FOXBORO (CBS) — “He’s not that big, or a real athletic guy.”
Those were the words of Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, and while nobody on earth would argue the first claim, it’s the second one which drew a bit of attention heading into Sunday’s playoff game at Gillette Stadium.
The answer from Phillips came after being asked if he’d put Jonathan Joseph, his best cover corner, on Welker. Phillips was indicating that Welker didn’t present the same type of threat as Cincinnati’s A.J. Green, so no, he wouldn’t put his best man on Welker.
Perhaps he should have.
Welker used Sunday’s divisional round to torch any and every white jersey in his area. He caught six passes for 120 yards before halftime, and he finished with eight for 131. He picked up four first downs, including on two third-and-11’s and a third-and-8, and he drew a defensive holding penalty on another third down that kept a drive alive and helped the Patriots drain the clock, tack on a field goal and ice the game in the fourth quarter.
After the game, Welker denied letting Phillips’ comments influence him, which was probably true. There’s no such thing as “added motivation” for a consistent performer like Welker. Still, perhaps next time Phillips will realize there’s no receiving threat quite like Wes Welker, and the coach would be best suited not to question the athleticism of the NFL’s leading receiver since 2007.
Welker was far from the only story on Sunday in Foxboro, though, so let’s dig into all the leftover thoughts from the Patriots’ 41-28 victory over the Texans.
–It’s easy to forget after 41 points and a 13-point victory, but you know you were thinking about Ray Rice’s 83-yard scamper, Terrell Suggs’ strip sack and the infamous 2009 wild-card loss early on in this one, after the 93-yard kick return, a three-and-out, two punts and a Rob Gronkowski injury. I wrote in detail about how this year’s team is worlds apart from that ’09 squad, and that was my biggest takeaway from the afternoon. This team’s got guts.
–I found it to be incredible that in Tom Brady’s illustrious postseason career, he had never once thrown for 300 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions in a playoff game. Never, ever. He accomplished that Sunday, throwing for 344 yards, three scores and no picks, which is a worthy feat in its own right. However what I was impressed with most was that Brady did not appear to have his A game. He looked a little jittery early, bouncing a few passes, failing to see open receivers and just being off by split-seconds with the rest of the offense. Despite that, Brady worked the short passing game and let his guys run in open space in order for him to get his feet under him, and then he went to work with two perfectly lofted deep balls to Wes Welker and Shane Vereen.
It was just a sight to see Brady be off a bit but still turn in what would be a career day for most quarterbacks in the league.
–Speaking of Shane Vereen, I began the campaign for the nickname “Shane Vereen, The Touchdown Machine” to become a thing since the Indianapolis game this year. I’m happy to report that we made some progress in that endeavor during the game on Sunday. Three touchdowns always helps that cause. Thanks in advance for your support.
–Organizationally, there are many things the Patriots do right, and I can’t list all of them, but one thing they most certainly do wrong is their playing of music throughout the game. After Donnie Jones booted a wounded duck just 29 yards late in the first quarter, the stadium blared some pop song that kept repeating “Kiss Me Again.” While a break from “Enter Sandman,” “Thunderstruck” and any Bon Jovi song is always welcome, the person who chooses the songs may want to leave his teenage daughter’s iPod at home.
(Curious and feeling like it was a Taylor Swift jam, I searched for this “Kiss Me Again” song on the interwebs, and it turns out the song is by a band called We Are The In Crowd, who played a free concert outside the stadium before the game. On a related note, I’d like to let The Kraft Group know that my high school punk rock band is willing to do the same next weekend, so long as you play our song during the game.)
–The Patriots won, so you can only complain about the bad officiating so much, but I’m willing to push that line.
The 15-yard penalty on Brandon Lloyd for throwing the ball back to the official with too much force was just an unacceptable call to make in a playoff game. It’s not Lloyd’s fault that the official was not a big or real athletic guy and therefore couldn’t handle the hot potato, yet it set the Patriots back with a second-and-25, turning a possible touchdown drive into a field goal drive.
The other atrocious call came when Owen Daniels fumbled on the Texans’ first drive of the second half, when they were trailing 24-13. Jerod Mayo forced the fumble, and the Patriots recovered, with one official even signaling that the ball belonged to the Patriots. However, head linesman Steve Stelljes definitively ruled that Daniels’ foreward progress had been stopped before the fumble, thereby letting the Texans keep the ball.
If you’ve ever once watched football before, you know that this was not an instance of forward progress being stopped. The fact that the Patriots couldn’t challenge it made it an even worse call. So instead of first-and-10 for the Patriots at the Houston 24, they had to come up with a third-down stop before a punt, which set them up on their own 35. That 41-yard swing in field position hurt, and seeing a man so confidently rule something that was not the actual case is what makes bad calls frustrating to see, no matter which way they go.
Referee Tony Corrente also waived off a running into the kicker penalty on Houston because “the player came to the ground and rolled onto the player [Zoltan Mesko] on the ground.” Apparently, diving into the landing foot of the punter is the new rolling into a player already on the ground.
It got to the point where after Corrente would go under the hood, he’d have to stand on the field, waiting for the network to come back to commercial. The Gillette crowd mercilessly booed him as he silently stood still, knowing they weren’t going to like what he had to tell them.
–Speaking of Mesko, he deserves credit for his third quarter punt, which traveled 50 yards and perfectly went right to the boundary, setting up Matt Schaub and Co. on their own 10-yard line. Driving 90 yards has proven to be difficult for Schaub.
–The ensuing drive after that punt ended with Rob Ninkovich’s interception. For the life of me, I can’t recall a play where Ninkovich drops into pass coverage in the middle of the field, so I don’t think Schaub had any idea that No. 50 was standing between him and receiver James Casey. Schaub said after the game that he did indeed see Ninkovich but just failed to throw it over the linebacker, but typically when a quarterback throws the ball directly to a defender, it’s because he was confused. Credit Matt Patricia for mixing it up and causing confusion, because that was a game-changing turnover.
–There was another play where Matt Schaub began to run a little bit but then, unmolested, he dropped the football to the turf. That ran counter to what the Texans were hoping he would do.
–And how about the play when Schaub scrambled to his right and actually outran Justin Francis … only to throw the ball out of bounds anyway?
–I guess what I’m trying to say is Matt Schaub stinks. As you were.
–While we were all watching a million replays to see if Arian Foster crossed the goal line before hitting the ground, Chandler Jones’ right ankle — the same ankle that forced him to miss two games earlier this year — was screaming, “Owwwwww!!!” on every replay.
It didn’t look good:
–It’s about time my phone’s autocorrect feature now changes “weller” to “Welker,” rather than the other way around. It only took about five years.
–It’s become cliche to say “Patriots fans are spoiled,” so I won’t say that. But seven trips to the AFC Championship Game and nine postseason trips in 13 years under Bill Belichick? That’s absurd.
–Brady reached a few accolades on Sunday, and with 227 yards next week, he can become the all-time leader in postseason passing yards. With 41 touchdowns, he’s just four shy of the all-time record of 45, set by Joe Montana. Brady, of course, passed Montana for most postseason victories by a quarterback, and he did so in the same number of starts (23). Brady also has the highest playoff winning percentage by a starting quarterback at .739, better than Terry Bradshaw (.736), Troy Aikman (.733) and Montana (.696).
That’s the statistical way of saying that when an entire season is on the line, he’s pretty good at his job.
–In going through the four ups and four downs from the game, I thought it was important to single out Aqib Talib. The coaching staff’s trust in him to stick on a guy as talented as Andre Johnson allowed the rest of the defense to do what it had to do, and if you need any reason to believe this team has a better chance to win it all than last year, look at No. 31.
–Statistical oddity alert: In the Week 14 matchup, Johnson finished with eight catches for 95 yards. On Sunday, Johnson finished with eight catches for 95 yards.
–Of all the players who are enjoyable to watch, Vince Wilfork is near the top. I’ve seen plenty of humongous guys occupy the middle of the field, but I’ve never seen any of them nearly in the athletic class of Wilfork (Wade Phillips would definitely call him a real big and real athletic guy). And week in and week out, he looks like a defensive MVP, despite a box score that doesn’t indicate such. Here are just a few examples.
First-and-10 from the Patriots’ 49-yard line in the middle of the first quarter. Wilfork bullies left guard Wade Smith into the backfield before violently throwing Smith aside. Wilfork then wrapped up Foster for a loss of a yard.
First-and-10 from the Houston 45 at the start of the second quarter. Wilfork lines up on the outside shoulder of Smith and draws a double team from Smith and left tackle Duane Brown. Wilfork somehow slips between the two Texans, who weigh a combined 627 pounds, and dives into the backfield to stop Foster at the line.
On the very next play, Wilfork again lined up on Smith’s outside shoulder, this time putting a swim move on the guard and blowing past him. Wilfork burst into the backfield and forced Schaub to rush a pass that sailed over Owen Daniels’ head and nearly into the bread basket of Devin McCourty.
The long and short of it: Vince Wilfork is a menace.
–You’d be hard-pressed to find a photo that better displays what it looks like when a 325-pound man is so elated that he feels the need to jump for joy. It looks like Skinny Vinny is ready for the Ravens.
Screen shots from NFL.com/GameRewind.