For the second time in about a month, the Patriots outclassed the Houston Texans, this time by a 41-28 score...in a game that was not nearly as close as even that rather lopsided score would indicate. The Patriots all but handed the Texans 20 of those 28 points. Yet, they still pretty much coasted to an easy win. Next up, a rematch with those lovable Buzzards from Baltimore, for the AFC Title, and a trip to SB 47. Here are my grades:
I. OFFENSE: After fiddling away most of the first quarter, the Pats, at times methodically, and spectacularly, scored 41 points in the games' final 46 minutes. The Pats' offense resembled Chip Kelly's Oregon Ducks, rolling over some B rated Pack-12 opponent;
1.) QB: After a slow start in which he missed some throws due to being somewhat pressured, the Terrific One settled down, and dissected the Houston Texans, for the second time in about a month. Facing mostly man to man coverage yet again, the Pats went to the air on 40 of their 65 plays, effectively. Brady completed 25 of 40 passes for 344 yards and three TDs, against an unimaginative Texans' defense. Most of the completions and yards were obtained on short to intermediate range passes, primarily to Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, and RB Shane Vereen. Tom's highlight plays were two perfectly thrown lemon-drop, deep left sideline passes. The first of these was in the second quarter to Wes Welker, for 47 yards. It set up the Patriots' second TD, staking them to a commanding 17-3 lead, at that time. The second was a 33 yard tear drop to Shane Vereen in the 4th quarter, for the Pats' final TD. It gave the Pats an insummountable 38-13 lead. When the Pats' OL gives "The Man" time, it's curtains for the opposition: GRADE: A-;
2.) RBs: Though the running game took a subordinate role this week, it was still a very effective diversion. Stevan Ridley ran hard when called upon, finishing with a fumble free 82 yards on just 15 carries...an average of 5.5 yards per run...and a TD. His highlight play was a 23 yard scamper in the 3rd quarter. It set up a TD, that put the Pats ahead, 31-13, at the time. His earlier third quarter 8 yard TD run had increased the Pats' slim 17-13 halftime lead, to 24-13. Shane Vereen turned in by far the finest game of his career. Doing a first rate impression of Marshall Faulk in his prime, Vereen ran for 41 yards on 7 carries (5.9 yard average), and added 5 pass receptions for 83 yards, and two TDs, including the above mentioned 33 yard fourth quarter hook-up with Brady. Truly a job well done!: GRADE: A;
3.) OL: After getting off to a slow start, they dominated, much like they did in the first meeting with the Texans. Though Tom Brady was hit seven times, most of that contact came early, and resulted in just one sack...and just three tackles for loss, overall. Excellent job on monster DE J.J. Watt...holding him to a half a sack, and one tackle for loss. It was Watt's least productive day of the entire season: GRADE: A;
4.) TEs and WRs: Seeing what clearly appeared to be an unfit to play Rob Gronkowski take the field, and than seeing him fall on his injured arm and break it again, somewhat casts a pall on what otherwise was an uplifting win...as all playoff wins are. Gronk is done for the year. Hopefully, the foolish decision to risk him won't result in a permanently damaged left arm, which will jeopardize what appeared to be a banner career. That said, Aaron Hernandez stepped up with his best game in weeks, finishing with six catches for 85 yards. His highlight 40 yard catch and run on a short pass was the key play on a TD drive, during the Pats' initial possession of the second half. It put them in front, 24-13, at the time. WRs: let's talk Welker. For the second time, the Wild Wild Wes destroyed the Texans, this time with eight catches for 131 yards. He is the straw that stirs the drink, on the Patriots offense. Brandon Lloyd chipped in with five catches for 32 yards, and a TD. But, Lloyd also drew a foolish dead-ball personal foul, for inexplicably throwing the ball sharply back to an official, after an incompleted pass. This bone-headed play stalled what appeared to be a second quarter TD drive, costing the Pats four points...as the assessed 15 yard penalty caused them to settle for a FG: GRADE: A-;
II. DEFENSE: Three lengthy kickoff returns resulted in three very short fields, and 17 of the Texans' 28 points. Though the Texans had 425 total yards, many of those were meaningless, as they were earned after the Pats had built a 38-13 fourth quarter lead. The "D" set the tone by holding Houston to just a FG on their initial "drive", after a 94 yard kickoff return gave the Texans a first and 10, from the Patriots' 12 yard line.
1.) DL: Did not let RB Arian Foster control the game on the ground. The DL limited his damage to just 90 yards on 22 carriers...an average of 4.1 yards per run. It marked his lowest output, compared to his several previous playoff games. Vince Wilfolk and Rob Ninkovich led the way, with Nink dropping in coverage to intercept Texans' QB Matt Schaub, in the 3rd quarter...which pretty much iced the game. But, not too much pressure was applied to Schaub, as the Pats seemed more concerned with stopping Foster, than anything else. Unfortunately, DE Chandler Jones reinjured that troublesome ankle of his, and likely will not be a factor next week against the Ravens: GRADE: B;
2.) LBs: The corp did a fine job against the run, but had some issues in pass coverage. Arian Foster had seven catches for 63 yards, coming out of the backfield...and the Houston TEs combined for 14 receptions, for 125 yards. That said, Jerod Mayo forced a fumble on a short pass completion, that inexplicably was ruled a non-fumble, allegedly due to the receiver being knocked backwards after gaining forward progress. It was one of the worst calls I've seen this season, by an officiating crew that appeared to be hung over from the night before. Mayo finished with seven tackles (5 solos) and two TFL (tackles for loss). Brandon Spikes added six tackles (4 solos), and Dont'a Hightower had three tackles (2 solos) a TFL, and a QB hit: GRADE: B;
3.) SECONDARY: The top three tacklers for the Pats were DBs. Aqib Talib and Steve Gregory each led the way with ten tackles. Nine of Talib's ten tackles were solos. Devin McCourty added 8 tackles (7 solos), while DBs Tavon Wilson, Alfonzo Dennard, and Marquis Cole added three, each. When a team falls behind by a ton of points in the 4th quarter, as the Texans did, passes begin to rain on down...and DBs must tackle. This group, by and large, did a good job at that. Save for a 25 yard TD pass to Devier Posey mid-way in the fourth quarter, this group did a fine job of limiting big plays. Though Andre Johnson had 8 catches for 95 yards, his longest play of the day was a 22 yard reception. Though it came on a 3rd and 16 play midway in the third quarter, the damage was soon negated by the aforementioned Ninkovich interception: GRADE: B;
III. SPECIAL TEAMS: Horrible kick coverage. This was the worst performance by the Pats' special teams covering kick-offs in the BB era. The Patriots allowed Houston kick returner Danieal Manning returns of 94, 35, and 69 yards...which pretty much accounted for 17 of the 28 Texan points scored. On the opening kickoff, Manning's 94 yard return gave the Texans the ball, first and ten, at the NE 12 yard line. Great hustle by Devin McCourty saved a TD, and subsequently, four points, as the "D" held the Texans to a FG. Manning followed that in the second quarter with a 35 yard run back, in which kicker Stephen Gostkowski saved a TD with a horse-collar tackle. The run back and penalty gave the Texans a short field, at the NE 47 yard line. This time, the Texans cashed in with a TD. Then, in the fourth quarter, the Pats allowed Manning to break free again for a 69 yard return...setting the Texans up in business at the NE 37 yard line. Another Texan TD followed. In addition, the Pats nearly suffered a blocked punt on two occasions. One, near the end of the half, caused a short punt...which led to a 55 yard Texan FG. That cut the Pats' lead at that time to just 17-13, at the half. As for Stephen Gostkowski, his kick-offs were generally long, and he was 2/2 on FG tries. Zoltan Mesko did his usually dependable job, punting. But, this wasn't enough to salvage a respectable for this group. As I stated in my pre-game analysis of this game...the Texans may have watched film of that awful Cardinals game, in which the Cards blocked a punt. These mistakes need to be rectified...PRONTO!: GRADE: F;
IV. COACHING: Don't know whether using Shane Vereen as they did was the plan all along, or whether it came in response to losing both Gronk and Danny Woodhead (thumb injury), early in the game. Regardless of how it came about, it was a rousing success. Vereen played like Faulk...Marshall, not Kevin, today. The Texans had no answers as to how to cover him. On defense, the Pats did what they had to do in shutting doiwn the Houston running game, and making QB Matt Schaub beat them. But mercy...the kickoff coverage was horrendous. In the BB era, I have never seen the Patriots do such a poor job of covering kicks. Since this hasn't been a problem until today, I see this as an abberation, rather than something to lose sleep over. Whatever cause this abomination, an answer must be found, immediately! Finally, I have a real problem with what happened today with Rob Gronkowski. This kid has a chance to have a Tony Gonzalez type of career. Yet today, the Pats put him at great risk by playing him, when it was obvious that he wasn't ready to go. He still had that long, thick cast on his arm, and was laboring in pain...before falling on the arm, and breaking it again. BB said that he was cleared by the doctors to play. Okay...then my next questions are, who the hell are these doctors? Do they have degrees? Are they blind? And...the million dollar question...is that arm going to ever heal properly, now that it's been broken twice, in a two month period? I short, I'm angry and disappointed about this whole Gronk scenario. This is almost as bad as Mike Shanahan's decision to let RG III continue playing on an obviously damaged knee: GRADE: C-;
V. PLAY OF THE GAME: So many great ones to choose from...the Welker 47 yard pass play was huge...the Hernandez 40 yard catch and run on the Pats' initial second half drive...the 33 yard tear drop from Brady to Vereen. But, as is usually the case in playoff games, the biggest plays of all are those resulting in a turnover. My "Play of the Game" is the Nink pick, which all but iced this game, which the Pats really should have won by three TDs or more;
VI. PLAYER OF THE GAME: Shane Vereen was great, but Wes Welker was immense.
Here are the game stats: http://scores.espn.go.com/nfl/boxscore?gameId=330113017
As always, your comments and opinions are welcome.