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Monday night’s game was pegged as the game of the year. It definitely lived up to the hype…for Patriots fans. They out-played the Texans in every aspect of the game, and now control their own destiny for the No. 2 seed in the playoffs. Also keep in mind if the Patriots win the rest of their games and the Texans happen to lose one more game, then the Patriots will land the number one seed for the third year in a row. The biggest piece of information to take out of all of this is the Patriots are in control, which is all anyone can ever ask for.
- The game started as many expected. The Patriots won the coin toss and deferred until the second half. Classic Belichick. Arian Foster gashed the Patriots’ defense for a nasty first down run, but had it called back due to holding. He followed that up with an even longer first down run the very next play. The defense buckled down and was able to get off the field on third down. Matt Schaub dropped back to pass but the play was broken up by Kyle Arrington, who executed terrific coverage.
- Wes Welker took over punt return duties for the injured Julian Edelman. On his first return he managed to give the Patriots terrific field position at the New England 44-yard line.
- The offense early on centered on running the football and getting quick passes to Aaron Hernandez and Welker. The first drive that formula worked perfectly. Stevan Ridley busted off a nice 14-yard run, and then pushed the pile 4 yards on another run. Tom Brady connected with a 25-yard pass to Welker to set the Patriots up at the three-yard line. The drive almost came to an abrupt end when Ridley coughed up the ball. Hernandez was there to recover the loose ball. On the next play Brady found Hernandez in the endzone for the first touchdown of the game, and extended Brady’s streak to 45 consecutive games with at least one touchdown pass.
- The defense showed up huge in the first half. On the next Texans drive, they managed to string together some nice plays and appeared to establish some momentum. Schaub was 4-4 on the drive and looked to put the Texans on the board. He threw a pass into the endzone but Devin McCourty stepped in front of it for the interception.
- McCourty has been playing terrific at the safety position all season. He had the game-winning interception against Buffalo, and Monday he made the interception happen with a great read of Schaub.
- I don’t think anyone could have scripted Brandon Lloyd’s performance any better than it played out in the first half. He had a great 14-yard catch on a third down play to keep the drive going. Then, with the Patriots on the Houston 37-yard line, Brady went play action and had Lloyd wide open down the middle of the field. The two connected on a beautiful 37-yard touchdown pass.
- The defense played the first half like they had something to prove. Vince Wilfork has been coming up big all season and he busted up at least six plays by himself in the first half. He was swatting balls at the line, breaking into the backfield to disrupt the run, and along with Trevor Scott, Rob Ninkovich and the rest of the front seven pressured Schaub early and often.
- Aqib Talib undoubtedly had his toughest test of the season so far going one on one with Andre Johnson. He didn’t disappoint in the first half. He kept Johnson covered and didn’t allow any significant catches. Late in the second quarter he broke up a pass that Schaub really shouldn’t have thrown. Talib had blanket coverage on Johnson, but Schaub still tried to feed him the ball.
- Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington also stepped up with great pass defenses early on. Arrington added to his stop on third during the first series by breaking up a 4th and 5 pass to Kevin Walter. Dennard once again proved what a steal he was in the seventh round by sticking on his receivers and stepping in for Talib on Johnson when he left for an injury.
- The offense slowed down a bit at the end but the Texans finally figured out some ways to stop the run and pressure Brady. They had to show up eventually right?
- The offense stumbled out of the gates to start the second half. It really seemed the offensive line was simply being beat on every play. Whether it was a run or pass, the Texans were quicker off the ball than the Patriots. A great punt by Zoltan Mesko, coupled with a holding penalty on the Texans return team, put the Texans at their own 10-yard line. Facing a 3rd and long Schaub looked to Johnson, but Dennard stopped him a yard short of the first down. Dennard was filling in for Talib who was still on the sideline with a hip injury.
- The offense once again struggled on the next drive as Welker dropped two passes in a row and the Patriots faced another 3rd and 10. Just when it looked like the Texans had the offense figured out Brady went back to 2007 and threw a 63-yard bomb to Donte Stallworth for his 4th touchdown of the game.
- The Texans’ first touchdown drive was well-executed by them and poorly executed by the Patriots’ defense. They went into their blanket “we have the lead” coverage and Schaub was able to move down field with ease. They were set up on the three-yard line after a huge, wide-open catch-and-run from tight end Jason Casey. He appeared to slip through the coverage undetected which led to the 30-yard reception. Foster then finished off the drive with a short run into the endzone to finally put the Texans on the board.
- For what it’s worth, the often-criticized Patriots’ defense didn’t allow a point to the 2nd ranked offense in the league for 38 minutes and 45 seconds.
- Wade Phillips and the Texans’ defense deserve a lot of credit. After the first three atrocious drives of the game, they made adjustments to mostly man coverage. They cut off the curls, slants, and other quick routes of the Patriots which allowed the pass rush to get to Brady. This tactic stalled the offense for most of the third quarter, with the exception of the touchdown pass to Stallworth.
- The last drive of the third quarter, which led into the fourth, was classic Patriots. They utilized the run and the pass to methodically move down the field. They kept the Texans tired and off balance by going no huddle and Brady was able to call out audibles at the line of scrimmage with ease. Brady fired up the offense and the crowd with his scramble for a first down on the final play of the third quarter.
- I don’t think anything can excite the Gillette Stadium crowd more than whenever Tom Brady gives his aggressive “First Down” signal after a scramble. The crowd got as loud as they did all night after the run.
- The drive ended with a strange but effective scoring play. The Patriots ran a screen to the right side with Danny Woodhead who put on two great moves to gain the first-down yardage. As he continued up the sideline, JJ Watt punched the football out, but it took a Patriots’ bounce into the arms of Brandon Lloyd in the endzone. The score gave the Patriots the comfortable 35-7 lead with about 14 minutes left to play.
- This game told us all a lot about both teams. The Patriots have continued to get better each week despite the amount of injuries that have plagued both sides of the ball. Without Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman, the offense threw up 35 points on what many have touted is the best team in the league. The Texans looked over matched in all aspects of the game. They couldn’t get a rhythm on offense, and they fell behind too early to ever recover.
- The defense has been the center of most of the criticism on this Patriots team. Monday night, they showed that they are without a doubt a championship-caliber defense. The secondary is playing as good as it has all season with the starting four of Dennard, McCourty, Gregory and Talib. Arrington has turned it around the past few weeks and fit in perfectly to the nickel role. The front seven is playing with intensity and a huge chip on their shoulder. Vince Wilfork has had an absolutely amazing season. He certainly deserves consideration for defensive player of the year. Lastly, it wouldn’t be a “Notes and Observations” article without another endorsement of Alfonzo Dennard. I’ve been singing his praises all season and he has not given me one reason not to. I can’t stress enough how lucky the Pats are that he punched that cop and dropped all the way to the seventh round. He has all the makings of a premiere cornerback in this league.
- The Patriots are playing their best football when it matters most. Next week is another huge game against the 49ers. However if Monday night is any indication, I’m not too worried about it.
Tags: Aaron Hernandez, alfonzo dennard, Andre Johnson, Arian Foster, Brandon Lloyd, Chandler Jones, Danny Woodhead, Devin McCourty, JJ Watt, Kyle Arrington, Matt Schaub, Patriots, Rob Gronkowski, Rob Ninkovich, Stevan Ridley, Steve Gregory, Texans, Tom Brady, Trevor Scott, Vince Wilfork, Wes Welker