If you asked me to describe this game in one word, I could not give it to you. I’m certain Patriots fans all went through phases of excitement, anger, confusion, and relief. In the end though, the final score favors the Patriots and we will see them in the AFC Championship for the 2nd straight year.
The opening of this game was extremely scary. I was not anticipating the Texans to return the opening kickoff all the way to the New England 10 yard line. The defense responded well and held them to a field goal. Unfortunately, I’m not sure if the Patriots knew how to respond. True, they did have a couple of weeks off and rust could have been a big factor, but the Patriots just did not look like themselves in the majority of the first quarter. Fortunately however, Tom Brady and the Patriots generated a great drive at the end of the first quarter, which culminated in a 1-yd touchdown run by Shane Vereen.
Leading 7-3, the Patriots completely changed their attitude towards the game and got better on offense. Stephen Gostkowski (surprisingly) nailed a 37-yd field goal and Brady later found Vereen for an 8-yd touchdown pass. The Texans responded quickly with Arian Foster’s 1-yd touchdown rush. In their next possession, it seemed that time ran out but the referee said that Houston called a timeout with 2 seconds to go. I thought that was a blown call because I heard no whistle until that clock hit 0:00. But the lucky Texans got their wish and the former-Patriot Shayne Graham drilled a 55 yarder and cut the New England lead to 17-13 at the half.
I prayed that the Patriots would make the third quarter theirs and it certainly was. A rushing touchdown from Stevan Ridley and a Brady passing touchdown to Brandon Lloyd extended the Patriots lead to 31-13. To be honest, I thought a rout was on at that point.
What Patriots fan doesn’t like it when Brady throws a deep ball? He already threw one to Wes Welker so surely he could do it again, right? Indeed, with an arching 33 yard pass to Vereen, who ran it for a touchdown. At that point, I was really stunned at how Vereen showed up tonight. He arguably had a much better night than Stevan Ridley did. Unfortunately, it seemed like the New England defense was too mesmerized by the offense. A questionable touchdown reception from DeVier Posey was reviewed through a challenge and Houston won it. 6 minutes later, Foster added another touchdown for the Texans and the 2-pt conversion was successful. With the lead only 10, Rob Ninkovich made a game saving recovery on the ensuing onside kick. Lloyd caught a crucial 3rd down pass and that set the way for the final field goal for Gostkowski. The Patriots defeat the Texans 41-28 and will meet the Baltimore Ravens again for the AFC Championship. The last time this happened was in 1987, when the Browns and Broncos played each other for the second consecutive time.
While we Pats fans should rejoice this win, we should pick up on a couple of things. I strongly believe that tonight’s referees heavily favored Houston because several calls (not letting the clock run out, penalizing Lloyd for no reason, etc.) went the Texans’ way. I’m hoping that’s not the case next week. Speaking of next week, New England will NOT have Rob Gronkowski for that game…and the rest of the season, since he injured that same arm in the first quarter. Rest well Gronk, I believe the Patriots can finish the deal. On a more positive note though, congrats to Tom Brady, whose 17th playoff win passes Joe Montana's 16, for most all time!