We've had ample experience this season with the Houston Texans losing games by twenty or more points, having sat through viewing the debacles in Atlanta and Miami earlier in the year. Those games were a God awful affront to football, and to effort, and to everything that makes our country great. The Texans showed up for those games unprepared and uninspired, and the end result was an embarrassing final score made slightly less embarrassing by the fact that the Falcons and Dolphins didn't really give a shit for most of the second half.
Sunday night, the Texans again lost by more than 20 points (21, to be exact), this time to the New England Patriots, 27-6. However, unlike those previous boat races, the Texans didn't come into this game looking unprepared or unmotivated. They were prepared (poorly, possibly, but at least there appeared to be a plan), and they played hard. They just ran into a much better football team who, slowly but surely, ground them into dust.
When you come at the king, you best not miss. On Sunday, the Texans missed at the worst possible times, and the Patriots made them pay. These stats only tell part of the story:
TOTAL YARDS: Patriots 313, Texans 189
FIRST DOWNS: Patriots 18, Texans 7
TIME OF POSSESSION: Patriots 35:14, Texans 24:46
The other part gets told when you watch the game and are able to ascertain the nuance. There were three or four key turning points in this game. The Patriots won all of them, took the Texans to school, and wound up hanging them by their underwear waistband on the jungle gym.
Let's get to some winners and losers….
4. Jadeveon Clowney
If you're a Texans fan, there were three (and ONLY three) bright spots in this game:
1. The coaching staff appears to have finally realized (four weeks after the rest of the city) that Alfred Blue is a walking concession to "2nd and 9" when given the ball on first down. Thus, wisely, the coaching staff opted not to give him the ball on any downs.
2. Of the four remaining games heading into last night, this was mathematically the least important of the four. The road to the postseason still runs through Indianapolis next week, same way it would have if the Texans had won. If the Texans lose next weekend, their margin for error is gone, and they'll need the Colts to lose their final two games, as well.
3. We finally saw Clowney get on the stat sheet in a big way. The first of his two sacks came when the game was still sort of within reach, and saw him split two blockers on a 3rd and 2 deep in Patriots territory. The second sack was some gravy. If we consider this Clowney's de facto rookie season, then coincidentally this was about the same time the light went on for J.J. Watt in his rookie year. Worth watching.
3. Rob Gronkowski
For most of the week, it appeared doubtful that Gronk would suit up for this game. Then came a couple practices late in the week. Then came news that he would play, sprinkled with speculation that it would be mostly as a decoy. (This decoy news was still enough to move the line a full two points from -3.5 to -5.5.) Of course, we saw what happened — the Patriots used Gronkowski exactly how they would if he'd been healthy the last two weeks, on plays down the field and on a jump ball over a woefully overmatched Quintin Demps for a touchdown. So now Gronk's back, and with Denver and Cincinnati both struggling with QB issues, the AFC odds board should tilt way into New England's favor this week.
2. Fun tie breakers
The good news is that the Jaguars smoked the Colts on Sunday 51-16, and in the process, may have knocked out QB Matt Hasselbeck for this week's game against the Texans, setting up a possible T.J. Yates/Charlie Whitehurst tilt for control of the AFC South, which is a little like Jack Swagger and one of the Lucha Dragons headlining a WWE pay per view. The bad news is that the Jags' win may have foiled my complicated tiebreaker scenario in the AFC South, which I outlined last week. I think I'm one of like four people in Houston who understood it fully, so I just became less valuable. Thanks for nothing, Hasselbeck.
1. Patriots doing "Patriot things"
If you're looking for one sequence in this game that was "positively Patriot," look no further than the last few minutes of the first half. The Texans started with the ball down 10-6 with 4:15 left on their own three yard line, the result of a poor decision by Cecil Shorts III to let the ball roll on a punt. Needing a couple first downs just to run clock and flip field position, the Texans went three and out, and the third down play was a Ryan Griffin drop on 3rd and 3. The Patriots got the ball back at the Texans 41 after a 12 yard Keshawn Martin punt return (yes, THAT Keshawn Martin). A few plays later, the Texans had the chance to hold the Pats to a field goal if they got off the field on a 3rd and 9. Instead, Johnathan Joseph allows a huge cushion to Brandon LaFell, the Pats convert down to the Texans one yard line, and eventually score on the Gronk TD. At that juncture, with the Patriots getting the ball to start the second half, the difference between 13-6 and 17-6 was huge.
4. Texans doing "Texan things"
The Texans' last opening to get back into the game came following a Keshawn Martin fumbled punt return (yes, THAT Keshawn Martin again!) with about ten minutes to go in the third quarter, giving the Texans the ball at the Pats' 21 yard line. Four plays later, the Texans went out meekly on a 4th and 4, trying to get a first down instead of taking the easy field goal, which would have made the score 20-9. I actually agreed with O'Brien's call to go for it on fourth down (they needed sevens, not threes), but the execution was what it was all night — crap.
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3. Derek Newton
Back in 2012, Derek Newton was a struggling first year starter at right tackle, and like the rest of the team, had to endure multiple beatdowns at the hands of the Patriots. Well, for Newton, Sunday night was deja vu on every level, not just getting whooped by the Pats again, but for him personally, it was a vintage (not the good kind of vintage) Newton performance. The line gave up six sacks, Newton was a turnstile, and Hoyer ended the evening in the concussion protocol. Bad night for a guy who's actually become a solid right tackle.
2. J.J. Watt's club hand
J.J. Watt downplayed his broken left hand last week. My guess is he will downplay it again this week. I'm guessing the coaches will also say that Watt's club hand isn't why they lost the game. Sure, there were a lot of reasons they lost the game, but make no mistake, J.J. Watt's inability to use his hands in tight quarters is one of them. This is going to be a problem this weekend, just watch.
1. Brian Hoyer
There was a famous cut from Hard Knocks this past summer in which Bill O'Brien called the Texans the "Almost Team," basically saying they almost make plays, they almost make key tackles, they almost made the playoffs. Well, if they're the "Almost Team," then Hoyer is their perfect quarterback. Hoyer is just good enough to win a few games to where you build up hope for a night like Sunday, and then we saw what happens. Even throw to throw, there's something just a little bit off about Hoyer's throws compared to above average NFL starting QB's. Some of these drops by receivers and tight ends are because the ball is just a little bit too low or behind a receiver, and honestly, what good is having Nate Washington run deep if he needs to back track to come back to the ball because Hoyer is underthrowing him? I'll be glad when this veteran hodge podge era of Texans QB play is over, hopefully next season.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.