Patriots 34, Texans 31: The Harder They Fight, the Harder They Fall
There is only one kind of victory in football, the kind that finds you ahead on the scoreboard when the game is over. In the Texans' latest loss to the Patriots, 34-31 on Sunday at Reliant Stadium, there seemed to be progress, but the result was the same as the Texans dropped their tenth straight game to fall to 2-10, now the worst record in the NFL thanks to wins by Jacksonville, Atlanta and Minnesota, two of which came in overtime.
That now puts the Texans in the driver's seat for the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft. Yet in August, they were picked as a playoff team at the very least and a Super Bowl contender by many. What went wrong on Sunday seemed a microcosm of the entire season. Despite playing well on offense, keeping their penalties down and holding their own in the turnover battle, they succumbed to a team that simply had better execution and was better prepared.
Up 17-7 at the half, the Patriots raced out to a 21-17 lead, which see-sawed back and forth until the Texans ran out of the plays and Tom Brady was on top again. The defense was unable to hold down the Patriot offense and the Texans offense just didn't have quite enough despite their biggest scoring output of the season.
What went right: The Offense For all its struggles last week against Jacksonville, the offense really clicked on Sunday. Case Keenum looked sharp, throwing for 272 yards, rushing for one touchdown and throwing a single pick that came when his protection broke down and he was hit while throwing. Ben Tate had his best effort of the season with 102 yards rushing and three touchdowns. Andre Johsnon collected his 900th career pass catch, and, overall, the protection, passing and running games played well enough to win.
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What went wrong: The Defense Last week, linebacker Whitney Mercilus implied that the problem was the offensive side of the football after the Texans' anemic loss to Jacksonville. This week it was the defense's turn to look pitiful. They managed to contain New England in the first half, but had no answer in the second, allowing 24 second-half points to Brady and crew. They were unable to put enough pressure on Brady and, as a result, he picked the defense apart.
What must improve: At this point, who cares? Seriously, the only concern for the Texans at this point should be protecting their opportunity to draft first in the 2014 draft. They are in position to do so and the only thing that could screw it up would be winning. With three away games in their division and one home game against Denver, it wouldn't be a shocker if they lost out, but at worst, they can't win more than one more if they want a shot at one of the premier players in the draft.
What should stay the same: Run Blocking Yes, the Patriots are loaded with rookies on defense, but the run blocking was nevertheless outstanding for the Texans all day. They had a few moments where pass protection broke down, but when the team rushes for four touchdowns and your main back gains over 100 yards, it was a good day, which is a pleasant surprise considering all the rough days they have had this year. What did we learn from the game? Despite playing well, the Texans lost again. This is a team that is just not ready to win in critical situations. They were up by 10 points in the first half and that lead evaporated in half a quarter. They just do not have the fortitude to win big games -- or small games, for that matter. They are now 2-7 in games decided by less than a touchdown, the worst in that stat in the NFL. No wonder they are also last in record.
What do we never want to see/hear again? I hate the nickname "Gronk" for Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. It sounds like the name of a character from a movie about cavemen. More important, I hate hearing TV announcers use that familiar title when they talk about him. It's annoying.
Key Moment of the Game In what would essentially be their last opportunity to score down 34-31 in the fourth (they had one last chance, but it was only two plays, neither of which was remotely successful), the Texans ended up in the fourth and long. Before they could run a play, they had to call timeout. It was yet another example of Gary Kubiak's poor clock management. They came out of the timeout on fourth down and Keenum was sacked on an all-out blitz by the Patriots. Not only did they turn the ball over on downs, but they lost any chance of getting the ball back with time on the clock because they had to call that timeout.
Game Balls: Ben Tate The back-up-turned-starter has had an up-and-down season and was the focal point of some fan anger when he called fans "wishy-washy." But he had three rushing touchdowns and 102 yards in the loss and was still dealing with four cracked ribs. He is probably due a big payday by someone this offseason. His agent should save this game on DVD and send it to all interested parties.
Goat of the Week: The Coaching Staff As has been the case all year, there were few adjustments made at halftime that were readily apparent on the field. The Patriots emerged from the locker room and ran roughshod over the Texans, ultimately claiming the victory. Whatever adjustments the Texans made, if any, were terribly unsuccessful.
Random thought of the week: Has there been a team in recent memory that found so many odd and unfortunate ways to lose? From low-scoring poundings to horrid teams to high-scoring barn burners against the league's best, there is always a sense the Texans will find a way to lose, and they certainly didn't disappoint in that department on Sunday.
Next Up: at Jacksonville on Thursday Don't look now, but the Jags have been on a bit of a roll, going 3-1 in their last four games, including a win over the Texans in Houston last week. If the Texans are going to win a game the rest of the year, this is their best bet, but don't count on it.
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