FOXBORO -- The Patriots-Texans game is one that lived up to the billing.
At least in the postgame.
For however uneven that 42-14 final score is, there was plenty of sound from both sides that's worth a double-take. The Patriots -- buttoned-up beyond belief -- can actually be more forthcoming after a loss.
So imagine how good other teams can be.
On that note, we'll start some general impressions from the Texans.
Linebacker Bradie James on the game:
BJ: I was disappointed, we thought we would play a lot better. We know we really have some work to do. You cant do anything but get better from this. This is a tough pill to swallow. I think we put too much emphasis on this being a huge game and not doing our approach. Sometimes guys get a little tight and things get out of hand. But those guys played lights out. That first half, thats what it takes. I think they showed us what it takes to be a champion.
The focus of this quote Monday night was on James' final thought: "I think they showed us what it takes to be a champion." Patriots fans must have been giddy; it's as though the AFC's top contender in the standings surrendered their Super Bowl bid right there in the bowels of Gillette Stadium. And I saw a few analysts criticized James for sounding even more vulnerable than the game made Houston look.
But I got stuck on a different sentence: "I think we put too much emphasis on this being a huge game and not doing our approach."
The Texans are a young team; they looked younger arriving in those nifty NFL letterman jackets and even younger leaving after so sound a loss. From what James said, they succumbed to the hype differently than their opponent.
Don't for a second believe that the Patriots thought taking on Houston on Monday Night Football was 'just another game.' Half the team was jumping out of their jerseys before the National Anthem even ended. But by repeating that mantra, and having veterans help rookies channel their energy, New England was able to conduct some coldly efficient business on game day.
Defensive end J.J. Watt on how they regroup and move on from here:
Were 112 and we still control our destiny. We control everything. We are going to go back and focus on winning the division and locking that up. Everything is still in front of us.
That's the thing -- Houston is still the No. 1 team in the AFC. What does this mean? First of all, these two teams could absolutely meet again in the playoffs. Second of all, we've got a bit of a mess at the top of the conference:
1. Houston (11-2 overall, 9-1 AFC)2. New England (10-3 overall, 9-1 AFC)3. Denver (10-3 overall, 7-2 AFC)4. Baltimore (9-4 overall, 8-2 AFC)
Denver and Baltimore face off this coming Sunday at 1 p.m., while New England meets the NFC's 49ers in the night game. The Patriots have beaten Denver and lost to Baltimore, so what does it mean for the final three weeks? A win over San Francisco would help, obviously. But if New England loses, it will need the winner of the Broncos-Ravens game to lose one before the regular season ends. Baltimore would hold the advantage over the Patriots if the three teams finish with identical records.
Importance of a bye over wild-card weekend shouldn't be understated. There's a gigantic difference between resting up and then hosting a playoff game at home, and playing a wild-card game and then traveling for a divisional playoff. (Duh.)
But that's a few weeks off.
Nose tackle Shaun Cody on the play of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady:
SC: You expect that. Obviously you want to play him better than that but he went out there and they were pretty good. We have to take a look at the film and see what happened but they kicked our butts today. That would be the ultimate goal, to get another shot at the Patriots.
You have to imagine the rematch would be more entertaining.
It's hard enough to get a read on the game we watched Monday night. Are the Texans really that bad? I highly doubt it. Are the Patriots really that good? Sometimes. Could Houston learn from its mistakes?
The scenario takes me back to 2010.
(Comparisons, especially divisional, are dangerous, but bear with me.)
New England gave the Jets what Houston receiver Andre Johnson would call a "butt-whipping" on December 6. The next month, New York returned to the scene of the crime for a rematch in the divisional playoff. The road team got its win when it mattered most, 28-21, and wound up Jet-planing triumphantly out of Gillette Stadium in front of thousands of stunned faces.
Houston is more talented than that team in certain areas. But one thing it lacks is the core of veteran players practiced in regrouping and rallying. The Texans haven't faced much adversity this season. It would be fun to see them put whatever Monday night taught them into practice.
Patriots guard Logan Mankins on containing Watt:
LM: I would say most of the night it went pretty good. I think we owe a lot to it being Matt Light Night. It was like we had six guys out there so he helped us a lot.
A nice sentiment from Mankins, but he's not giving himself enough credit.
Monday night marked just the seventh game for Mankins this season because of ankle, calf, and hip injuries. And we're talking about one of the toughest guys on the team. Of his eight years in the NFL, Mankins has played a full season five times and played in 15 games just once. His shortest season -- a nine-game affair -- was truncated, not because of health, but because of a holdout spurned by contract negotiations. You get the point: Mankins is resilient and the Patriots have missed him.
The latter fact was obvious against Houston. Not that New England's five variations of the offensive line haven't performed admirably (Tom Brady didn't take a single sack in Weeks 11 and 12), but Monday night it looked like the quarterback often had a luxurious amount of time to throw.
This game was the first since November 11 that the starting line played together.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick on how important Aaron Hernandezs versatility was against Houston's front seven: BB: "Everything is important. Every guy has to step up and do their job. They do a lot of man-to-man, a lot of five-man rushes so everybody has a guy to block, everybody has a man to beat and get open. Its a lot of one-on-one matchups. Everybody has to do a good job; Aaron, but the other 10 guys too. Thats a lot of the way they play and everybody has a tough matchup."
It's typical of Belichick to bury personal achievements within the Greater Good, so don't read into this quote as a knock on Hernandez. The tight end played well, with eight catches on 11 targets for 58 yards and two touchdowns.
But let's go back to Belichick's answer because I think it's a good answer for a different question.
Which Patriots will step up in the absence of Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman? Anybody. Everybody.
Some assumed the pressure would land on receiver Wes Welker's shoulders. Here's how the passing game shook out against Houston: 11 targets for Hernandez, nine targets for Brandon Lloyd, nine targets for Welker, three for Danny Woodhead, two for the freshly re-signed Donte' Stallworth, one for Shane Vereen, and one for Visanthe Shiancoe.
Brady completed 21-of-35 passes for 296 yards and four touchdowns. Patriots running backs kicked in 130 yards on the ground. New England scored 42 points.
It seems the team is managing fine.
Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo on the amount of hype the Texans were getting as a motivating factor: JM: "Obviously, we always talk about ignoring the noise, but you hear it. You hear it walking down the street. It was a little bit of a motivational factor for me, at least. Im sure the rest of the guys felt the same way."
So the Patriots do hear some of the noise. How about that. I wonder if Mayo's answer would have been different had New England lost. This quote is included almost entirely because it's so rare for any of these guys to admit anything.
Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork on the teams work this week:
I think tonight, we played well together as a unit. Everybody helped us win. I think the scout team gave us a really good look this week. The best look they could possibly give us playing against a team like this. They did a good job getting us prepared for this game. The coaches put us in some good situations, so its a good team win, all the way around. From the players to coaches to the scout team, everyone was involved with this win. Were all going to be in for this week. Its a big week for us. A short week but a big week.
There's an excellent nugget in here from Wilfork.
"I think the scout team gave us a really good look this week."
It's so easy to take this facet of an NFL team for granted because all its work happens behind the scenes. But the scout team is invaluable. Think about it, the Patriots left the division's comfy confines Monday night to take on Houston, a team they have seen just three times in history; in less than a week they step outside the conference to meet San Francisco, one of the NFC's best.
New England's success or failure in these contests depends a great deal on how well their opponents' receiving, pass rushing, and blocking can be simulated in practice. Players must study film, coaches must teach different moves and techniques, and the scouts must imitate their opponents near-flawlessly.
The Patriots have less time to complete this process for San Francisco than they had for the Texans. If it's not a good week of practice, we'll see it Sunday. Just one more reason why momentum doesn't carry in the NFL.
FOXBORO -- The Patriots-Texans game is one that lived up to the billing.