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Week 13 Notes and Observations: Patriots Survive Trap Game, Beat Texans 34-31

Stephen Gostkowski came up big against the Texans, nailing two 53-yard field goals. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

This game had all the makings of a classic trap game. The Patriots were coming off two huge prime time games against the Panthers and Broncos, and the Texans had lost nine straight games. The Texans’ record may have said 2-9, but most of the games they lost were decided by seven points or less. There was every reason for a let down from the Patriots, and after the first half it appeared that may be the case.

- Maybe this is just the new strategy on offensive. Spot the other team some early points and then have Tom Brady and the offense mount a comeback. The offense looked awful in the first half. They just couldn’t find a rhythm and the play calling was questionable to say the least. On two different third-and-short yardage situations, Brady aired the ball out. The first was an overthrow to Kenbrell Thompkins down the sideline, and the other was the underthrown ball to Rob Gronkowski that resulted in the interception. When a team is so good at short yardage passes with screens and slants like the Patriots are, you have to wonder why they were calling for these deep routes when all they needed was a few yards.

- The big story line from this game is the benching of Stevan Ridley. After another fumble in Week 12 against the Broncos, he spent all week in practice going through fumbling drills only to be inactive this week. When Bill Belichick was asked why he was inactive he responded with “there were 46 guys ahead of him who were active.” Classic Belichick. Everyone is calling this the end of the Ridley era in New England, and there are poll questions asking people if they think he should be released. Everyone needs to take a step back. Ridley isn’t done here and he certainly won’t be released. Fumbling issues can be cured, and I think Belichick making him a healthy scratch is more or less to allow Ridley to get his head right. No harm in giving him a week off to just take a step back. At the same time the roster move allowed Belichick to see what his running game would be like without Ridley. Shane Vereen, LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden, and full back James Develin combined for 88 yards on 27 carries with two touchdowns. Not exactly an explosive performance but it did get the job done.

- The James Develin touchdown was awesome to watch. That was the definition of one guy wanting it more than the entire defense. He was met right at the line of scrimmage by a wall of defenders only to move parallel with the goal line and keep pushing until he was in. Every year Belichick brings full backs into camp, and none of them seem to work out. Develin not only made the team, but he has shown how valuable a solid full back can be. His blocking has been great in the run game, and there have been a few points where his number has been called in the passing or running game. He performs well no matter what he is asked to do.

- Shane Vereen continues to show how versatile he is and he had another good game yesterday. He combined for 75 all purpose yards (38 rushing, 37 receiving), and he had a receiving touchdown. Vereen’s ability is another reason this team will need Ridley to make a playoff push. While Vereen is terrific in the sense that he can run and catch, his running ability is not as good as Ridley’s. When it all comes down to it having the duo of Ridley and Vereen is going to be much more beneficial than only having one of them. Ridley solving his fumbling problems is what the whole team needs, and I think he plays a big role in the playoff push.

- Aaron Dobson was out this week with a foot injury, which he injured in the Broncos game. The injury gave Thompkins a chance to be back in the offense, and he had a few good catches last week. This week he made an amazing grab on a leaping catch that he snatched right out of the air. However, he came down hard on his hip and didn’t make another catch the rest of the game as he was mostly on the sideline. Injuries happen and you hope that these two aren’t out too long. They certainly struggled at the beginning of the year, but both of them have come through in big moments the past few weeks. Dobson and Thompkins have turned a weakness at the receiver position into a strength over the course of their rookie seasons. It’s been a bumpy road but these two have Brady’s confidence, which is the first step to success in this offense.

- Danny Amendola finished with five catches for 54 yards, and this was after starting most of the first quarter on the bench. I don’t think this is a benching of any kind, but more or less they had a game plan early on that simply didn’t feature him. He was on the field for the second half when the offense finally woke up. With the recent first half struggles, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a heavy dose of quick passes to Amendola and Julian Edelman next week to spark the offense and get some early points.

- Speaking of Edelman, he is one of the better stories in the NFL. Everyone knows he was a quarterback in college, but he has made an unbelievable transition into not only a wide receiver, but one of the better receiving options in the league. He had his second nine-catch, 100-plus yard performance in a row. He didn’t get any touchdowns yesterday but he was Brady’s go-to option more often than not, and he didn’t disappoint. Everyone thought Amendola was the replacement to Wes Welker, but Edelman has stepped into that role. The big question with Edelman was “can he stay healthy?” He has managed to stay off the injury report so far, and the results have been everything we could have hoped for and more.

-Rob Gronkowski’s touchdown catch was phenomenal. For a guy who is 6’6” to bend down, while running, and pick the ball off the turf for the score is a testament to just how athletic he is. He also had a 50-yard reception on a streak between the left hash mark and the sideline. The dynamic he brings to the offense when he’s out there is unmatched by any other player. The blocking he provides in the run-game is some of the best in the league, and everyone knows how great he is in the receiving game.

- There isn’t much to be said about the defense. They played terrible. The run defense in the red zone was non-existent as the Texans scored four rushing touchdowns, three by Ben Tate. They blew their coverage multiple times, which allowed Andre Johnson to run down the field wide open. I don’t understand how you don’t cover the main target of an offense, but there were multiple times Johnson went uncovered. Kyle Arrington showed once again he does not belong as an outside corner, as he was burned by DeAndre Hopkins for a 66-yard catch and run. Logan Ryan was playing alright as the outside corner, but Arrington got the nod towards the end of the game. The injuries this season to Talib and Dennard have definitely been issues as the depth behind those two isn’t anything to write home about. When those two are on the field, they hide the weaknesses of the rest of the cornerbacks, but when they’re not out there the other guys have been getting exposed.

- Credit has to be given to Logan Ryan, though. The interception wasn’t anything special as it was caused by the pressure and hit on Case Keenum by Andre Carter. What is impressive about Ryan is that he always seems to be around the ball, which is a very good sign for a rookie cornerback. He plays with a mature style and he could end up being a very solid corner in that defensive backfield.

- The offensive line played pretty well even though they were without Marcus Cannon. Will Svitek stepped up in his absence and contained JJ Watt all game. It’s no easy task to shut down one of the best defensive linemen in the league, but our third string right tackle did it and made it look easy.

- Stephen Gostkowski was the player of the game. He hit two 53-yard field goals, the second of which being the game winner. He narrowly missed a 55-yard which was only his second missed field goal all season. He got a lot of negative press last year and he has done nothing but silence his critics this year. He has become one of the more reliable kickers in the league over the course of this season.

- Antonio Smith can cry about the Patriots “spying” on the Texans all he wants. The fact is his team is 2-10 after losing 10 straight games. I think it’s safe to say everyone has figured out what the Texans are doing. It’s no big secret.

- On paper, the Patriots have a very easy schedule, but nothing will come easy in the coming weeks. They are going against the Cleveland Browns next week, who are certainly going to come out with something to prove. They play the Miami Dolphins who are coming off back to back wins, and will be fighting for the last wild card spot. They also have to travel to play the Baltimore Ravens who have turned their season around and are making a playoff push of their own. It will certainly be a challenge to win the remaining games on their schedule, but if the Patriots can do it they will be guaranteed at least the second seed in the playoffs. If the Broncos drop one more game and the Patriots win out, then they will have the number one seed. Saying the Patriots were a number one seed was laughable at the beginning of this season; now it is a very real possibility.

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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