By: Jake Mackey
The New England Patriots have advanced for the sixth straight season to the AFC Championship game, setting an NFL record previously held by the John Madden lead Oakland Raiders. Looking at the scoreboard from Saturday’s divisional round game, you would have thought the Patriots rolled Houston for 60-minutes as is the norm when the two teams face off. The previous three match ups when these two franchises faced off in Foxborough were decided by an average of 22.6 points, all with New England on the winning side. However, for the majority of the second and third quarters the Houston Texans had the Patriots offense, and more specifically Tom Brady, on their heels.
The Houston defense hit Tom Brady eight times over the course of the evening, with fifth-year linebacker Whitney Mercilus leading the way with three quarterback hits. The hit stats do not do the Houston defense justice either. After the Patriots offense scored twice in the first quarter and the defense forced a three and out, Tom Brady made a poor throw ahead of receiver Michael Floyd which fell into the hands of Texans cornerback A.J Bouye.
After that interception Brady was shaky and uneasy for two quarters as the Houston front seven was in his face virtually every down. It was not anything special either which is the concerning part. Houston was bringing simple three and four man rushes, and they were just flat out beating the Patriots offensive line which was a stable force throughout the regular season. That pressure from the front seven along with the solid coverage from the Houston secondary, and the abysmal turnovers by the Patriots (two from Brady) kept the score close for 45-minutes of football.
In the fourth quarter order was restored as the Patriots offense received some well needed breathing room thanks two three second half interceptions by the defense (McCourty, Ryan, Harmon, go Rutgers). Then before you knew it, the Patriots were up 18 with 6:37 to go and the game was in the bag.
While the Patriots still covered the massive 16-point spread in this contest, it was certainly not pretty, and the rest of the NFL saw that the Patriots can be humanized just like in years past. Once again the league saw that the way to beat the Patriots in the postseason is to simply beat up the Patriots offensive line with three and four man rushes. The Giants did it twice, Baltimore did it twice, and Denver did it last January hitting Brady more than any quarterback had been hit in a game since 2006. The only reason Houston could not have any success is because their offense is putrid and kept giving the Patriots the ball back.
The question now becomes, does either Kansas City or Pittsburgh have the personnel up front to get after Brady along with an offense that can control the game. Most would say Kansas City has the defense to do so, and Pittsburgh has the offense but neither have both. To that I say yes on Pittsburgh, just look at Brady’s career stats against their defense he carves them up. In terms of Kansas City, Alex Smith is about as average as it gets.
However, lets not forget last year’s divisional round game against Kansas City in Foxborough when the Patriots defense allowed 12 third down conversions to Alex Smith. The Patriots were able to get out with a 27-20 victory because their offense controlled the game thanks to seven receptions, for 83 yards, and two touchdowns from Rob Gronkowski.
Number 87 will not be on the field for the Patriots next Sunday and we could already see how much the offense missed him in spurts against Houston. Therefore, I would hold off on saying that the Patriots do not need him to win the Super Bowl just yet, because Martellus Bennett’s one reception for four yards would tell you otherwise that they have the Gronk replacement.
Just remember back to Gronkowski’s Michael Jordan type moment in the AFC Championship last season on the games final drive, when the offense needed big plays and he made them, and he was in position to tie the game up but Brady opted to throw into triple coverage instead. If the offense gets put in that same position next Sunday, whose is going to be able to step up in that way? Saturday night against Houston showed us that they do not have that type of weapon on offense and that is concerning going forward.
Posted on December 1st, 2016: https://beantownblitz.wordpress.com/2016/12/01/so-long-to-gronk-and-another-patriots-season/