When the Texans last visited Foxboro a little less than a month ago, they walked out of Gillette Stadium with their heads down and varsity letterman jackets zipped tight after enduring an embarrassing 28-point beatdown. Now, they’ll have the chance to avenge that demoralizing loss when they make a return trip to play the Patriots next weekend.
Since the 42-14 thumping by the Patriots, the Texans have won just two of five games and unwillingly relinquished their stranglehold on a first-round bye. Now, instead of enjoying a week of rest and relaxation and welcoming the Patriots to the comfortable confines of Reliant Stadium, they’re forced to travel into cold and wet New England for their divisional round showdown. But this time, they might be better prepared.
Houston is fresh off a wild card weekend win over the Bengals in a game that was a lot closer than it should have been. But even though the Texans didn’t wipe the floor with Cincinnati, that doesn’t mean they won’t present a legitimate challenge to, or even beat, the Patriots.
The Texans are much healthier across the board now, getting a few key players — tight end Garrett Graham, linebacker Brooks Reed and offensive tackle Derek Newton — back on both sides of the ball. They also have seen a resurgence in their running game, which will be a major factor in keeping the Patriots’ offense off the field.
Arian Foster, who gained just 45 yards against the Patriots in Week 13, had 174 total yards and a touchdown in the playoff opener and seems to be at his best in the postseason. Foster became the first player in NFL history to rush for at least 100 yards in his first three playoff games, and he likely won’t be contained the same way on this visit to New England.
Bill Belichick understands the impact Foster can have on a game, both on the ground and in the passing attack.
“I think that’s, again, a big focal point in terms of their offense,” Belichick said of Foster during a conference call Sunday. “Not only the yards that he gains but how the running game controls the game for them, how it sets up their play-action passes, how it puts them in third-and-short situations.”
Foster is a versatile player and one who the Patriots will have to keep an eye on come Sunday, along with wide receiver Andre Johnson, tight end Owen Daniels and quarterback Matt Schaub — oh, and don’t forget J.J. Watt on defense.
The Patriots are already in the preparation stages for this rematch, but they certainly won’t be taking the team that enters the gates at Gillette on Sunday to be anything resembling the one they routed four weeks ago — nor should they. The Texans pose legitimate challenges, and the Patriots can’t afford to take them lightly, unless they want this postseason to be a repeat of their loss to the Jets two years ago.