Patriots-Texans: Five Reasons a Rematch Could Be Different in January
The Texans won't tell you it wasn't a disaster. It was.
It was not, however, something that's automatically repeatable.
Even in a 28-point game, the beatdown on Monday Night Football essentially came down to five plays on which the Patriots were spotted 28 points. With one exception, the Texans were completely responsible and have only themselves to blame.
Deflating? Of course. Concerning? Yes. But if the Texans play New England again, the problems, at least on paper, are theoretically fixable. Especially if it's in Houston.
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Here's a look at the plays where everything went wrong. On each occasion, consider how easily things could have gone the other way.
1.) New England 1st-and-goal, Houston 4-yard line. First quarter, 10:20 (Patriots 0, Texans 0). Earl Mitchell ripped the ball away from Steven Ridley in a pile, and Kareem Jackson had an easy of a recovery as he will ever see. But instead of falling on it, Jackson tried to pick it up and run. Aaron Hernandez ended up recovering for the Patriots, and scored the go-ahead touchdown on the next play. Seven gift points.
2.) Houston 2nd-and-8, New England 21-yard line. First quarter, 2:49 (Patriots 7, Texans 0). Matt Schaub found himself near a tying score, and had Arian Foster wide open on a checkdown for what almost assuredly would've been a touchdown. Foster was completely unchecked. Instead, Schaub forced it into double coverage and was picked off by in the end zone Devin McCourty. Seven points off the board.
3.) New England 3rd-and-10, own 43-yard line. Second quarter, 12:22 (Patriots 14, Texans 0). Tom Brady overthrows Wes Welker by almost 10 yards on a deep out pattern. Houston safety Danieal Manning makes incidental contact. Pass interference is called to extend the drive, even though the rule explicitly states that a ball must be catchable for that specific penalty. Without the call, the Patriots assuredly punt. With it, they score a touchdown three plays later. Seven gift points.
4.) Houston 4th-and-5, New England 33-yard line. Second quarter, 4:44 (Patriots 21, Texans 0). About a year ago, a study found that Kevin Walter had the best hands in the NFL, judging by number of drops. On a fourth down late in the first half, Gary Kubiak made the aggressive and correct call to go for it. Schaub hit Walter directly in the hands. Dropped. With the catch, the Texans would've had a very realistic shot at making the lead manageable heading into the half.
5.) New England 2nd-and-10, Houston 27-yard line. Fourth quarter, 14:15 (Patriots 28, Texans 7). Danny Woodhead takes a screen pass from Tom Brady and allows J.J. Watt to poke it out at the 11. Predictably, the fumble somehow lands in the lap of New England receiver Brandon Lloyd in the end zone. It was the second time the Patriots fumbled inside the 10, and both ended up leading to touchdowns.
None of this excuses Matt Schaub from his worst outing of the season (68.8 QB rating). None of it excuses Gary Kubiak for stubbornly sticking with the run game despite clear evidence it wasn't working (Arian Foster rushed 14 times for only 31 yards after the first play of the game). None of it excuses the defense for the missed assignments and disastrous performance of the first three New England drives.
There are significant issues to correct.
However, the vast majority are fixable and unlikely to be repeated -- especially in Reliant Stadium. Just think about how differently Monday night's game in Foxboro could have gone if even three of those five go in a different direction.
They didn't, and the Texans must regroup in a hurry. With only a one-game lead over New England, the Texans essentially need to win out to secure home-field advantage. They have six days to compose themselves and overcome the upstart Colts (9-4) in Houston.
If they do that, though -- and remember, a week after the embarrassment against Green Bay, the Texans throttled Baltimore in a season-best performance -- the Texans will have every opportunity to redeem themselves in January. This time in Reliant Stadium.
Need more evidence? December 21, 2008. Patriots 47, Cardinals 7 (in Foxboro). Six weeks later, the Cardinals played in the Super Bowl.
It's hard to be supremely confident, but it's not as bleak as it might seem.
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