The New England Patriots once again handed the Houston Texans a real lesson on the offensive side of the ball, and the defense was also strong again in the Pats 41-28 victory over the Texans in the AFC Divisional round. Next up is a re-match with the hard-nosed Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship, and it’s a good thing this one is in Gillette.
1. The special teams is allowed to have an off game, just not next week
The New England Patriots special team’s unit has been solid throughout the season, but they chose the AFC Divisional game to have an off day against the Houston Texans. And boy, was the kick coverage way off on Danieal Manning in this one. I hope the Pats got it out of their system, because they can’t afford to pull another poor performance on special teams against Jacoby Jones and the Baltimore Ravens.
2. Shane Vereen‘s value to the Pats
With Danny Woodhead out with a left thumb injury for basically the entire game, it was up to second-year back Shane Vereen to deliver after the loss of the valuable, clutch RB. Vereen stepped in and shattered expectations with three touchdowns in the game. He punched in a one-yard score to give the Patriots a 7-3 lead, and he also caught two excellent passes from Tom Brady. Vereen averaged nearly six yards per carry on seven carries, and he also caught five passes for 83 yards and two touchdowns in a truly Woodhead-like performance. This is Vereen’s value to the team with his explosiveness and pass-catching ability, and the Pats won’t miss a beat if Woodhead is out against the Ravens (let’s hope the injury wasn’t that serious).
3. Wes Welker as reliable as they come
Alright fine, we already knew this but Sunday’s performance helped remind us just how valuable Wes Welker is to this team. Easily the best slot receiver in the league, Welker finished as the AFC’s leader in receptions and the NFL’s leader in yards per catch and outplayed those numbers by pace with his performance against the Texans. It was clear that Houston could not contend with a dynamic slot receiver like Welker, and he finished with eight catches for 131 yards and even made a 47-yard catch way down field.
4. The good with the bad
Almost everything in this game for the New England Patriots was good, but there is one weakness that is troubling going into the game against the Ravens. Arian Foster is a solid pass-catching running back, but the Patriots linebackers have a knack for making him look elite as a receiver after allowing seven catches for 63 yards and a TD to Foster. They will have to clamp down on Ray Rice next week, because he is a far more dynamic receiver.
5. Patriots hold down J.J. Watt again
Even though J.J. Watt registered a half-a-sack, he was actually much worse this week than he was against the Patriots in Week 14 when he didn’t record a single sack. He actually played well in their first meeting, but Watt only managed to hit Tom Brady once and collected just four tackles against the Patriots. It was the only game of the season in which Watt looked below average, as the Pats kept him in check after he managed to get a little bit of pressure on Brady. The offensive line as a whole was terrific, and Nate Solder and Logan Mankins comprise arguably the best run blocking left side of the line in the NFL.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.