NEPD Staff Writer: Dan Hope
When the Houston Texans came to Gillette Stadium to play the New England Patriots during the regular season, they got embarrassed in a 42-14 rout. That should give the Patriots plenty of confidence heading into their first playoff game, which will once again be against the Texans at 4:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, Jan. 13 in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs.
In the first matchup, the Patriots were better in every aspect of the game. Their offense had terrific balance and success, with quarterback Tom Brady throwing for 296 yards and four touchdowns, while they ran the ball for 130 yards on only three less rushing attempts than they had passes. Defensively, the Patriots were also excellent, holding the Texans to only seven points in the game’s first 58 minutes and on the Texans’ first 12 drives.
The game was hyped as one of the best games of the year, and was one of the season’s most-watched games on Monday Night Football. But the Texans came into the game with exuding cockiness — this was the game the Texans travelled to wearing letterman’s jackets — while the Patriots came in prepared to take care of business.
The Patriots successfully slowed down the Texans’ best offensive weapon by holding running back Arian Foster to only 46 rushing yards. While Texans superstar defensive end J.J. Watt made plays as well, the Patriots held him without a sack and were able to put up some of their biggest offensive plays of the season against shaky deep pass coverage, including a 63-yard touchdown pass to Donte Stallworth and a 37-yard touchdown to Brandon Lloyd.
The Patriots should be in great position to win again next Sunday. They are healthier than they’ve been all season going into the playoffs, and were without their top offensive playmaker, tight end Rob Gronkowski, in their offensive field day in the regular-season matchup. Meanwhile, the Texans have continued to struggle since their loss to the Patriots.
The Texans came into that game with an NFL-leading 11-1 record and were the projected No. 1 seed in the AFC, but ended up losing two of their last three regular-season games following the Patriots loss, which caused them to lose their first-round bye altogether.
In those games, the Texans’ pass defense continued to give up big plays, including a touchdown pass of 61 yards or more to T.Y. Hilton in each of the two games against the Colts. They also struggled to put points on the board, averaging just 17 points per game, a stark decrease from their 26 points per game regular-season average.
It is important to keep those numbers in context — their last four regular-season games came against playoff teams — and the Texans will most likely be much better prepared for their rematch with the Patriots. That said, the Patriots appeared to be better in every facet of the game in their first matchup, and with an extra week to get healthy and prepare for their first playoff game, expect the Patriots to play even better this time around.
The Texans backed into the playoffs, and continued to struggle to find the end zone in their first playoff game, scoring just one touchdown in a 19-13 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. Now, they will be tasked with playing on the road in New England, where the weather is likely to be cold, and could feature heavy wind and precipitation. Upsetting a team that blew them out the first time they played, will have had plenty of time to prepare and will be much more accustomed to the weather conditions seems like a tall task for the Texans.
Postseason blowouts are rare, and expecting the Texans to have a letdown like they did on that Monday night in December is naive. Meanwhile, the Patriots have to avoid being overconfident as a result of their regular-season win, something that has seemed to trip up the Patriots in playoff losses in the past. But if the Patriots play at their best, they have the distinct upper hand in this matchup, and should complete the first step up the playoff ladder toward getting back to their second consecutive Super Bowl.