By Danny Cox
While many thought the divisional round match-up against the Houston Texans was going to be an easy win for the Patriots, the playoffs have a way of bringing out the best in teams while causing others to falter under pressure. The Houston Texans may not have brought their best, but they forced the Patriots to make mistakes; New England looked nowhere near as dominant as they had all season.
Still, the Patriots used strengths in other positions even when some of their more dominating players couldn’t deliver. New England won by the score of 34-16, but some problems need to be corrected before next week’s AFC Championship game.
Tom Brady had his worst game of the season and it came at the worst possible time. Brady finished the night with 287 yards on 18-of-38 passing with two touchdowns. He also threw two interceptions, but both of them bounced off of his receivers hands and into the hands of defenders. The blame can be placed on a couple of different factors there, but Brady was hit and pressured throughout the day as his protection just seemed off.
With a lead throughout the game, the Patriots never abandoned the running game, but they couldn’t get it going, either. Dion Lewis played well in the return game, but he had just 41 yards on 13 carries. LeGarrette Blount was hardly heard from at all with just 31 yards on a mere eight carries.
It was a good day for the Patriots defense, even though it wasn’t perfect. They allowed the Texans just 285 yards of total offense and were able to force three turnovers while sacking Brock Osweiler three times. Osweiler was tormented all night as he threw three interceptions, all to different Patriots defenders.
Lamar Miller rushed for only 73 yards while DeAndre Hopkins led the team with 65 yards on six receptions. The Texans could not capitalize on the turnovers and that is due in large part to players such as Donta Hightower, Logan Ryan and Alan Branch stepping up and pushing back.
Special Teams: A+
If not for special teams, this game may have ended up very differently. Stephen Gostkowski hit all four of his extra points and nailed two field goals with a long of 43 yards. Ryan Allen was on point with his kicking as well, as he punted six times and pinned the Texans inside their own 20-yard-line on four of those occasions to give them long fields over and over again.
The star of the day, though, was Dion Lewis, who had three kick returns, one of which was simply beautiful. Right after the Texans had pulled within four points late in the first quarter, Lewis took the kickoff, broke a couple of tackles, and sprinted 98 yards for the touchdown to give New England a bigger cushion.
Anyone watching this game could tell that things looked off for the New England Patriots, and it didn’t look like a Bill Belichick-coached team. Everyone makes mistakes, but the Pats appeared to make all of them in this game. Maybe the blame can be placed on the bye week making them a bit rusty, or perhaps it was just time for the Pats to have a bad showing. Whatever the case, they still pulled it together and managed to advance.
Now New England awaits the results of the late Sunday night game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs to see who they will face in the AFC Championship. Both of those teams are two of the best that the conference has to offer, and if they’re going to head to another Super Bowl, the Pats need to correct tonight’s mistakes in a hurry.