The New England Patriots didn’t have much time to shake off a second half collapse against the Miami Dolphins, where they almost lost a 31-3 lead, before turning their focus towards the Houston Texans. It took a combination of mental fortitude, coaching genius, and flawless execution by the short-handed Patriots squad to win on Thursday night and they managed to exceed all expectations.
When you ask the Patriots what made this short week so unique, they’ll point to how the week isn’t conducive to practicing. Monday is a rest and review day for players, but the whole week gets squeezed. When Sunday gets moved up to Thursday, that means that your typical Saturday walkthrough moves up to Wednesday, and your entire week’s worth of game planning gets forced into Tuesday.
“We spent the three days - Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday - really trying to talk about what we needed to do, how to execute it and so forth and how we needed to play against the Texans,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said after the game on Thursday. “And then really from this morning, a little bit last night, but really this morning just about how disciplined we needed to be to continue to play that way against the Texans for 60 minutes. We talked about it in the locker room before the game. We talked about it at halftime and these guys did it. ”
That’s the rate at which the Patriots had to move forward. They didn’t even have time to reflect and say you know, we really should play a full 60 minute game after that Dolphins debacle until kick off and somehow the team pulled it off with a 3rd string quarterback and a whole host of injuries.
When it came to the Patriots defense, perhaps the short week was actually to their advantage.
“It was all about mental,” safety and defensive captain Devin McCourty said after the game. “It was our mentality. Obviously, weeks like this, you don't really practice. It was all walk-throughs, so it was guys talking about everything. It's crazy, sometimes in those walk-throughs, you get more done just in a sense where you go through a ton of plays, and I think in our secondary we have a lot of guys who have played a lot of football, so things that we see in the walk-through and we're talking about, ‘Hey, full speed, do this, do that. I'm going to be here, I'm going to there.' I think that allowed us to see a lot of different looks and talk about it, and I think guys were responsible.”
The Texans offense consisted of a whole bunch of players in their first year with the team and WR DeAndre Hopkins, while the Patriots defense has played together for multiple years. McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, and Jamie Collins all have multiple years in the Patriots system and that allowed them to communicate and confound the Texans passing attack.
Perhaps the fact that the Patriots defense didn’t need as much practice as the Texans offense meant that the Patriots were able to deploy more wrinkles in their defensive plans.
“You know really it's all about the players,” Belichick said. “It's all about the players. We gave them a lot of new things. We ran some plays that we haven't run all year. We put them in and walked through them. We never got a chance to really run them, and a couple of those hit big. Defensively we tried to do some things that we just didn't even practice them.”
The Patriots offense was clearly limited with rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett, but that didn’t stop the rushing attack from putting forth a dominant effort, and Brissett play a major role in slowing the Texans pass rush with his scrambling. Every player rose to the occasion and can now enjoy the extra days of rest they were not afforded.
“It wasn't just the X's and O's,” Belichick said about the difficulties of a short week. “It was getting the treatment, the rest, all of the recovery and things that we do to help our performance. Again, they really did a lot of extra things on that; a lot of the extra tools that we have around here to help them with that. These guys were in early. They stayed late. They did extra things to try to get back out there.”
While Belichick spend the greater part of his press conference heaping praise on his roster, rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett was emphasized the team’s mentality over the week.
“It's just a part of the job,” Brissett said after his first career start. “I mean, you just got to go put your head down, go to work.”
The Patriots play in 10 days, so they have a mini bye week, and players will hopefully regain their health, go over the Texans film, and have some time to create another great game plan to take on the Buffalo Bills.
I don’t think anyone will take next week for granted. It’s time to get to work.