In a match-up that was advertised as the game of the year, the Patriots turned in a dominating performance against the Houston Texans, winning 42-14, and putting themselves in position to make a run for the number one seed.
The Patriots crushed the Texans out of the gate, scoring touchdowns on all three of their drives to begin the game. The offense had a pretty terrific game overall, despite a few hitches in the second and third quarters. Quarterback Tom Brady was proficient. He looked sharp on his throws, avoided turnovers, and connected on several deep throws. Unfortunately, he did struggle a bit in the late second and early third quarters, as the protection seemed to break down temporarily, with Brady seemingly getting hit on every play.
It was really nice to see Brady and Brandon Lloyd also get their connection brewing. Lloyd caught seven throws for 89 yards and a touchdown (also had a fourth quarter fumble recovery for a touchdown). He looked quick. And more importantly, he looked to be on the same page with Brady.
One more note on the offense: can you believe that they've been this good without their best weapon after Brady? People are quick to forget that Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez (who also was impressive tonight with eight catches and 58 yards) have barely played a snap together this year. But come playoff time, they could both be healthy, and that's a scary thought.
Of course, the story of this game was the defense. They allowed just seven points to the Texans' starters. Arian Foster? Just 46 yards on 15 carries. Matt Schaub? 19 for 32 and an interception. The Patriots stepped up defensively, against one of the most explosive offenses they've faced all year.
The secondary stepped up big time. Devin McCourty, who had a first quarter interception, had a terrific game splitting time between safety and cornerback. Aqib Talib shut down Andre Johnson in the first half with excellent man coverage. When he went down with a hip injury, rookie Alfonzo Dennard stepped up and may have played Johnson even better. Along the front seven, Vince Wilfork had an impact performance, making plays all over the field. Jerod Mayo had several quarterback hits, and was essentially unstoppable when used as a blitzer.
The thing that impressed me the most with the defense tonight: tackling. The Patriots were physical - they didn't allow Texans' receivers to make plays after the catch. They not only trapped runners in the backfield, but finished plays off with open field tackles.
Overall, it's hard not to feel great about a win like this. But the Patriots don't have any breathing room. Theyneed to win out and have help to win the one seed. And if they slip up, the Broncos and Ravens are still right there in the battle for the two seed.
But for now, lets enjoy the win. Tom Brady for MVP? Anybody? Anybody? Seriously. Anybody?