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I was tempted to cut Tom Brady some slack and give him an “Incomplete” on his report card this week, but the Patriots quarterback played most of the game on Sunday. He was replaced by rookie Brian Hoyer (Michigan State) in the second quarter, and on the Patriots’ last drive. Brady’s stat line was less than stellar. He completed 17 of 26 passes for 186 yards and threw a costly fourth quarter interception to safety Bernard Pollard. Patriots fans should be familiar with Pollard. He was the man who ended Brady’s 2008-2009 season with a low hit while playing for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Brady’s performance was uncharacteristically sloppy, but it wasn’t surprising. The Patriots didn’t have much to play for on Sunday. The difference between the third seed and the fourth seed in the AFC was playing at either Indianapolis or at San Diego in the divisional round. Both are daunting tasks, and I don’t think Bill Belichick felt like one matchup was significantly better for his team than the other. Here’s what the Patriot’s head coach had to say after the game:
“We didn’t really have anything set,” coach Bill Belichick said. “We just went out and played…We played the game like we thought we needed to play it.”
Brady didn’t finish on a high note, but he had a very solid 2009 regular season.
Not bad for a guy still trying to recover from a torn ACL with three broken ribs and a broken finger.
Backup Brian Hoyer completed 8 of 12 passes for 71 yards filling in for Brady.
The Patriots didn’t put much of an effort into establishing the run against Houston. They ran the ball only 19 times for a total of 74 yards. Sunday’s rushing performance was a bit surprising because it looked as though the Patriots were not only trying to run the ball more over the last several weeks, but running it more effectively. Unfortunately Maroney’s fumbling issues have caused the coaching staff to turn more toward Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk. Don’t get me wrong, Morris and Faulk are both solid backs, but they don’t have the ability to carry the load like Maroney. It will be interesting to see if the Patriots decided to use a committee of backs in the playoffs, or give Maroney another shot as the featured back.
The return of Fred Taylor has brought a little attitude back to the Patriots rushing attack. Taylor ran for two touchdowns on Sunday. His first touchdown came on a four yard run in the first quarter, and his second on an 11 yard run in the fourth quarter. His second touchdown put the Patriots up 27-13, before the Texans scored three unanswered touchdowns. Taylor appears to be the man the Patriots can trust to punch the ball into the end zone and finish drives. However, he did lose a fumble which was recovered by the Texans in the end zone for a touchdown. Despite the fumble, look for Taylor to be the featured red zone back against Baltimore this weekend.
The big news coming out of the Sunday’s game was the season-ending injury to Wes Welker. Welker was carted off the field in the first quarter after tearing both his MCL and ACL while trying to make a cut. Rookie Julian Edelman stepped up immediately in Welker’s absence hauling in ten receptions for 103 yards. The loss of Welker certainly hurts, but Edelman shouldn’t be too much of a downgrade. He possesses all of the physical tools including Welker’s speed and quickness. But Edelman’s inexperience might lead to him missing a block, running the wrong route, or making some other sort of rookie mistake. It won’t be possible for Brady to develop the same type of chemistry he has with Welker in just a couple of weeks with Edelman, but if the rookie can get open, count on Brady finding him early and often against Baltimore.
Randy Moss continued his solid play, catching five passes for 75 yards, and tight end Benjamin Watson hauled in two passes for 32 yards.
The Patriots offensive line finally gave up a sack for the first time since the week 12 loss to the New Orleans Saints. Keeping your quarterback clean for four straight weeks in the NFL is extremely impressive, but Texans’ defensive end Marlo Williams and rookie linebacker Brian Cushing finally brought the streak to an end. Tom Brady’s interception occurred when he was hit by star defensive end Mario Williams, but other than the two sacks and the Mario Williams pressure, the offensive line did a solid job protecting Brady and Brian Hoyer.
The poor rushing output was due more to the lack of a commitment to the run than poor blocking. The Patriots running backs averaged 3.9 yards per carry against Houston.
The Patriots front seven played well up until the fourth quarter. The Texans ran all over the Patriots in the final quarter on Sunday on three touchdown drives, two of which were capped off by rookie running back Arian Foster. Foster ran for 119 yards on 20 carries, most of which came on the Texan’s final two drives. Certainly the absence of Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren hurt the Patriots’ run defense, but letting a no-name rookie shred you for over a hundred yards and two touchdowns isn’t playing up to the standard. The Patriots front seven will be in for a rude awakening if they don’t get their act together by this weekend. If the Ravens see that they can run the ball effectively, they won’t stop.
Free agent acquisition Derrick Burgess recorded his fifth sack of the season against the Texans.
Rookie Darius Butler’s 91-yard interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter was the lone bright spot for the Patriots’ secondary on Sunday. Matt Schaub threw for over 300 yards and two touchdowns. Schaub connected with tight end Joel Dreessen for a 25 yard touchdown strike in the first quarter, and hooked up with wide receiver Jacoby Jones for an 8 yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
The Patriots’ secondary did a good job keeping Andre Johnson in check. They rotated a lot of their coverage toward Johnson throughout the game, but Schaub did a nice job spreading the ball around to his backs, tight ends, and other wideouts.
There was some good and some bad from the Patriots special teams. Punter Chris Hansen was not very special on Sunday, averaging just 26.0 yards on 3 punts.
Pro bowl selection Stephen Gostkowksi went 2/2, and drilled one through the uprights from 51 yards in the second quarter.
Wes Welker’s injury is a tragedy, but I don’t blame Belichick for playing his starters against the Texans. Even though the Patriots didn’t win, at least they tried, and the game was entertaining. Firstly, Momentum always plays a huge factor for teams heading into the playoffs, and Belichick is well aware of this fact. He wants to keep his team fresh and in sync. And secondly, no NFL fans want to pay to watch games like the Colts/Bills and Jets/Bengals. It not only angers the fans when teams don’t play to win, it damages the integrity of the League.
It’s interesting that Belichick let Brady play with a broken finger and three broken ribs, and the Indianapolis Colts held a perfectly healthy Peyton Manning out for over half the game against the Jets and Bills. We’ll have to wait and see which quarterback plays better in the postseason.
Tags: Andre Johnson, Arian Foster, Bill Belichick, Brian Hoyer, Chris Hansen, Darius Butler, Derrick Burgess, Fred Taylor, Houston Texans, Julian Edelman, Kevin Faulk, Laurence Maroney, Mario Williams, Matt Schaub, Peyton Manning, Randy Moss, Sammy Morris, Stephen Gostkowski, Tom Brady, Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork, Wes Welker