could put the 2-9 Texans in panic mode.
 
Coming out of the timeout, the Texans handed to Ben Tate, and the Patriots got the stop.
 
“They came out in a formation that I guess we didn’t feel right about it,” said rookie Joe Vellano. “We got off the ball and the play came to me. We needed to get off the field there. On the sideline, we wanted a three-and-out, that was our big concern, to get it back to our offense.”
 
When the offense got it back, the offense was in the end zone after a seven-play, 73-yard drive and it was 21-17.  
 
The Patriots used their next timeout on another third-down play, this time early in the fourth. After going the entire third quarter without facing a third down, they found themselves facing third-and-8 at the Texans 15.
 
On this one, the play clock was running down, so Brady was forced to spend it instead of rushing the play while trailing 24-21.
 
Coming out of the timeout, Julian Edelman had time to evaluate the coverage he faced.
 
“It was Cover-1 (one safety deep) so inside breaking routes are good against Blitz-1, which I think it was, so it was match coverage,” Edelman explained. “I knew that if I could get inside, I’d have a shot to get the ball and Tom put it in there and we were able to execute the play.”
 
Edelman made a tumbling catch right at the sticks.  
 
“It’s tough when you have that guy right up in your face, you have to sell him on what he thinks is coming and there’s a lot of bodies in there,” Edelman pointed out. “It’s definitely something we’ve been practicing. Tom was able to put it in there and LeGarrette (Blount) scored on the next play (to make it 28-24). It was a big point in the game.”
 
As he walked to the team bus, Brady smiled at the recollection of the play, “That was sweet, they were pressing him. He did a great job to get open, used his body, he played great. I call him Minitron.”
 
Which brings us to the final “little thing” which has nothing to do with timeouts. It was, actually, a big thing. The performance of the Patriots offensive line.
 
Brady was sacked just once on Sunday and though he faced his share of pressure, he also had more opportunity to set his feet, scour the defense and find the matchup he needed.
 
“They were doing a great job,” Brady said of his protectors. “Antonio Smith, J.J. (Watt), (Whitney) Mercilus, Brooks Reed, they can all rush and they blitz a lot so it ends up being a lot of 1-on-1s with our guys. It’s a matter of, ‘Can you get open before they get to you?’ We won our fair share. If we can do that, there’s more separation as the play goes on.”
 
Clearly, the Patriots have some issues that need addressing. Flat starts. Startling ineptitude against the run that – this week – was not just scheme-related as it seemed to be against the Broncos. A blossoming over-reliance on Brady now that the rest of his pieces are back and healthy.
 
But if Brady gets the time – and the Patriots take their time (or timeouts) and use them to win on key plays at critical junctures, that can cover up a lot of ills.