Here’s my likes and dislikes from the Patriots/Texans game from this past Sunday.
- Julian Edelman stepping up. While there will be a drop-off without Wes Welker, namely in the ability to adjust a route during a blitz, rookie receiver Julian Edelman stepped and played very well. At times, he almost looked as shifty as Welker. He finished the game with 10 catches for 103 yards, very Welker-like numbers.
- Shawn Springs resurgence. Since returning to the lineup a couple of weeks ago, Shawn Springs has played very well, helping with the recent defensive improvement. On Sunday, he held the best receiver in the NFL (in my opinion) mostly in check. Johnson finished with only 5 catches for 65 yards, paltry numbers for him. Many times when he did make plays, it was when the coverage shifted to where he was matched up with Jonathon Wilhite.
- Darius Butler’s improvement. In and out of the lineup all season, Darius Butler has showed signs of improvement, and then at times gets taken advantage of. This was one of his good weeks. Overall, he had good, tight coverage and made tackles when the pass was caught in front of him, reducing the YAC. His best play was an interception return for a touchdown where we got a glimpse of his fleet feet. Hopefully he continues his improvement and develops into a solid NFL starting corner, like he was projected coming out of college.
- Playing to win (mostly). I liked Bill Belichick’s decision to play the most of the healthy starters, despite the freak injury suffered by Wes Welker. They played the Texans very well until the 4th quarter. It stands in contrast to the Colts and I think shows how the game should be played: all in, all out.
- Brian Hoyer. The rookie stepped in for a few series and played pretty well. He threw the ball with some zip and overall was pretty accurate, finishing the game 8/12 for 71 yards.
- Wes Welker’s injury. This was pretty obvious. His loss is brutal heading into the playoffs. He is Tom Brady’s safety outlet, but other players have to step up. The injury was a non-contact injury, and things happen in football. Can’t wait to see him (hopefully) at the start of next season, though I wouldn’t be surprised if he can’t start the season.
- Another 4th quarter collapse. The Patriots had a two touchdown lead with 14 minutes left to play in the game, and ended up losing the game by a touchdown. The defense got taken advantage of and the offense couldn’t hold onto the ball to run the clock out (and turned the ball over as well). Sound familiar? Those have been the Patriots’ woes all season, and they haven’t seemed to have gone away. There was hope after the Jags game, but I have to admit, the doubt has crept back into my head again.
- Run defense. Without Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren, the Texans, the 31st-ranked running team, ran over the Patriots’ defense to the tune of 144 yards on 27 carries. That’s good for a 5.3 ypc average. It is likely that Wilfork and Warren will return to face the Ravens, but that still has to be a concern with Willis McGahee and Ray Rice coming coming to town.
- Late special teams meltdown. With the Pats holding a 27-20 lead, Chris Hanson punted to Jacoby Jones, who returned the punt 31 yards to the Patriots’ 34 yard line. That return set up the game-tying score and kept the momentum in the Texans’ favor. In order to win games against good teams, offense, defense, AND special teams all have to playing at a high level. That return, the only punt return of the game, came at the worst time.
The regular season is over and the playoffs are almost here. The Patriots host the Ravens 1pm Sunday afternoon on CBS. Tomorrow I’ll take a look at the final regular season stats of each team and see how that fits into the game planning for the Wild Card game.