ESPN analyst Eric Mangini, the former disciple of Patriots head coach Bill Belichick who is now persona non grata in New England for his role in exposing the Patriots illegal video taping scheme in 2007, often says that games are lost more often than they are won in the NFL. In other words, the losing team often beats themselves by virtue of their own turnovers, penalties and mistakes.
But the Texans made the job easier for the Patriots. Though the Texans still have the AFC's best record, their thumping at the hands of the Patriots proves to many that the road to the Super Bowl still goes through Foxborough.
Even if the Texans win out and earn the No. 1 seed, the Patriots would have to be favored in a potential rematch down in Houston in the AFC playoffs.
Although the final score rightly indicates that the Patriots pounded the Texans, there were several key Texans errors that swung the game the Patriots way. On the Texans first play of the game, a big run was negated by an illegal formation penalty. On the Patriots first scoring drive, running back Steven Ridley fumbled the ball, and the Texans let an easy recovery slip through their hands. The Patriots scored on the next play, and the rout was on.
The Texans were driving with a chance to tie the game on their second possession when quarterback Matt Schaub forced a ball into the end zone that was intercepted by safety Devin McCourty. The replay showed that running back Arian Foster was wide open underneath for a possible touchdown on what appeared to be a blown coverage by either linebacker Jerod Mayo or Dont'a Hightower.
On the Patriots third touchdown drive, a questionable pass-interference call extended the drive after it appeared the Texans made a key third-down stop. The call might not have been right, but why put the referees in a position to have to make that call in the first place?
A drop by receiver Kevin Walters on a critical fourth down play late in the first half killed any hope of a miracle comeback. The Texans defense finally began to slow down the Patriots' passing attack by playing tighter coverage and pressuring quarterback Tom Brady more, but then Brady blew the top off of the defense with a 63-yard bomb to recently signed Donte Stallworth to send the Texans packing.
Had the Texans recovered the Ridley fumble, not turned the ball over on their second drive and not committed that questionable pass interference penalty, they still would have lost the game. However, they gave themselves no chance by playing this poorly against the class of the NFL.
Schaub also missed several other open receivers throughout the game with inaccurate reads and a few poor throws.
The Texans might not be good enough to beat the Patriots straight up, but they certainly aren't good enough to beat them if they don't play their best game.
Since the acquisition of cornerback Aqib Talib, the Patriots defense has become more willing to blitz and play man-to-man coverage underneath. The more aggressive scheme has made them a formidable defense and, thus, a complete football team. Since trading for Talib, the Patriots have held their opponents to 24, 19, 16 and 14 points over the last four weeks, an average of 18 points allowed per game.
Even with the improvement in the Patriots defense since the Talib acquisition, there are still plays out there to be made against this unit. The interception and two turnovers-on-downs in Patriots territory in the first half showed that the Patriots will still let the opposition move the ball down the field.
If the Texans are to win a potential rematch, they'll certainly have to finish drives much better than they did Monday night.
Two years ago the Patriots appeared to be the class of the AFC after a 45-3 dismantling of the New York Jets on Monday Night Football. Six weeks later, the Jets returned to Foxborough and upset the Patriots 28-21 in the Divisional Round of the AFC playoffs. Thus, there is a blueprint for the Texans to follow to return the favor to the Patriots.
Yet on Monday night, the Patriots proved that they are the best team in the AFC at present. If the Patriots defense can continue to get off the field like they have in recent weeks, the rest of the NFL is in for real trouble the rest of the way this season.