After two horribly played games that dropped them from 10-0 to 10-2, the Patriots had to look themselves in the mirror. It felt the same as the Kansas City game, where the Patriots could determine their season by how well they performed in the next game. With how badly the Eagles game went, the Patriots needed to flush that game out of their memory and focus on the next opponent. The final four games would determine how optimistic I'd be for the Patriots Super Bowl hopes. Thanks to the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Oakland Raiders, the Patriots once again control their destiny for the #1 seed in the AFC. The Patriots responded with a convincing road victory over the Houston Texans.
Return of Rob Gronkowski Jumpstarts Offense- I had a feeling this game would be tough, but the Patriots were able to get Rob Gronkowski back just two weeks after we thought he was lost for the year. Not only did Gronk return, he played a huge factor with 4 catches for 86 yards and a TD on 4 targets. The moment of the game where the Patriots were able to take control of the game was when Brady hooked up with him on a fade route against Quintin Demps. The TD gave the Patriots a 2-score lead at the half and the Patriots never lost control of the game from that point forward. Gronk is not at 100% right now, but he showed that he was healthy enough to be the X-Factor of all X-Factors. A healthy Gronk means the Patriots have a very good chance to win Home Field Advantage.
Defense Played Fantastic- The story of the game was the level of play from the defense. The Patriots aren't at full strength on defense, but you couldn't tell from their performace against the Texans. To start things off, the defense did not allow a single TD even though the Texans came close a couple times. The Patriots pass rush took over the game in the second half, with both Brian Hoyer and TJ Yates uncomfortable in the pocket. The pass rush turns into sacks and a couple turnovers. The Patriots coverage was outstanding all night, with only a couple breakdowns all night. Perhaps the defining moment of the defense came after Keshawn Martin fumbled a punt and turned it over to the Texans. The Patriots forced the Texans to turn the ball over on downs after 4 plays, a moment from that point on is when I knew it was over for Houston. There was no individual player that had a bad game other than Jonathan Freeny, with even newly acquired Leonard Johnson pitching a shutout as the nickel (1 catch, -1 yards) defender. As the Patriots offense continues to get healthy, the Patriots defense showed that they are indeed a top unit.
Injuries Starting to Pile Up- The Patriots suffered injuries on the defensive end in the game, but none of the injuries lookto be devastating on the early outset. The Patriots lost Dominique Easley and Devin McCourty in the game, but the initial prognosis is neither player will be out for too long. The Patriots will face the Titans, Jets, and Dolphins for the final three games of the season. While the Patriots can clinch Home Field with wins in all those games, the Patriots would like to have that one game to rest their key players for the second half. In order to accomplish that, the Patriots once again need the help of the Pittsburgh Steelers to accomplish that goal. If the Steelers can beat Denver in Heinz Field on Sunday, the Patriots will be 2 games ahead of the Broncos in the AFC standings and 13 wins would automatically clinch a playoff bye mathematically. The Steelers and the Bengals both suffered devastating injuries this week, so the path to the Super Bowl becomes easier. The Patriots should opt to rest their injured players if they aren't better than 90% because the Patriots have a Top 3 seed locked up and only need 2 more wins to clinch a bye.
Patriots Make Patriots Still Have Work to Do- For the 3rd straight week, the Patriots had a critical blunder with Keshawn Martin muffing a punt that led to Houston recovering at the Patriots 20 yard line. The Patriots defense wound up repelling the Texans, but that's a mistake that needs to stop. Another point of contention was the breakdown in offensive line play in the second half. The Patriots crafted a terrific game plan to beat JJ Watt, although the other rushers started getting home fmore often late in the game. Jadeveon Clowney abused rookie Shaq Mason on stnts and the weak pass protection caused the Patriots offense to stall. The only score they go in the 4th quarter was the James white TD following a Jabaal Sheard strip sack of Brian Hoyer. The Patriots need to get the kinks ironed out on theoffensive line play, which could be a problem for the Patriots in the postseason. Fortunately, they'll have 2-3 games to figure that out. The final OL combo should be SebastianVollmer at LT, Josh Kline at LG, Bryan Stork at C, Tre Jackson at RG, and Marcus Cannon at RT.
The Patriots have the Titans, Jets, and Dolphins left on their schedule and now control their destiny for home field advantage in the AFC Playoffs. While the loss to Denver makes it harder for the Patriots to clinch before Week 17, they can clinch the top seed in Week 16 if the Patriots win their next two games and the Broncos lose to the Steelers next week. That would give the Patriots 13 wins and the Broncos 12 wins, which gives the Patriots a top 2 seed. A Denver loss to Pittsburgh plus a Denver win over Cincinnati could allow for the Patriots to clinch in Week 16.