Patriots players were given Tuesday off, but coach Bill Belichick, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia participated in their weekly teleconference with reporters. Fans might still be basking in the glow of Sunday night's historic comeback victory over the Broncos, but the coaches have moved ahead to the Texans, this week's opponent in Houston.
After a 2-0 start, the Texans have lost nine straight. But Belichick said the team he sees on tape isn't all that different from the team that made the playoffs last season. Houston came to Gillette Stadium twice, in fact: Once in the regular season, and then in the divisional round of the playoffs. The Patriots won both, by a combined score of 83-42.
“This football team looks a lot like last year’s football team," said Belichick. "They’re very good on defense, they have a lot of good players, they’re very disruptive up front, they’re fast, their offensive line is intact. Going back and looking at last year’s games, this group looks a lot like last year’s group, it really does."
What has caught Belichick's eye is the way Houston has competed against quality opponents this season. The Texans led Seattle by 14 points in the fourth quarter before losing in overtime. They lost by 1 point at Kansas City and by 3 points at Arizona. All three of those teams are in line to make the playoffs. In the past two games, Houston has lost by 5 to Oakland and by 7 to Jacksonville. Both of those games came at home, where the Texans are just 1-5.
"I just see them as a real good football team," said Belichick. "They’ve obviously had disappointing results on the record, but they’re well-coached, they have good players, they play hard, and I know the type of football they’re capable of playing because they’ve played it on a weekly basis against the opponents that they’ve gone up against here recently.
"The Seattle game, the Oakland game, the Kansas City game, Arizona, Indianapolis, they took all those teams right down to the wire, and had their chances, so they’re a play or two away from, I would say, breaking out and winning a whole bunch of games.
"They’re going to win them, too. They’re right there, one play, one call away from winning, and they’re going to get those. They’re a good football team."
The Patriots last played at Houston in a fairly meaningless regular-season finale to the 2009 season, when Wes Welker tore a knee ligament early in the game and missed the ensuing playoffs.
With their 34-31 win over Denver, the Patriots are 4-1 this season in games decided by 3 points or fewer. Houston is 1-4 in such games.
"We’ve been in a lot of games this year that could have gone either way," Belichick said. "You say if we won all our close games our record would be one thing, and if we hadn’t won all our close games our record would be a whole another thing. You can probably say that about most teams in the league. There’s not too many teams that are winning by 21, 24 points every week."
Case Keenum and Matt Schaub have split quarterback duties for the Texans, with Keenum winning the job midway through the season. They're still led on defense by defensive linemen J.J. Watt (9 1/2 sacks) and Antonio Smith (5).
"It starts with the front," said McDaniels. "If you can handle the front, you've given yourself an opportunity to have some success, and if you can't, then it's going to be difficult. With Smith and Watt, those are two of the more talented defensive linemen that we'll play all season, and they're on the same team."
The Patriots lost a player from their practice squad Tuesday, with defensive lineman A.J. Francis being signed to Miami's active roster. Francis, an undrafted rookie out of Maryland, was with Miami in training camp before being released by the Dolphins and signed to the Patriots' practice squad.