|Notes and Observations Week 15: Patriots Blow Out Dolphins 41-13; Clinch AFC East||Connelly’s Top Ten: Patriots Defense, Special Teams Carry Home Team||Fantasy Football Start ‘Em, Sit ‘Em: Week 15||Right Idea? Red Sox Bring in Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, Justin Masterson|
In the Boston Sunday Globe, writer Dan Shaughnessy predicted a blowout victory for the Patriots. He made the same prediction on 98.5 the Sports Hub, and all week I heard people bashing him for making an egregious prediction in a game between two football powerhouses. He ended up being absolutely correct as New England was victorious 42-14. The Patriots showed up on Sunday in a big way. It was awfully fun listening to the Monday Night Football crew call the game. This game certainly had its ups (most for the Patriots) and downs (most for the Texans), but in the end, it was an extremely entertaining way to spend a Monday Night.
This game started like many thought it would: the Pats gave possession to Houston and away they went. It looked like Aqib Talib was going to spend the night on Andre Johnson, as he followed him around on the first plays of the game. Foster started it off by gashing through the defensive line for a first down, that was immediately called back on an illegal formation. A rookie wide receiver for the Texans did not cover up the left tackle, resulting in an ineligible receiver. This was the play that could have set the tone, but Arian Foster got all of the yardage back as he ripped off another run for a first down right away. Following this play, New England had to call a timeout, as they had twelve men on the field and did not want to get hit with the penalty. The Pats then hunkered down and played some big defense, as Wilfork burst through the line for a tackle for loss, and Arrington made a great play in coverage on the slot receiver to force a punt.
Welker got the return duties on the night in place of the injured Julian Edelman, and he gave the Pats excellent field position with a big return to the 44-yard line. They started off by showing that they can run the physical game too, as Stevan Ridley rushed three times for twenty yards, showcasing a physical, explosive style of running that the Pats have been looking for since Corey Dillon left the team.
A couple of incomplete passes by Brady later and they were in drive-stalling territory (Brady missed a wide-open Matt Slater on a post route for a big gain). Welker then made an unbelievable diving grab inside the five-yard line. Ridley fumbled on the next play, as he got held up at the line and someone forced it out; excellent effort here by Aaron Hernandez to get to the football for the recovery. He was rewarded with a touchdown catch as he sneaked out of the backfield on an out route to the pylon for the score.
Houston’s second drive showed a little more promise, as Schaub hit Andre Johnson, Justin Forsett, Owen Daniels, and Lestar Jean for gains to get them deep into Patriots territory. Rob Ninkovich and Trevor Scott teamed up for a big sack at one point, but that did nothing to slow them down. Following the fifteen yard grab by Jean, Wilfork stood up Foster in the backfield on the run for another tackle for loss. On the following play, Schaub tried to force one over the middle as opposed to hitting Foster for a wide-open, sure fire touchdown on the check down, and the result was a beautiful interception by Devin McCourty. He showed great closing speed and smooth hands getting to the football from where he was.
The Patriots second drive started with Brady under some major fire from the Houston rush, something that continued all night long. He managed to hit Brandon Lloyd on a nice out cut for a first to keep the drive alive on third and long. Brady then hit Woodhead on a running back option over the middle for nineteen yards, followed by a beautiful play action fake to Hernandez for another first. They followed this one up with another play action stretch play that caused all eleven guys on the Houston defense to peek into the backfield, leaving Brandon Lloyd wide open on a post route for a big score. Brady really needed to hit one of those deep passes for a score, and he finally got one.
On Houston’s next drive, the Patriots defense showed up big time. After giving up fifteen yards to Andre Johnson off a play action pass, Dont’a Hightower blew his way into the backfield for a tackle for loss, then Foster got stuffed for no gain. Wilfork then burst through the line forcing a fumble from Schaub and a big loss of yardage. The Patriots got the ball back and went with the running game (Woodhead for five then Ridley for a loss). Brady hit Hernandez for a first, and then the drive seemed to slow down. New England was the beneficiary of a questionable pass interference call on Danieal Manning, which set the Patriots up for a few more pass plays to get to the goal line. Hernandez then lined up uncovered wide left and Brady hit him on a screen for an easy score. Right about now, the Patriots were looking in good shape to put this game way out of reach.
The Patriots forced a three-and-out on the next drive, with Wilfork coming up with a big pass deflection of his own and Foster continuing to get stuffed at the line. The Pats followed suit with a three-and-out of their own, and Marquice Cole made an excellent play on special teams to stick their returner at the eleven-yard line. The Texans then managed to put together a long drive; Andre Johnson grabbed a few first down catches, and on a third-and-one, Wilfork was on the sideline while Foster converted the short gain. Hightower then missed a seal on the edge as Foster ran right past him for a big first into Pats territory. Chandler Jones deflected the next first-down play at the line, Wilfork stuffed a draw in the backfield, and Alfonso Dennard made a nice tackle to make it fourth-and-five. Houston decided to go for it, and Kyle Arrington, who has come on of late in the slot corner role, made an excellent play to break up the out route on the sideline to force the turnover on downs.
The Patriots should have been able to drive down field and use up four minutes, but a relentless rush by the Texans defense forced all kinds of commotion and New England only managed to get one first down on a great catch by Lloyd. J.J. Watt was in the backfield on one play and smashed Tom Brady right before the Patriots were forced to punt the ball away. Schaub hit Foster for a big screen pass to get back into Patriots territory with the clock winding down in the half. Talib made a huge play in coverage over the middle to force a fourth-and-five and left the game for the remainder with a hip pointer. Jerod Mayo made a big hit on Schaub on fourth down to force an incompletion and another turnover on downs. The Pats had a quick three and out and Houston was given another opportunity to score before the half ended. Dennard had shifted over to cover Andre Johnson and made a nice play to break up a pass over the middle. Schaub missed an open Lestar Jean in Patriots territory, and Steve Gregory made the wideout bay with a vicious hit to the back. I felt like this could have easily been called a defenseless receiver penalty, but nothing was called and Houston ran out the clock to end the half.
On the Patriots first drive, they continued to stall. They managed to pick up a first down from Shane Vereen on the ground, but it was the relentless pass rush of Watt, who came out the half rejuvenated causing two QB knockdowns on the drive, that forced the Patriots to punt again. Brady missed Stallworth and Welker on some medium pass plays and was getting knocked off his spot during the drive. The Texans went three-and-out on their drive, as Dennard made a brilliant tackle on Andre Johnson to stop a conversion. The Patriots then took over, and Watt was immediately in the backfield again, blanketed on Tom Brady. They continued to look sluggish, but on third down, Donte Stallworth made an unbelievable over the shoulder, one-handed grab and broke a tackle to go sixty-three yards for a touchdown.
It took until the Texans ninth drive of the evening for them to put it together, but an eighty-nine yard drive had them on the scoreboard. Schaub hit Johnson for a first, then mayo had a big hit on Schaub, but he got up and immediately drew a pass interference call on Arrington to push the ball downfield. Brandon Tate got his first real action, gashing the defense for a first down and more. He managed to find a wide open James Casey along the left sideline on a blown coverage by the Patriots to set the ball up inside the five. In the confusion, the New England got called for twelve-men and Foster cashed in with a one-yard run for a score.
On the Pats next drive, Welker dropped a first down pass, Lloyd grabbed a catch for seven, and Brady was annihilated by Whitney Mercilus for a big sack. The Patriots defense had a strong series of their own on the next Houston drive, with nice form tackles by Gregory and Hightower. On third down, Mayo, who had been blitzing like a mad man all night, laid another huge hit on Schaub and Arrington broke up the pass.
The Patriots managed to put a sustained drive together for the first time since their third effort early in the game, and the results were excellent. A combination of passes and runs got the Patriots into Houston territory. On a third-and-mid play, Tom Brady scrambled for a first down and showed off some excellent emotion as he pumped his hand for a first down. Welker dropped another pass on the day, but the more interesting play happened shortly after. On a screen pass to Danny Woodhead, he managed to break two Texans tackles while gaining big yards. JJ Watt came flying from across the field and punched the ball out of his hands; the ball landed in the endzone, where Brandon Lloyd fell on it for his second score of the game. This play basically summed up how the Texans’ entire night had been going: unbelievable effort with some bad, bad breaks.
With the game in hand, Brandon Tate started to see more rushes for Houston, and the Patriots defense continued to stuff the run. The Patriots following drive showcased its strong physical run game, as Ridley and Vereen combined for about sixty yards on the ground including a long touchdown run by Ridley to put the icing on a big day for the Patriots. Of note in the final minutes of the game, T.J. Yates came in and drove the Texans for a rushing score of his own. Jerod Mayo had another bone-crushing hit on a Texans player and Ryan Mallett came in to play; his only pass attempt of the day was picked off, but Tom Brady will tell him to keep his head up because it was not nearly his fault. On a beautiful play action, Mallett threw a strike to Visanthe Shiancoe, who let it bounce off his hands and into the arms of a Houston defender.
The Patriots will host the San Francisco 49ers next weekend, and on a short week, they will look to carry the momentum from this game into another win at home. Winning out will net them the number two seed and a bye in the first round of the playoffs, and if Tom Brady continues to take big hits like he did this week, he is going to need the extra rest.