Patriots-Texans: Five Reasons a Rematch Could Be Different in January

Categories: Football, Sports

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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.

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.

Conclusions

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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18 comments
acmilan
acmilan

So, basically, not that you are looking for lame excuses but here is a list of 5 of them? Ben, if you wanna be taken seriously as a writer, I cannot suggest strongly enough staying away from "sour-grape' articles like this one. Nobody was born a winner - the diff between losers and winners is that the latter, when they need to see the reason for their failures, they look in the mirror ... the former, they just look around.

What it comes down to in the end is "situational football", as Belichik likes to put it. So, as a homework assignment, try finding one game the outcome of which didn't come down to one team making better off with given situations than their opponent. Good luck with that.

taghkanic
taghkanic

#1 thing that will be different next time: The Patriots will have Rob Gronkowski back.

But hey, things might have gone differently.

So let's take away one of those Patriots touchdowns.

Now it's 35-14.

OK, take away two of those Patriots touchdowns.

Now it's 28-14.

Still not enough.

Let's take away three of those Patriots touchdowns.

Now it's 21-14.Fine—let's take away FOUR of those Patriots touchdowns. 

Tie game: 14-14!

Except that if the game were close, rookie Ryan Mallett wouldn't have been in the game for Brady. So take away that Texans touchdown.

Final score 14-7.

Oh, well.

Kylejack
Kylejack topcommenter

If a frog had wings, it wouldn't bump its ass when it hops.

BenDuBose
BenDuBose

I'm not Gary Kubiak. Yes, the Texans themselves need to focus on their own errors, of which there were plenty. There's no "excuses" here. The Texans didn't make the plays and deserved to lose.

What I'm looking at, as a writer, is how likely it is to occur again in January. Many of those errors were uncharacteristic for an 11-2 team with the best record in football. Off the top of my head,one example is (albeit college) Alabama-LSU a year ago. In the first matchup, Alabama missed four field goals and had a fumble on the 1-yard line, among other self-inflicted mistakes. In the second, those mistakes weren't made and the final score flipped by 24 points.

As for the comparison to the Texans-Lions game, you're absolutely right. The Texans were fairly fortunate that day, and I'm not convinced they'd necessarily win a second time if the teams played again in Detroit. When you look at what might happen in a rematch, you need to go beyond merely what the final score of the first game was and also consider how the teams got there.

maal
maal

I don't believe in "what ifs", especially in a 28 point loss.  If you didn't make the plays, then you didn't make the plays, take the loss and keep it moving.  "What if" the refs had actually called the Houston RB down by contact like they were supposed to in the Thanksgiving day game against the Lions?  The Texans would be at 10-3 instead of 11-2.  This game was more than a few missed opportunities, the Pats were the better team last night, no need to reach for excuses. 

rcarltoncatman
rcarltoncatman

You think next time the Patriots play the Texans it will be different because the Texans will recover fumbles? How often do the Patriots fumble?  Isn't every game in the NFL decided by the execution of a handful of plays? 

sancho
sancho

I really think the Texans coaching staff was playing this game close to the vest.  The play calling was even more conservative than usual- they started the game running the ball 5 straight times- and they ran very little of what is usually standard play action bootlegs.  I feel like it's pretty obvious the coaches didn't want to give the Pats coaches anything on film.  Defensively Wade really tried to do some different things with personnel that haven't been there very long.

All in all, this was basically a meaningless game if the Texans win out, which should happen, and I think the coaching staff knew that and coached like they knew that.  They have their eyes on the big picture and are preparing for bigger things than a meaningless game in Foxboro.

Keep calm.  We got this.

BenDuBose
BenDuBose

@acmilan I've been in this field and writing for a living for quite a while, so that's serious enough for me. If you want to be taken seriously as a person, perhaps you should realize how ridiculous it sounds to make yourself the authority and ultimate judge on the "difference" between losers and winners.

PS: Duh, every game depends on one team making better off with given situations than their opponent. However, in terms of predictive value, much can be gained from examining HOW those situations came to me and whether they are likely to happen again. 

BenDuBose
BenDuBose

@taghkanic Not how it works. Entire complexion of the game and its playcalling changes if the Texans aren't playing from a 21-0 hole. Houston's offense thrives on balance and unpredictability, and having to spread the field and throw excessively does not play to its strength.

Ask the 2010 New York Jets how much their December beatdown on Monday night in New England meant when they met again in January.

acmilan
acmilan

@BenDuBose you are forgetting one, well, two actually  very important differences. Between the Texans and the Pats, the team accustomed to performing at the big scene is the Pats, not the Texans - just like Alabama vs LSU, respectively. 

that jets game in 2010 you guys seem to have staked all hopes on, the Pats, more precisely Belichik, made a number of uncharacteristic decisions/mistakes that resulted in their eventual demise. More importantly, however, that was a game between two divisional rivals and those are always tricky.

If I were a Texan fan, I would be a lot more concerned with my team coming short, yet again, before a high-profile challenge as that is now becoming a bit of a pattern with the Texans, just like with Atlanta. At this point, one can only guess how lasting an impression something like this can have on the players' psychic.   

BenDuBose
BenDuBose

@maal Never said they weren't the better team last night. Of course they were.

acmilan
acmilan

@sancho The Texans' record is what 11-2? You know what that means? It means there are already 12 other full games of film on the Texans (including in desperation mode) from this season alone. Considering the Texans offense hasn't changed one bit for 2-3 years now - when it comes to main personnel - you can easily add another 20 games to that too.

Not to mention the Patriots would have Gronkowski back for a possible rematch.

As for this whole "played the game close to the vest" argument, that's just wishful thinking. The Texans were the ones that had everything to prove in a game like this vs an opponent of such caliber. They had to prove that Kubiak, Schaub and the team as a whole can deal with high expectations and situations requiring big-stick mentality. If anything, they left Foxboro with a lot more questions and doubts than they brought with them.

One other thing - that drubbing the Texans got from the Pack, back then could have been written off as an accident or a coincidence. The one the Pats gave you makes it a pattern, so look for much more lasting impressions in the weeks to come. 

While I agree that a possible rematch will be likely a closer game, the claim that the Texans were just being devious in bending over like that is just grasping at straws at its most desperate.

taghkanic
taghkanic

@BenDuBose @taghkanic So remind us again why Texans players were saying this was the biggest game in franchise history, since evidently the results are meaningless?

It goes without saying that the tempo and narrative of the game could be different with a different sequence of events. But that cuts both ways—the Patriots could get more breaks, not less.

Houston looked like scared rookies out there. Those of us who thought this was going to be very close (I predicted NE 27-26) were stunned at how shellshocked Houston looked throughout.

BenDuBose
BenDuBose

@acmilan This is rich. You're blasting me for writing an article mentioning the uncharacteristic decisions and mistakes the Texans made, while simultaneously using that very rationale to dismiss a Patriots scenario as unlikely to happen again.

The Texans were every bit as embarrassed in primetime against Green Bay, then rebounded seven days later with their best performance of the year in an extremely high-profile game with Baltimore. The psyche is going to be fine. Just going to come down to execution.

BenDuBose
BenDuBose

@taghkanic ONE counterexample? There's another in the article itself - Arizona 2008. I can find you numerous others, if you wish.

Your apparent jedi masters of football, Brady and Belichick, haven't won a ring in eight years. They've routinely come up short in the playoffs, twice against Giants teams that they were favored against. What happened to their preparation and discipline then?

We can go a bit further back, too. Prior to the most recent Super Bowl loss, the Patriots' last THREE postseason  losses - January 2011 to the Jets, January 2010 to the Ravens, and February 2008 to the Giants - ALL came in rematches against teams the Pats beat in the regular season. What happened there? 

PS: the Texans in the playoffs will probably be playing at Reliant Stadium, not Foxboro. That's every bit as important as Gronk.

taghkanic
taghkanic

@BenDuBose @taghkanic Hanging an entire argument on one counterexample (Jets 2009) is a pretty fragile lifeline here. That’s more like the exception that proves the rule: Namely, that history shows it gets *harder* to beat Bill Belichick in a second meeting, not easier.

With all that gamefilm available, and three more other Texan games to watch before the playoffs, the smart money will be on Belichick out-analyzing and out strategizing Houston again, like he did this past week.

My previous point was that while one or two things might have broken Texas’ way, this was such a severe blowout that Houston needed about six major things to break the opposite way.

Some plays are coinflips—like the Watt forced fumble, which could have wound up in a Texans' hands just as easily as in Lloyd’s, though some would argue that the Patriots' preparation and discipline makes these more like 60-40 chances in their favor.

Other things are not coinflips... Like how the Houston center is going to avoid getting completely mauled on almost every play by Vince Wilfork.

Or how the Texans bit on almost every playfake. Houston can adjust for that in a future meeting, but Belichick and Brady are jedi masters at adjustment. If the Texans do learn to hold back, you may see a lot more draw plays than playfakes.

Sure, anything can happen in any given game. I would expect a future matchup to be closer—it could hardly be more of a blowout. But even if there is a serious reversion to the mean, the Patriots would be favored based on how thoroughly demolished Texas was last night.

And as before, the Pats in the playoffs will haveb back the best TE in the league, the unstoppable Gronk. But that key item gets ignored by those looking for a pie-in-the-sky, consolation scenario.

BenDuBose
BenDuBose

@taghkanic I don't pay too much attention to the "biggest game" quotes. They said similar things during Baltimore week. They're just giving reporters what they want to hear. I hate to keep going back to the well on Jets examples, but there were countless times in 2009 and 2010 that Rex Ryan said quotes like that, the team ended up losing big, and still found themselves in the AFC title game.

Bottom line is that from here on out, they're all big and they know it. Just comes down to execution. Certainly agree that it cuts both ways and the Patriots could get even more breaks. I'm just pointing out that there is a plausible scenario for it to go the other way, and the result isn't necessarily the SEASON-ENDING DOOM that a few are making it out to be.

acmilan
acmilan

@BenDuBose @acmilan How about now? Feel like taking another stab at it?

you see, the Pats had and have a history of performing well in high profile games, which makes that game vs the Jets an exception. Unlike them, the Texans don't have such history ... actually, if anything, they have shown time and again that they come up short when the going gets tough and stakes get high. That makes the games vs Green bay and the Pats this year more of a rule, not the exception.

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