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The Lane Breakdown: Hope is in short supply after the Patriots’ terrible loss to the Texans

Related: Patriots’ already slim playoff hopes take another hit in Houston

New England Patriots v Houston Texans Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

The New England Patriots aren’t eliminated from playoff contention yet, but, with a terrible loss Sunday to the Houston Texans, their road just got a whole lot more difficult.

Most people had all but penciled in a win for the Patriots this weekend over a 2-7 Texans team, and maybe they were reading some of those stories.

The defense got torched all over the field, especially in the first half, and the offense, which ran the ball down the field on the first drive, decided to abandon the ground game for no apparent reason. It was a very frustrating day for Patriots fans, and one that will clearly leave them questioning what this team’s potential really is.

There are obviously a ton of people to blame for this game, but Cam Newton should not be anywhere near the top of that list. Was he perfect? No, but he was slinging the ball, and really played quite well. Now, the Patriots had the chance to tie the game late in the fourth quarter and for the fourth time this season were unable to score. Some of that blame needs to fall on the quarterback, but Newton has done everything he can to lead this team to victory.

More on the positive side, is the play of Kyle Dugger. He is so much fun to watch. He plays very physical in the run game, and he is fast as hell. His coverage remains a work in progress, and he was certainly picked on quite a bit, but that will come, in time. It’s clear that he has a bright future ahead of him, and he’s just getting started.

Now, to the negative side, the secondary was torched in the first half. Jonathan Jones had another rough game, and J.C. Jackson was burned a few times too. It seemed that the defense was so concerned about being beaten by Deshaun Watson’s legs, that it didn’t properly account for his right arm. It wasn’t able to get pressure, and played a ton of zone, which Watson simply picked apart.

The Texans’ QB was great, but the Patriots simply have to execute better on the defensive side of the ball. When your offense relies on the defense to make plays, the unit needs to step up and make plays, and it didn’t do that on Sunday. Not one time did it make a game-changing play on defense, finishing the game without a takeaway for the first time all season. New England cannot win consistently without its defense making at least one game-changing play, and Sunday showed that again.

The coaching also bears a good brunt of the responsibility for this loss. The Patriots drove the ball right down the field on the first drive, as mentioned above, and then abandoned the run with Damien Harris finishing the game with just 11 carries against the worst rushing defense in the league. That, combined with the inability to change the defense to stop the Texans even in the second half, is a large part of the reason the Patriots came up short on Sunday.

Just a week after so much optimism coming off a big win over the Baltimore Ravens, the hopes of Patriots fans are seemingly crushed again.

The road to the playoffs is now one filled with land mines and snipers. One wrong step, one wrong move, and the Patriots’ season will be over. I’m not ready to quit on it just yet, but the hope and optimism I felt just a few days ago are in short supply now. One thing is for certain: for this season to continue on a path towards the playoffs, New England is going to need to win against a talented, and well rested, Arizona Cardinals team next Sunday.

Pat is a host of The Patriot Nation Podcast

Interact with him on Twitter @plane_pats