The Patriots pulled a rabbit out of their hat in beating the Texans on Sunday. New England did some good things in the second half, but Houston, arguably the worst team in football, absolutely was complicit in its own demise.
If you watched the game, you know the Patriots, now 2-3, still have many things that must be fixed before they can be considered a good team. And it still is fair to wonder whether they have what it takes to finish the season with a winning record, let alone make the playoffs.
However, Patriots players and coaches seemed happy and genuinely encouraged after the comeback win — and rightfully so. They potentially saved their season while also preventing a particularly undesirable conversation.
Before New England faced the New Orleans Saints in Week 3, we told you about the history of 1-3 teams qualifying for the postseason. Out of the 473 teams that got off to 1-3 starts, only 41 wound up making the playoffs, good for roughly 8.7%. As you might expect, the numbers are even worse for 1-4 teams.
Across NFL history, 314 teams have been 1-4 through five games, with only 15 — about 4.8% — eventually qualifying for the postseason, according to SportsRadar 360. Of course, the presence of a 17th game and a third Wild Card spot changes things.
Nevertheless, those are the dire straits New England staved off with its win in Houston. Eighty of 515 teams with 2-3 records have clinched spots in the playoffs, good for 15.5 percent. So, there is hope for the Patriots, who remain talented enough to perform better than they have to this point.
Now, Sunday wasn’t just about keeping playoff hopes alive.
Had the Patriots, who still are winless at home, lost to the Texans, you likely would’ve heard/read “hot seat” and “Belichick” in the same sentence this week.
That’s not to say that talk of firing Belichick would have been just. While he is not immune to criticism and deserves plenty for the current state of his team, Belichick is the greatest coach in NFL history and should keep his job for as long as he wants it. The Patriots would be a worse team the moment he walks out the door.
But the conversation absolutely would’ve taken place. The Nick Wrights of the world surely would’ve snuck it into their morning talk shows, and “Felger & Mazz” probably would have led with it Monday afternoon. Fair or not (not), that’s just the way it goes.
The Patriots can ignore the noise all they want, and perhaps talk of Belichick’s exit would galvanize them. But for so many reasons, coaching hot-seat headlines are the last things struggling NFL teams need.
It only was one win, and there still is plenty of time for things to turn disastrous in New England. The 2021 Patriots remain a work in progress.
But, with their victory over the Texans, the Patriots gave themselves time, hope and just a little breathing room. They’d be rewarded with more of all three if they beat the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.