Patriots slowed Johnson . . . until it mattered most


There was a time this season when Shawn Springs was in mothballs.

On Sunday, there may not have been a more important defensive player to the Patriots. Charged with following Johnson around for much of the afternoon, Springs played right up in Johnson’s face — similar to the way the Redskins used to use him to combat the then-Cowboys star Terrell Owens — and disrupted his game.

Did Johnson make his plays? Sure he did. But the Patriots didn’t let him get downfield, and Springs prevented him from getting free releases into the middle of the field, where he can do serious damage after the catch. Nowhere was Springs more important than on a fourth and goal from the New England 1 in the second quarter, when Matt Schaub threw Johnson a fade that turned into harmless Texas Leaguer after the veteran corner pressed the receiver all the way to the sideline.

Still, the Texans found a way to get Johnson in a position to make a play when it mattered most — On third and 12 in the fourth quarter, Houston down 27-20. By stacking receivers, the Texans forced Springs to switch off of Johnson, leaving the Texans the mismatch they wanted. Johnson started in the slot, meaning Springs was playing inside, and by motioning the outside receiver in, the outside corner, Jonathan Wilhite was forced to take the superstar. Not the matchup New England wanted there.

“I was in the slot, and we motioned down into a stack formation, and 24 wound up on me, instead of Springs,” Johnson said. “You try to do everything you can to get mismatches, and the play that we called was perfect for the coverage they were in.”

Johnson did have high praise for Springs, and the Patriots, saying “They’re very good at what they do. They might make it look one way, and then all of a sudden they change it” Meaning the Patriots would give Houston the look of having Johnson bracketed, then change at the snap, and then show the quarterback Johnson alone, and have a safety bail to help over the top late. And it worked. Until, perhaps, the biggest play of the game.


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