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Notes and Observations from the Divisional Playoffs: Patriots Advance Beating the Texans 41-28

Tom Brady and Brandon Lloyd celebrate a touchdown in Lloyd's first career playoff game. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

There was a ton of talk heading into this game. Everyone expected it to be a close game after the Patriots embarrassed the Texans in Gillette back in week 14. However it was more of the same as the Patriots showed the rest of the NFL that they are the class of the league.

First Half

- The opening kickoff was bittersweet. Yes it was awful watching Daniel Manning run right up the middle of the field virtually untouched, but it was equally great watching Devin McCourty stick with the play and stop the touchdown.

- McCourty’s tackle stopped the touchdown and the defense responded well by holding the Texans to a field goal. Granted an easy touchdown went through the fingers of Owen Daniels; after a terrible kickoff we’ll take the victories where we can get them.

- The offense stalled on their first drive but looked to gain some momentum as the first half progressed. Losing Rob Gronkowski did sting but the Patriots did just play all but one game in the end of the season without him. Tom Brady looked to get in a nice rhythm with his receivers, especially Wes Welker.

- Welker had well over 100 yards receiving before the end of the first half, and he had a couple key third down catches that kept drives alive. I know it’s still early but it really would be a shame if the Patriots weren’t able to keep him on the team in the offseason.

- Stevan Ridley didn’t get the start, but starting running back doesn’t mean much on this Patriots team. Ridley, Shane Vereen, and Danny Woodhead all had their opportunities. Vereen happened to make the most of his. Vereen had 36 rushing and 45 receiving yards in the first half. He also scored a rushing and receiving touchdown to give the Patriots the early 17-3 lead. The way the Patriots are able to cycle their running backs makes it very difficult for opposing defenses to gameplan for.

- The defense showed up to play early in this game. Holding the Texans to only a field goal after that opening kickoff was nothing short of amazing. The rest of the first half they were able to stop the Texans on third down, and continued to get the ball back into Brady’s hands.

- I didn’t hear one person in the media mention it but I think it has been painfully obvious since the first time these two teams met this season that Belichick’s gameplan against the Texans is to stop Arian Foster and make Matt Schaub beat them. With the exception of the last drive of the first half from the Texans, which was set up by another great Manning return, the gameplan worked perfectly. Schaub didn’t have any substantial passes and the Texans offense never got any momentum going their way.

- Judging by Foster’s face after seeing his touchdown run, even he knows he’s lucky it was ruled a touchdown.

- The last offensive drive by the Patriots was questionable. The first play run made it seem like they were content with the early lead and were ready for halftime. Then they threw the next two plays only to have consecutive incomplete passes. I don’t mind going for the pass plays, however if you start off with a run and want to run out the clock, then continue to run the clock out. That three-and-out set the Texans up with good field position after a mediocre punt. Of course, they cashed in with a field goal after it appeared [at first] the game clock had expired on the previous play.

Second Half

- The Patriots came out of the half firing and their first drive was propelled by a 40-yard catch-and-run by Aaron Hernandez. The drive was capped off with an eight-yard touchdown run from Stevan Ridley.

- Hernandez has played incredibly well this season, especially in the absence of Gronk. According to the reports it seems like the Patriots will be without Gronk the rest of the postseason, so Hernandez will need to continue his stellar play.

- Watching this game it became completely clear that the Patriots were the better team. From start to finish they outplayed and outclassed the Texans. The interception by Rob Ninkovich showed how well this defense was prepared. Ninkovich dropped back into coverage in the middle of the field and was able to rip a Schaub pass out of the air. It was an interception that brought back memories of Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel. The thing is, Ninkovich has been making those plays all season, and is a huge piece of the defense.

- Brandon Lloyd played in his first postseason game of his career, and despite all the criticism all season, he didn’t disappoint. He had five catches for 32 yards and a touchdown. His biggest catch aside from the touchdown was a first down late in the fourth to run more time off the clock and seal the victory.

- Shane Vereen had the game of his life and at the same time reminded everyone in New England that every championship run for this franchise has seen terrific games from unknown players. We all knew Vereen was a solid player but he surprised everyone with his performance in the divisional round of the playoffs. He finished with three touchdowns (two receiving, one rushing), 41 rushing yards and 83 receiving yards. I think we found our player of the game.

- I will give the Texans credit for scoring more than 14 points in this game. At the same time, the Patriots weren’t exactly playing stiff coverage at the end of the game.

- The defense deserves a ton of credit in this game. They came to play form the first whistle and didn’t stop until the game ended. Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard, Devin McCourty and the rest of the secondary kept the Texans receivers at bay, while the front seven contained the running game of Arian Foster. This Patriots defense had a ton of questions at the start of the season but they have turned into a formidable group and one that I would not want to go against in the playoffs.

- The most noise that JJ Watt made all game was when he spit on the logo at the start of the game. Too bad that numerous players, including Patriots, spit on the field throughout the course of a game. Watt can wave his finger all he wants but he and the Texans are nothing but frauds.

- Now we have Baltimore coming to New England for the Conference Championship. If the Patriots play like they played today, and like they have played in the second half of the season, there is no reason why they shouldn’t be back in the Super Bowl.

- Brady now has the most wins in postseason history for a quarterback, and he still isn’t satisfied. Just how New England likes it.

About Steve Bastek - @sbastek12

Graduate of Bridgewater State University with a BA in Communication studies. I've been a Boston sports fan all my life and enjoy having the opportunity to write about it.

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