The New England Patriots followed their record breaking comeback against the Broncos with another second half comeback in Houston. The Pats fell behind early, and found themselves in a 10 point hold at the half. But once again they didn’t panic, and New England managed to gut out the win against the Texans.
Here are a few things that I took away from the Patriots second consecutive 34-31 win. (Three immediate takeaways can be found here).
1. Stephen Gostkowski Is The Man
Throughout his career, Stephen Gostkowski has taken some serious criticism regarding his inconsistent play as the kicker of the New England Patriots (just look at who he had to replace). But these last few seasons have been extremely successful for Gostkowski, and he seems to have peaked here in 2013. Yesterday he proved why Pats fans should be glad that he is kicking field goals for the team, as he hit two clutch (and long) late field goals. With 7:16 left in the fourth quarter, Gostkowski drilled a 53 yarder to tie the game at 31, four minutes later with 3:12 left in the game, he hit another 53 yard bomb to put New England up by three, making it the game winning field goal. Gostkowski has now hit 28 of the 30 field goals he has attempted this season, not only showing us that he is a very accurate kicker, but also making sure we know that he can be counted on when the chips are down, and the team needs him to come through.
2. Combination Of Edelman, Gronk, And Amendola Deadly
The Pats racked up 453 yards of offense in this game, with 365 of them coming through the air. Tom Brady completed 29 passes throughout the afternoon, with 20 of them going to Edelman, Gronkowski, and Amendola. These three weapons dominated the middle of the field, absolutely shredding what was the top secondary in the NFL. They all present different challenges for opposing defenses, which is what makes them so dangerous. Gronkowski’s unique blend of speed, size, and power makes it impossible for linebackers and safeties to cover him one on one. Edelman’s forte is his shiftiness in the open field, rarely getting tackled by the first man to approach him. Amendola is faster, a better route-runner, and has better hands than Edelman, but his connection with Brady isn’t where Edelman’s is at, and he obviously doesn’t posses the insane after the catch skills that number 11 obtains.
As the Texans now know, stopping these three is pretty much impossible. You can double team one of them, or maybe even two. But then what do you do with that third guy? That is the problem that the rest of the AFC will find themselves with, if they encounter this New England team in the playoffs.
Stats Note: Gronkowski caught six balls for 127 yards and a touchdown (12 targets), Edelman had nine receptions which went for 101 yards (12 targets), and Amendola caught all five balls thrown at him, going for 54 yards.
3. Running Back Situation
Bill Belichick elected to make running back Stevan Ridley a healthy scratch yesterday, probably in an effort to punish him for his fumbling problems. There is no doubt that Ridley is the most talented back that the Pats have, and they will need his services in the future. But you can’t put him in there when he has been carrying the ball so loosely over the last few weeks. New England combated Ridley’s absence by going with Shane Vereen and LeGarrette Blount for the majority of yesterday’s game, both performing very well. Vereen totaled 75 total yards, including one receiving touchdown. Blount contributed by running the ball 12 times for 44 yards, and one touchdown. The Patriots won this game with these two carrying the load, but I think this would have been a much easier win if Ridley had been in the game. However his fumbling problems must be fixed first, making this a big story-line to monitor, over the next few weeks.
4. Run Defense Still Needs Help
This is a problem the Patriots have had every week since Vince Wilfork went down with an Achilles injury in week four. Chris Jones, Joe Vellano, and Isaac Sopoaga haven’t been able do what it takes to clog up the middle, resulting in a lot of open holes for opposing offenses to run through. This same problem arose again against Houston, as this group gave up 121 rushing yards, and four rushing touchdowns. The linebackers and safeties didn’t help the cause, missing tackles left and right all game long. Even the reliable Devin McCourty didn’t play particularly well down in the box, as he missed an uncharacteristic amount of tackles. Dont’a Hightower continued his struggles, although he played better compared to his performance last week against Denver. I hope that this unit can improve a little bit over the last four regular season games, because if they play like this in January, our Patriots could end up at home watching the Super Bowl, just like the rest of us.