Wow! Considering their injury situation, and the quality of the competition, the New England Patriots turned in their finest performance of the season, in trouncing the Texans, 42-14. This huge win means that by winning their final three games, home against the 49ers and 'Fins, and a roadie at Jacksonville, that the Pats will ensure themselves of no worse than a second overall seeding in the AFC title tournament, and a first round playoff bye. Here are my grades:
I. OFFENSE: Despite being Gronkless and having 60% of their starting OL nowhere near 100%, this group performed like a well oiled machine, particularly on their first three drives of the game...all of which resulted in TDs. After jumping to a 21-0, the game was all but over.
1.) QB: Tom Brady turned in perhaps his finest performance of the season, complting 21 of 35 passes, for 296 yards, four TDs, no deflected passes that I can remember, and no interceptions. During the Pats' lethal first three drives, Tom was particularly sharp with his ball handling, accuracy, and his ability to read and react to whatever the Texans' "D" threw at him. Much criticized at times for his inaccuracy on deep throws, Tom was dead on in hitting Wes Welker for 25 yards, setting up the Pats' first TD...Brandon Lloyd for 37 yards, and the Pats' second TD...and a gorgeous 63 yard hook-up to Donte' Stallworth in the third quarter, which increased his teams' lead at the time to 28-0. Tom Terrific performed so well that even hardened Patriots' critics Steve Young was touting him for league MVP...a refreshing thing, after all the media talk about how ol' Horseface in Denver is closing in on the award. GRADE: A+
2.) RBs: The Pats established enough of a ground game to keep the Texans' "D" honest, and outgained Arian Foster and his Texans, 130yds. - 100yds. for the game. Stevan Ridley rushed for 72 yards on 18 carries, including a 14 yard TD run for the Pats final score of the game. But, Ridley fumbled at the Texan 3 yard line, as the Pats were driving for their initial score. This occurred when he got stood up by two Houston tacklers, and had the ball striped from him by a third. Fortunately, the fumble did not prove costly...Aaron Hernandez was able to pounce on it. Another good job on limited carries by Shane Vereen, who carried 8 times for 40 yards. Danny Woodhead chipped in with a pair of pass receptions for 34 yards. On one of those plays, Woody broke two tackles and was rambling toward the goal line, when Houston's J.J. Watt came up behind him and punched the ball out of his arm. But, as was the case with the Ridley fumble, the Pats' lucked out. Brandon Lloyd was able to fall on the lose ball in the endzone, for the Pats' fifth TD...which increased the Pats lead to 35-7. GRADE: C+;
3.) OL: An outstanding game by the hulking, waking wounded. Though J.J. Watt certainly made his presence felt, he was not allowed to disrupt the game. The Big Uglies gave their QB ample time to operate...and operate he did. They also opened enough running room to keep the offense multi-dimemsional. Other than Watt, seldom was heard anything but discouraging words from the remainder of the Texans' front seven. Though Tom Terrific was hit more often than I'd like to see, the OL did a great job against top competition, in a big time game: GRADE: A-;
4.) TEs and WRs: Though Aaron Hernandez has had better games statistically, this certainly was one of his finest hours as a Patriot. Hernandez had 8 receptions for 58 yards, two TDs, and that aforementioned alert fumble recovery on the Pats' initial drive. As for the WRs, Brandon Lloyd turned in his best game of the season, with 7 catches for 89 yards, and two TDs (one on his above mentioned recovery of the Woodhead fumble). Donte' Stallworth made a splash, combining with Brady on a beautiful 63 yard TD hook-up. Unfortunately, Stallworth suffered a high ankle sprain on this play, and will be out for the remainder of the season. Look for Deion Branch to brought back again. Last but not least, Wes Welker had only three catches for 53 yards. But, one of those catches, a 25 yard grab...and his prior 31 yard punt return, set up the Pats' first TD. Welker also drew two key penalties to keep drives alive, including a questionable PI call, which led to the Pats' second TD. Though Wes has had better stats in other games, he was a key contributor in this one. GRADE: A+;
II. DEFENSE: This group turned in their best performance of the season, in limiting Houston star RB Arian Foster to just 46 yards on 15 carries...and holding Texans' QB Matt Schaub to under 250 yards passing.
1.) DL: Vince Wilfolk was immense. The big man had his best outing since the 2011 AFC title game, finishing with 4 tackles, a forced fumble, a sack, a pass deflection, and a tackle for loss. Yet, the stats don't show how instrumental Vince was in clogging the running lanes, and collapsing the pass pocket throughout the evening. Rob Ninkovich had an outstanding game at DE, as he seemingly was everywhere. Brandon Deaderick and DE Trevor Scott also were top contributors...Deaderick primarily against the run, and Scott earning a sack. With Chandler Jones on the mend, the Pats have to feel good about their DL, come play-off time: GRADE: A;
2.) LBs: As usual, Jerod Mayo led the team in tackles. But, what was unusual was how the Pats deployed him in blitz packages. Twice Mayo was able to tag Schaub on blitzes, forcing hurried, errant throws. Dont'a Hightower had his best game in some time, with 5 tackles, including two for losses. Brandon Spikes helped to clog the middle, seemingly forcing the Texans to run wide. In coverage, there were some issues. Arian Foster was effective coming out of the backfield. But, little was heard from Houston TEs, Owen Daniel or others: GRADE: B+;
3.) SECONDARY: Adding CB Aqib Talib has seemingly transformed the Pats' defensive unit from a passive bend but don't break bunch, to an aggressive, hard charging crew. Unfortunately, Talib went down with some kind of hip injury, when he went to the ground while defensing a pass to Andre Johnson. But, he left the field on his own power, and remainded on the bench thereafter, rather than adjourning to the locker room. This gives some hope that his injury isn't too serious. Speaking of injuries, rookie CB Alfonzo Dennard also left the game, after tweaking his hamstring. Prior to that, both Talib and Dennard played well. Huge red zone interception by Devin McCourty killed an early Houston scoring drive, when the Pats were only up, 7-0. This pick seemed to deflate both Schaub and the Houston offense...and both never recovered. Kyle Arrington and Steve Gregory covered fairly well. They each finishing with four tackles...all solos: GRADE: A-;
III. SPECIAL TEAMS: One of the biggest plays of this game was Wes Welker's 31 yard punt return, early in the first quarter. It gave Brady and the 'Boys a short field to master on their initial drive. The kick coverage was excellent, and Zoltan "The Magnificent" averaged 48 yards per kick: GRADE: B+;
IV. COACHING: Masterful job by BB and his staff. The first scripted 15-20 plays worked to near perfection, as the offense scored TDs on their first three drives. Credit Josh McDaniels for the way he schemed to free up Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez. Credit him also evolving after the Gronk injury. Great work in getting both Brandon Lloyd and Dont'a Stallworth involved in the game plan...as the Patriots were anything but predictable. But, let's give a game ball to OL coach Donte Scarnecchia. Nothing is possible even for this Brady led offense, if the OL doesn't provide Tom with ample time. Though J.J. Watt was credited with three QB hits on Brady, it seemed to be more like 5. But, the Big Uglies never allowed Watt to ruin the play of the offense. Though Matt Patricia and secondary coach Josh Boyer have been under fire all year, somehow, someway, the secondary has improved. The point of improvement seems to coincide with the acquisition of Aqib Talib. This has allowed the Pats to move Devin McCourty to what appears to be his best position...free safety. Credit the coaching staff also for having the courage to start rookie Alfonzo Dennard at CB, and sit down the erratic, injury proned Patrick Chung. The Pats took the TEs out of the game, and handled what appears to be a somewhat fading Andre Johnson. Flat passes were open all night long to Arian Foster. But, the Texans never seemed to take full advantage. Excellent usage of Jerod Mayo. Blitzing him up the middle on occasion seemed to rattle Texans' QB, Matt Schaub. Great job all around by BB, in a game that the Pats badly needed to have: GRADE: A+;
V. PLAY OF THE GAME: There were so many big plays made by the Pats in this win, that it's hard to pinpoint just one. But, I'm going to go with the above mentioned Devin McCourty pick. With the Pats' up 7-0, and the Texans' moving downfield to answer, the McCourty pick in the redzone deflated the Texans. Subsequently, when the Pats marched down field to take a 14-0 lead on the Brady to Lloyd 37 yard hook-up, it seemed to take the starch out of the Texans.
VI. PLAYER OF HE GAME: Tom Brady, with honorable mention to Vince Wilfolk, and Wes Welker.
Here are the game stats: http://scores.espn.go.com/nfl/boxscore?gameId=321210017. As always, your comments and opinions are welcome.
Sorry about having to do this piece-meal. But, this lousy system employed by Dottie is extremely frustrating, and difficult to work with. What used to take me an hour and a half to do, now takes twice that, if I'm lucky. I lost this report card about 2/3 of the way through, due to bugs in the system which seem to time you out...and freezes up the key-board. Though I've complained about this now for weeks, nothing has, or seemingly will be done.