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The New England Patriots faced off against the Houston Texans Sunday afternoon at Reliant Stadium in Houston. The Patriots were looking to build momentum for their trip to the playoffs and take steps towards clinching the 3-seed. The Patriots played well for three quarters, but succumbed to what has been a consistent problem all year: holding onto leads in the fourth quarter while playing on the road. The Patriots gave up 21 unanswered points in the fourth and wound up losing, 34-27. Even worse than the loss, however, was the loss of Wes Welker to a left knee injury midway through the first quarter. His knee bent the wrong way on an in-and-out rout and he went down, writhing in pain. He did not return for the rest of the game, prompting coach Belichick to pull most of his other starters for at least part of the game.
It’s hard to judge the Patriots offense, because they rested quarterback Tom Brady for periods of the game in favor of backup Brian Hoyer. Hoyer played well, going 8/12 with 71 yards in his limited time on the field. He was unable, however, to orchestrate a last-possession comeback late in the 4th quarter. He is competent, to be sure, but he lacks the maturity and leadership qualities necessary to run a football team. He may develop those skills with time, however, although to get enough playing time he may have to go to another team.
Because the Patriots rested starters (especially running backs) and split time between two quarterbacks, they never really got into an offensive groove, and it might have affected their ability to score late in the game. The Patriots offense could not score in the second half, and they looked terrible in general. The offensive line did not protect Brady well in the late stages of the game, and it led to errant passes, one of which was picked off and returned by Houston into New England’s territory. It led to what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown by the Texans.
For three quarters, the defense played phenomenally well. They allowed just 7 points in the first half and returned an interception for a touchdown (Darius Butler) in the third quarter. They got excellent pressure on Texans QB Matt Schaub and looked like they were going to make a final-game statement about their capabilities going into the playoffs. However, a lack of consistent offense in the 4th kept the defense on the field too long, and they quickly tired out. By the end of the game, they were getting beat at the line of scrimmage on every play, leading to two touchdowns from running back Arian Foster and a second scoring pass from Matt Schaub. Simply put, the defense was out there too long and they got beat because of it.
New England went undefeated at home this season, so it’s quite likely that the Pats will put up a win next week at Gillette. However, this game did nothing to ease our worries about their ability to play on the road. Once again they had a lead going into the fourth, and once again they blew it and lost. The road to the Super Bowl for New England will most likely go through two tough road games: at Indianapolis and at San Diego. In order to win those games, New England will need to play with a poise they have not shown all season during road games. If they cannot win on the road, they have no chance to win it all this year.