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FOXBORO (CBS) — It was expected to be a nail-biter but ended up being a bit of a laugher, with the Patriots waltzing their way to a 42-14 romp over the Texans on Monday night at Gillette Stadium.
The Patriots beat the Texans through the air, on the ground, in the turnover battle, on third, on fourth down, and any other measurable way a team can assert its dominance over another on a football team. By the fourth quarter, the Texans all but laid down on the Gillette turf, turned their jerseys into white flags and surrendered.
As with any win for any team, there are positives and negatives to take away. While this space is typically reserved to highlight four highlights and four lowlights from the Patriots’ performance, hopefully you can forgive an added emphasis this week on the highlights. It’s not every week the Patriots beat the AFC’s best team by 28 points (and really, it wasn’t even that close).
So here are the ups and downs from the Patriots’ statement win over the Texans.
All week, all the pundits — local and national — spent a lot of time talking about Texans D-lineman J.J. Watt and all the incredible things he does as a defensive MVP candidate for Houston. Vince Wilfork may not outright admit it, but when he took the field Monday he looked like a man hell-bent on proving he’s worth such praise, too.
Wilfork was a disruptive force from the first snap of the game, dominating whichever Houston offensive lineman (or linemen) had the unfortunate task of trying to get in his way. The veteran leader of the defense and team captain led by example for a unit that played like it had something to prove. While Wilfork’s stats were only somewhat indicative of his impact (four tackles, one sack, one forced fumble), he simply controlled the line of scrimmage thoroughly and completely.
It’s sort of overkill at this point to praise the quarterback for yet another great performance, but Tom Brady makes it difficult to overlook him when handing out the gold stars for the week.
Brady threw for 296 yards and four touchdowns, while throwing zero interceptions for the 10th time this season. He also connected with Donte Stallworth for a 63-yard score, which was the second-longest touchdown pass of the season for Brady. He also did a masterful job of releasing the ball quickly, helping to limit the vaunted Houston pass rush to just one sack on the night.
At this point, you know that Brady is pretty darn good. But he still gets credit here.
In what was a true team effort on defense, the play of Kyle Arrington stood out. The cornerback, who’s had a rough year after a solid 2011 campaign, looked like his old self on Monday night. He broke up a long third-down pass to Lestar Jean on the opening drive of the game, forcing an early punt that gave the Patriots the ball. A little more than three minutes later, the Patriots were leading 7-0.
In the second quarter, Matt Schaub appeared to connect with Kevin Walter for a gain of 6 yards on fourth-and-5. However, Arrington got his hand on the football as Walter fell to the turf, knocking it free and causing an incompletion, thereby giving the Patriots the ball yet again.
He also chipped in on special teams, tracking down Keshawn Martin on kick coverage and forcing the Texans to start a third-quarter drive from their own 12.
Arrington wasn’t alone as a standout performer in the secondary. Devin McCourty made a game-changing interception in the first quarter, Aqib Talib played well prior to leaving near halftime with a hip injury, and Alfonzo Dennard was a sure tackler all night, finishing with four solo tackles. Yet it’s Arrington’s play that was most encouraging as the team heads into the final stretch, because if he can raise his level, the entire dynamic of the defense changes.
For the first time in what feels like a very long time, the Patriots’ had their starting offensive line in there: Nate Solder, Logan Mankins, Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly and Sebastian Vollmer. It was good timing, too, with J.J. Watt and the Texans in town with that dangerous pass rush.
Despite the opposition, the offensive line certainly held its own, allowing just one sack all night. Brady wasn’t kept completely clean, as the Texans were able to register six quarterback hits, but the offensive line was solid enough to facilitate 289 passing yards and 130 rushing yards.
Offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia has worked some magic with the likes of Donald Thomas, Nick McDonald and Marcus Cannon filling in at times, but if the showing of the O-line on Monday night was an indication of what the unit can accomplish at full strength, the rest of the league’s defensive coordinators are going to have some long nights trying to draw up a blueprint to beat them.
Extra Up: Jerod Mayo’s Honesty
Jerod Mayo had a monster game, leading the team with seven total tackles and getting in two shots on Matt Schaub. His performance alone was worthy of earning a spot on this list, but his honesty after the game cemented his placement here.
“Obviously, we came into this game with a chip on our shoulders, everyone talking about the Houston Texans,” Mayo admitted of the pregame hype surrounding Houston getting on the Patriots’ nerves. “We always talk about ignoring the noise, but you hear it. You hear it walking down the street. It was a little bit of a motivational factor for me, at least. I’m sure the rest of the guys felt the same way.”
It certainly seemed that way. Thanks to Mayo for being honest about it.
Two Downs (There just aren’t four this week.)
Stevan Ridley’s Fumble
It didn’t prove costly, thanks to Aaron Hernandez alertly chasing after the loose football, but Stevan Ridley’s red-zone fumble was a big no-no.
The second-year back has put to rest most concerns about his fumbling after he was essentially benched last postseason for fumbling in Week 17 and the divisional round. However, every time he shows a weakness, the spotlight shines that much brighter because of that history. So when Ridley let Earl Mitchell rip free the football at the Houston 4-yard line, a 7-0 lead very well could have turned into a turnover.
There’s no need to harp on the fumble, but any time Ridley loses his grip on the ball, “fumble watch” ensues. Prepare.
The Patriots’ defense has looked like a reinvented unit since Aqib Talib joined the squad vs. Indy, but the talented cornerback left Monday’s game before halftime with a hip injury. He suffered the injury diving to break up a third-down pass, and it would be impossible to guess how serious it may be. Still, it was just one reason for the Patriots to feel a little bit down heading out of that win.