FOXBORO, Mass. — In the week leading up to the Patriots’ divisional-round playoff matchup against the Houston Texans, the goal was to envision a scenario where New England would lose despite being an overwhelming favorite.
The best one anyone could come up with was a situation where absolutely everything went wrong from the start, with interceptions on offense to lost fumbles on special teams. But even then, it was easy to foresee that the Patriots are the type of team that can battle back and overcome adversity.
And all of that is exactly what transpired Saturday night, and the Patriots still won 34-16, covering the enormous 16-point spread.
Nearly everything that could have gone wrong went wrong for the Patriots in the first half. They went three-and-out on their first drive, quarterback Tom Brady threw an interception (leading to a Texans field goal) and running back Dion Lewis fumbled a kickoff (leading to a Houston touchdown). Then the Patriots were forced to punt two more times, and they still went into halftime with a 17-13 lead.
“When you come into the locker room, you’re very confident knowing you’ll come in, make your adjustments, and have 30 minutes to come out and execute,” defensive end Rob Ninkovich said after the game.
And execute they did. The Patriots closed the game with a 17-3 run in the second half. They picked off Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler three times, and Brady led a nine-play, 90-yard touchdown drive in the Patriots’ second series of the second half. It was immediately clear that the first half was an aberration.
“I feel like we have a very, very mature team,” safety Duron Harmon said. “We’ve been in a lot of different situations throughout this year, and we know we just had to get back to playing consistent ball, how we were playing in the first quarter, and we got there.”
The Patriots played perhaps their worst half of the season and still won, which just goes to show the Texans never stood a chance in this game. Even if everything went wrong, the Patriots still would be able to come out in the second half after making adjustments and blow out their opponents. And that’s for two reasons. One, they’re very, very good. And two, the team has a veteran mindset led by Brady, head coach Bill Belichick, safety Devin McCourty and countless others.
“I don’t think anyone was in a panic mode or anything,” defensive tackle Alan Branch said. “We know what type of team we are, we know what we’re capable of, and we just went out there and executed the plan.”
The talent gap between the Patriots and the Texans was large enough for New England to overcome a crappy first half. That won’t necessarily be the case against the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game.
Fortunately for Belichick, he has a lot of bad film to show his team. He can pound home the point that the Patriots cannot play like they did Saturday night and win again. Expect a much more crisp Patriots team next Sunday.
Thumbnail photo via James Lang/USA TODAY Sports Images