Loser: QB Tom Brady
Brady wasn’t very good on Saturday, completing just 18 of 38 (47.4%; t-5th worst in career; career worst for playoff game) for 287 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. Both interceptions were on bad throws; the first was too far inside of WR Michael Floyd, who knocked it into the hands of the Texans defensive back; the second was Brady just not seeing a Texans linebacker lurking in the middle of the field.
For much of the day, Brady seemed to be scatter-shot, throwing off his back foot, telegraphing his passes by staring down receivers, or throwing behind them. Brady is going to rally, but he was fortunate the Texans offense was too terrible to capitalize on his mistakes.
Winner: RB Dion Lewis
Lewis had two fumbles, one of which was costly, but he provided a necessary spark for an offense that was struggling to produce. Lewis gained 41 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries, along with 23 yards and a touchdown on 2 receptions. He also added a 98-yard kick return for a touchdown.
Lewis is the first player in the Super Bowl era to receive, run, and return a touchdown in a playoff game. Lewis will be needed more than ever moving forward- and the Patriots are 15-0 when Lewis is on the active gameday roster.
Loser: TE Martellus Bennett
Bennett was targeted 4 times, but only caught 1 for 4 yards. He wasn’t really blocking well, either, as the Texans generated pressure at will and stuffed the Patriots rushing attack for most of the night. The Patriots needed Bennett to step up, but he wasn’t able to produce.
Add in what appeared to be a non-contact hyper-extended knee injury (he was not wearing a brace after the game, per MassLive’s Kevin Duffy), and Bennett came up short when the Patriots needed him. He’ll have to do more if the Patriots are going to win next week.
Winner: WR Julian Edelman
Edelman collected 8 of his 13 targets for 137 yards. He was the flame that sparked the Patriots in the second half, with six of his receptions and 83 of his yards coming after the break. Edelman has emerged as a real vertical threat and he gained three plays of 25+ yards; those are the plays that shift the landscape of a drive.
Edelman also chipped in 12 yards on an end-around. What can’t he do?
Winner: WR Chris Hogan
Hogan left the game with a thigh injury (he was not limping after the game, per NESN’s Doug Kyed, and told him “I’m good”), but it was likely a minor concern that the Patriots didn’t want to risk with the game in hand. Before the injury, Hogan was finally having his breakout game, catching all four targets for 95 yards, while also drawing a 30-yard defensive pass interference flag.
The ideal Patriots offense would feature Bennett, Edelman, and Hogan all operating at maximum capacity. Hopefully that happens next week.
Losers: C David Andrews
The Texans defense registered 2 sacks and 6 other quarterback hits on Brady, but it was pretty clear how Houston was generating the pressure: they were going after left guard Joe Thuney and center David Andrews. Thuney played a pretty okay game, but it was Andrews that really struggled.
The Texans wanted to generate interior pressure move Brady off his mark and they succeeded in their goal. They were also able to stop the run. Andrews has improved over the course of the year, but this was a pretty weak outing.
Winner: CB Logan Ryan
Logan Ryan deserved a lot of the criticism directed his way early on in the year. He was seemingly inches away from making the play time and time and time again, to a point where it didn’t seem like bad luck. He just wasn’t able to close.
Well, Ryan has certainly been closing as of late and he was at his best against the Texans. He recorded a sack, an interception, and two other pass break-ups, chipped in a few fantastic third down stops, and helped limit Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins. What more could you ask of him?
Winner: Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia
Outside of Logan Ryan, which Patriot defender had the best day? Who was the most essential player to stopping the run? Which players thrived in coverage? To me, it appeared as if almost every single player on defense did the job they were asked to do and they did it at an extremely high level- and Patricia deserves a lot of credit for putting the pieces into place.
LB Dont’a Hightower led the team in tackles, while DT Alan Branch, DT Malcom Brown, and EDGE Trey Flowers were all both active against the run. CB Malcolm Butler smothered WR Will Fuller, S Patrick Chung did a great job against the tight ends. The Patriots defense operated like a high-functioning machine, a breathing organism that was able to move and adjust to take away whatever the Texans wanted to do on every single drive.
If this week was just a test run for the AFC Championship Game, the Patriots defense seems ready to face some of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.