The New England Patriots played the most impressive game that anybody has played all season after dispatching the Houston Texans 42-14 on Monday Night Football. Here are five things we learned from the game.
1. New England Patriots the best in the AFC
This one is obvious. The Patriots are the best team in the NFL right now, and the winning streak proves it. Well, the win over Houston proves it, especially in blowout fashion. I mean, it has to be embarrassing for the Texans to play such a poor game that the Patriots can bring in their No. 2 quarterback. Tom Brady was always the MVP, and he has shown that he is clearly the league’s MVP after this game. Brady is a lock.
As for the best team in the NFL, we’ll see who comes out on top next week when the Pats take on the San Francisco 49ers. At this point, the smart bet is on the Pats.
2. Stretching the field
The New England Patriots can now take advantage of teams like the Houston Texans who struggle covering the deep ball, because Donte’ Stallworth and Brandon Lloyd finally give them a combination of two receivers who are outstanding deep threats. One of the reasons why I was a huge fan of the deal to sign Stallworth is that it takes off so much pressure from Lloyd on the other side of the field. Lloyd absolutely tore apart the Texans safeties, and his connection with Tom Brady was lethal against a secondary that wasn’t physical enough with him.
Aaron Hernandez played the role of the short-route guy against the Texans linebacker corps, which consists of a group of players who are good pass rushers but cannot cover. His ability to catch eight passes and move the chains for Brady and the offense was especially important with Wes Welker catching the dropsies on a night that should have been more impressive for him.
And man, Stallworth’s 63-yard TD catch was just awesome. As we saw in the preseason, he can still make huge plays with his speed and athleticism. He was inconsistent in training camp and the preseason due to a high amount of drops, but Bill Belichick was impressed with his overall athletic ability- and for good reason. As he showed, he is still a true burner and brings something different to the Pats passing attack. I hope Stallworth is in for the long haul.
3. A great secondary
The defensive backfield was under a lot of heat before the Aqib Talib trade, when the depth was cut due to injuries at safety and to Ras-I Dowling, as well as awful play from Kyle Arrington. Ever since then, Talib has warmed up into the good starting corner that he is, and he and Alfonzo Dennard shut down Andre Johnson in this game. Devin McCourty is one of the best safeties in the NFL and continues to play lights-out after a game-changing pick off of Matt Schaub.
Schaub looked horrible in this game and played possibly the worst game of his career in one of the biggest games of his career. Rookie Alfonzo Dennard has looked anything but a rookie, and Marquice Cole, Tavon Wilson, Steve Gregory, and Patrick Chung fill out the secondary nicely. These guys have been playing at an elite level, and Arrington in particular has been impressive. He’s turned a complete 180 and has played an excellent past three weeks, with Monday’s game being the highest point thus far.
J.J. Watt played much better than the simple statistics indicate (read: zero sacks don’t tell any bit of the story), and he was still a huge force in this game for the Houston Texans. However, the best defensive lineman last night was clearly Vince Wilfork, who has been on a mission ever since being criticized before the bye week. Wilfork played his best game of the year on MNF (and he’s had some other very good games) by recording four tackles, tipping passes all over the place, and he also recorded a sack.
5. A new kind of pressure
Bill Belichick has figured out a new way to manufacture pressure, and boy is it a dangerous proposition for the New England Patriots future opponents. Like the Miami Dolphins, Matt Schaub and the Houston Texans saw first hand how good Jerod Mayo and Dont’a Hightower are not only against the run, but also as pass rushers. Mayo continues his Pro Bowl caliber season in 2012 with staunch run defense and natural blitzing ability on delay blitzes. Both he and the promising rookie OLB notched two quarterback hits each, with Hightower also coming away with two tackles for loss.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.