It takes an entire afternoon to win or lose a football game. Both are processes that ultimately take the full 60 minutes worth of game clock. However, in most games, you can point to a sequence of plays, or perhaps multiple mini-sequences, that ultimately prove to be the most pivotal in deterring the outcome of a game. The Texans learned this the hard way (again) against the Patriots on Sunday afternoon.
More specifically, they learned the most painfully obvious lesson you can learn playing against Bill Belichick and Tom Brady — BEWARE THE LAST TWO MINUTES OF THE HALF. At the two minute warning of the first half of Sunday's 27-20 Texans loss to New England, the Texans had the ball at their own 47 yard line facing a 2nd and 8. At the time, they were down 14-6, so they were 53 yards away from a chance to head into halftime tied at 14. Not bad considering how badly they'd floundered in the first half.
However, instead of a spirited drive to deadlock the game, here's what ensued:
2:00 — 2nd and 8, HOU 47, Texans ball — FALSE START, Ryan Griffin
2:00 — 2nd and 13, HOU 42, Texans ball — BLOCK IN THE BACK, Sammie Coates
Before they even ran a play from scrimmage, they were pushed back five yards on a Griffin flash start. and then on the next play, Coates negated a decent gain by DeAndre Hopkins with a block in the back. So the Texans went from 2nd and 8 to 2nd and 23, thanks to penalties by two pass catchers who collectively caught as many passes as I did on Sunday.
1:52 — 2nd and 23, HOU 32, Texans ball — Draw play, Lamar Miller for 4 yards
So what do you do when faced with 2nd and 23? If you're Bill O'Brien, you run a draw play jump the middle. Yes, OI'Brien used his third down "give up" play on second down.
1:39 — 4th and 7, HOU 48, Texans ball — Trevor Daniel 30 yard punt is partially blocked by Jeremy Hill
After a Tyler Ervin screen pass got the ball back near midfield, the Texans chose to punt, and in one of the few poor special teams plays for the Texans Sunday, they allowed Jeremy Hill to deflect Trevor Daniel's punt and it rolled to a stop after 30 yards.
1:28 — 1st and 10, NE 22, Patriots ball — Jeremy Hill 8 yard run off left guard
Hill followed his punt block with a nice run up the middle for eight yards. Texans defensive tackle Angelo Blackson was the victim on this run.
1:08 — 2nd and 2, NE 30, Patriots ball — Jeremy Hill 11 yard run off left tackle
And again, on second down, Hill scampered through a gigantic hole on the left side, as Jadeveon Clowney and Blackson were plundered by the Patriots' front. Bad sequence for Blackson. Two runs that were way too easy to allow the Patriots to get out near midfield.
1:05 — 1st and 10, NE 41, Patriots ball — Brady to Gronkowski for 28 yards
Here we go — the play that had everyone talking after the game into today. Gronkowski makes what looks like a tremendous catch in double coverage. However, the replay shows that the play was probably an incomplete pass. Because it happens in the final two minutes of the half, O'Brien cannot challenge the play, the replay review must be initiated by the league's mission control. The Patriots successfully scurry to the line to snap the ball so the league won't have time to review the play. O'Brien proceeds to get destroyed by everyone for not using one of his three timeouts to stop the game and allow the league to catch up with their review. After the game, he chides to the media saying "it's not his job" to call timeout and help the league get the call right. O'Brien gets roundly destroyed from every angle Sunday night and Monday morning, and starts his Monday press conference off with this explanation of what happened....
So in that situation, O'Brien saw the downside of stopping the clock for the Patriots as more important than the upside of getting back 28 yards of field position. Disturbing, if you're a Texans fan.
0:42 — 1st and 10, HOU 31, Patriots ball — Kareem Jackson forces Rex Burkhead fumble, Patriots recover
The one play in this sequence in which the Texans nearly made a play, just bad luck as Kareem Jackson's fumble forced wound up in the arms of Patriots receiver Chris Hogan.
0:31 — 2nd and 9, HOU 30, Patriots ball — Phillip Dorsett 12-yard catch along left sideline
For some reason, the Texans' defense went completely soft down in (and just outside of) the red zone, as Dorsett made three catches. First, this one with Johnathan Joseph covering him....
0:23 — 1st and 10, HOU 18, Patriots ball — Phillip Dorsett easy 14-yard catch
....then this one in front of Kevin Johnson.....
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0:14 — 1st and goal, HOU 4, Patriots ball — Phillip Dorsett 4-yard TD catch
....and finally, this one with the beleaguered Johnson in coverage, and I'm being very loose in saying Johnson was "covering" Dorsett. So someone finally made Dorsett look like a first round pick, and it was Kevin Johnson. (I wish someone would make Johnson look like a first round pick.)
Patriots 21, Texans 6.
Yeah, there were another 30 minutes left in the game, and the Texans fought back to lose by seven. But they were held at double digit margin bay for most of the afternoon, and this was where the Patriots took control of the game. The game was lost in the final two minutes of the first half.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.