Tim O’Sullivan: Don’t be fooled, lots of red flags for Patriots
Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (99) fights off the block of New England Patriots center Ryan Wendell (62) during the first quarter of an NFL football game in Foxborough, Mass., Monday, Dec. 10, 2012. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick instructs his team during the third quarter of an NFL football game against the Houston Texans in Foxborough, Mass., Monday, Dec. 10, 2012. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »
It’s been a boisterous week in New England. Patriot
fans, and even some analysts, have been all puffed chests and big talk since the Texans squeaked by the lowly Bengals last Sunday to set up a rematch with the mighty Pats.
The 42-14 beating New England handed to Houston just four weeks is still fresh in everyone’s head. We’ve all seen what Tom Brady and Bill Belichick can do against the Texas pretenders, and it’s hard to fathom the Patriots actually losing in today’s sequel, the playoff version.
Yes, New England should be confident. The Pats are the clear favorite, from Las Vegas to Bristol, Conn. But the fans and team shouldn’t just be assured by that regular-season blowout, they should also be worried about it.
First, as many of the pessimists (or is it pragmatists?) in Patriot Nation have recalled this week, the team went through a nearly identical situation just two years ago. New England throttled the Jets, 45-3, on Dec. 6, 2010, finished the season 14-2, earned a first-round bye, got a rematch with New York in the divisional round and lost, 14-3.
Like the Houston game this year, that Jets game was on a Monday night, and the Patriots humiliated both New York and the Texans in front of national audiences. It only stands to reason that revenge is on the table the second time around, and what better place for payback than the playoffs? Which brings us to another reason New England might want to proceed with a little more caution into round two with the Texans.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, teams that lost in the regular season by more than 27 points are 11-11 in playoff rematches. So what the Jets did two years ago wasn’t some one-in-a-million fluke. It only makes sense that a team is going to fight harder and play with an edge against an opponent that humiliated it before, and if that team is a playoff team, then it must have some talent and, of course, it has a chance to turn the tables.
And whether they’ve won the regular-season meeting or not, the Patriots have had trouble with postseason rematches in recent years. After winning their first 10 playoff games with Brady and Belichick working together, the Pats are 6-6 in their last 12, and all six of those losses were rematches of regular-season games: 2005 at Denver, 2006 at Indianapolis, 2007 Giants, 2009 Baltimore, 2010 Jets and 2011 Giants.
Taking a closer look at those last four teams that beat the Patriots in the postseason should also raise some red flags. All four of them were good to very good defensive teams with offenses that could control the clock. When Houston has been good this year, that’s exactly how it plays. And even if last week’s 19-13 playoff win over the Bengals wasn’t a thing of beauty, the Texans played their style of football.
“We came out and played Texans football, we had gotten away from that,” Houston tackle Duane Brown told espn.com’s Paul Kuharsky this week. “We came out and played great defense, running the ball, controlling the clock, making more plays than the other team. We got our confidence back, we got our faith back. That’s what we needed heading into this game.”
Sure, the Patriots run defense has been good this year and stymied the Texans in the first meeting. But is it really hard to imagine Arian Foster breaking loose today and doing a few namaste bows in the Foxborough end zones? No, it isn’t. Just like it isn’t hard to imagine Stevan Ridley or Shane Vereen coughing up a few more fumbles, or J.J. Watt finding a way to get to Brady, or Andre Johnson getting the best of Aqib Talib in their personal rematch.
There are plenty of ways for the Texans to win this game, and plenty of past examples that say it’s possible. That’s the bad news for Pats fans. The goods news is Brady and Belichick are well aware of the past, especially their own. They haven’t forgotten those six rematch losses, they know the Texans have talent, they understand nothing is given.
“I think there’s a lot to be concerned about. They’ve got a great front, some very experienced players at linebacker, a very athletic secondary. You saw what they did last week playing at home against Cincinnati there in the first half was pretty impressive. There are a lot of challenges for us, certainly from my standpoint,” said Brady, who also added during his press conference on Wednesday, “They’re going to give us (their) best game and we’re going to try to give them our best game. It will be a good game,” and, “The playoffs are different than the regular season. This is just a very different game.”
Belichick, too, has made it clear that his team must use everything it’s learned and done this year in today’s game, that the focus must be that complete.
“This is what we work all year for. We worked all year since the end of last season to get back to this point – all the team planning, the (organized team activities), the minicamps, the meetings, the walk-throughs, the preseason games, the practices, the regular season. It’s all for this,” Belichick said.
“We fought all those battles. We’ve gone down a long road and we’re one of the final eight teams in the National Football League this year. For us to continue, we’re going to have to play our best game. But that’s what we’ve worked for, to be in this spot. We embrace it.”
(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3371 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)