How Patriots Shook Off Ugly First Half To Shut Down Upset-Minded Texans


FOXBORO, Mass. — As Julian Edelman said in the New England Patriots’ locker room late Saturday night, “an ugly win is better than a pretty loss.”

Translation: The Patriots will take the 34-16 win they scored over the Houston Texans in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs, despite the fact they played down to their inferior opponent for the first 30 minutes of play.

New England was uncharacteristically sloppy during the first half of its playoff opener, turning the ball over on consecutive possessions and extending one Houston drive with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. As a result, Brock Osweiler and the Texans — 17-point underdogs entering the night — trailed by just four at halftime.

The second half, however, featured much more of the type of football Patriots fans are accustomed to seeing from their squad. Here are five plays/sequences, listed in chronological order, that helped New England steady the ship and sail on through to the AFC Championship Game:

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady had a disappointing game by his usual high standards, but he was surgical during his team’s second possession of the second half, marching the team 90 yards down the field in just 3 minutes and 21 seconds. Brady completed 6 of 7 passes for 94 yards on the drive, which culminated in a 19-yard touchdown toss to James White that made the Patriots’ cushion a bit more comfortable.

Osweiler successfully made it through his first six quarters of postseason football without throwing an interception — an impressive feat for a quarterback who was among the NFL’s worst during the regular season.

The Brocketship finally began its inevitable nosedive midway through the third quarter Saturday, however, when Patriots safety Devin McCourty stepped in front of a pass intended for DeAndre Hopkins. It was a poor decision by Osweiler but also an excellent read by McCourty, who seems to make a huge play weekly for this Patriots defense.

With Houston trailing by 11 and the third quarter winding down, Osweiler uncorked a third-down bomb to receiver Will Fuller, who’d burned Patriots star cornerback Malcolm Butler on a deep route. The perfectly thrown ball hit Fuller right in the hands at the goal line — then fell incomplete, forcing the Texans to punt and wasting a nine-play drive.

A Nick Novak field goal early in the fourth — which came after Brady’s second interception of the night — brought the Texans to within a touchdown and a two-point conversion of tying the game. The ensuing Patriots drive stalled near midfield, giving the ball back to Houston deep in its own territory. Then came the rally killer.

On the very next play, Osweiler tried to hit Hopkins on a deep crossing route. The ball sailed high, tipped off the wideout’s outstretched hand and landed in the arms of a diving Logan Ryan, who jumped to his feet and returned the interception to the Texans’ 6-yard line. Dion Lewis plowed his way into the end zone two plays later to give New England a commanding 15-point lead.

A last-gasp effort by the Texans ended when Osweiler threw his third pick of the game with just over three minutes to play. Duron Harmon did the honors this time around, giving each of the Patriots’ three Rutgers products an interception in the victory.

Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images

Wayne Rooney
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