HOUSTON – The Patriots snapped a three-game road losing streak, which is probably the most notable side accomplishment for a team that just clinched its 13th straight winning season.
Beating the Houston Texans (2-10) certified New England's status as a team with no quit. They outscored their opponents 27-14 in the second half to win 34-31 at Reliant Stadium in Houston. That's two weeks with come-from-behind wins. The networks must love the Patriots.
As usual, there were a number of interesting tidbits from the game. Here are some that I thought were most noteworthy.
1. Defense when it matters -- It's not shocking that the Patriots are giving up an alarming amount of rushing yards in these games. The Texans managed 121 against the Patriots, with Ben Tate accounting for 102 on 22 carries to go along with three touchdowns. It's an improved effort from last week, when the Patriots defense allowed a whopping 280 yards on the ground. But what can you expect from a team that has lost its top two defensive tackles to injured reserve as well as the team's top linebacker. Those are legitimate excuses. But what we've seen instead from this team, outside of the glaring running lanes for opposing backs, is a candid ability to stop the big play at the most timely moments. The Patriots were able to hold the Texans to a three-and-out with 6:54 left in the fourth quarter and follow it up by forcing Houston quarterback Case Keenum into making three bad throws, including one under pressure from Andre Carter and Chris Jones. Moments like these, which came with a little more than two minutes left, are pivotal in one-possession games. The Patriots excel in this environment.
2. Edelman over Amendola -- Julian Edelman is at it again, usurping the luster over another coveted receiver. While he is sometimes overlooked because of the allegedly more talented and experienced slot receivers in front of him (see Wes Welker), he's built a steady rapport with Tom Brady over his five seasons that has made him invaluable to this offense. So when you see that he has 12 targets Sunday, while Danny Amendola has five, there should be a clear understanding of who is a larger part of this Patriots offense and identity.
Edelman, who officially got the start Sunday, now has 70 receptions this year for 711 yards and four touchdowns. On Sunday, he caught nine passes for 101 yards. Because he has 70 receptions on the season, he has hit his contract incentive for an extra $250,000, maxing out his 1-year deal to $1.015 million. What a bargain.
3. Stevan Ridley as a healthy scratch -- Ridley is in the doghouse. The Patriots leading rusher was listed as inactive Sunday and it's clear that he has to work to build back trust with his coaches after fumbling last week against the Denver Broncos. However, there was no way to know that he would be sidelined as punishment. With 576 yards rushing and seven touchdowns, Ridley can still be a benefit to this team. But now, with his fumbling at the forefront, the Patriots appear to be effectively putting him on timeout. So long as the Patriots keep winning, there's no incentive to take him off the bench. And if we were to think in terms of possible eventualities, the next logical step would be to trade the running back. How that helps the team, even as pure speculation, is beyond acceptable reason. His talents, in my opinion, outweigh his negatives. And no matter what, there is no scenario in which Ridley's benching is not a distraction for this team.
4. Special group of players -- The special teams group, including kicker Stephen Gostkowski, punter Ryan Allen, and snapper Danny Aiken, have been doing a stellar job week in and week out. Last week, it was all about the performance they had against the Denver Broncos in the frigid cold. This week, playing in a more moderate temperature, they were still collectively fantastic. Gostkowski came up with two huge field goals in the fourth quarter and Allen's corner coffin punt with 22 seconds left pinned the Texans at their own 5-yard line. There was no way they could mount a comeback after that punt. This unit has been and continues to be a source of strength for the Patriots.
5. Distant memory -- Just five weeks ago, the whole of New England was concerned about Tom Brady's hand. Was it or wasn't it swollen? (It was.) And why wouldn't he acknowledge it. Since Week 9 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Brady has turned in some vintage performances. He's been 115 of 167 (68.8 percent) passing for 1,443 yards (360.75 yards per game) and 10 touchdowns in that span. He's been simply phenomenal. It helps that he's gotten back his full array of wide receivers and running backs. But the production and the precision has all been him. He's working on another fine finish to this season.