It’s time to take a look at five players who stepped up in a big way and played excellent games to help lead the New England Patriots to a 41-28 victory over the Houston Texans in the AFC Divisional Round.
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1. RB Shane Vereen
It truly does start with Shane Vereen, who filled in perfectly for Danny Woodhead after the Patriots running back injured his thumb on the first play of the game for the Pats offense. Vereen has provided a lightning-in-a-bottle spark to this Pats offense with his explosiveness in the running game and as a receiver out the backfield, and I liken him to a more consistent DeSean Jackson in the backfield. It’s a convoluted reference, but it’s the best way I can think of describing his big-play abilities.
But on the Patriots, you also need to be a consistent player. I’d say averaging about six yards per carry on seven attempts is consistent, wouldn’t you? Vereen scored three touchdowns for the Patriots, and he was absolutely incredible as a receiver by catching five of the six passes thrown to him for 82 yards. Now that’s called consistently making plays on offense.
I want to note Michael Hoomanawanui in this space as an unsung hero for this Patriots team, because he once again quietly rose to the occasion. Nobody else will replace the pass-catching prowess void left by Rob Gronkowski, but Hoomanawanui has done what is even more difficult- he has been just as good of a blocker as Gronk has been this year. I’m probably exaggerating a little bit, but Hooman deserves the praise.
2. QB Tom Brady
Tom Brady almost always makes this list of five, and there’s no way I’m going to keep him out this week. Brady fittingly moved past Joe Montana as the all-time leader in playoff victories in another dominating display in leading the Patriots aerial attack. Brady averaged 8.6 yards per attempt in a brutally efficient offensive performance that included three touchdowns and no interceptions. He threw for a total of 344 yards, and his 115.0 QB Rating underscores his effectiveness against the Houston Texans. He simply owns them, and there was no way they would deny him from lighting it up at home.
3. WR Wes Welker
As usual, Brady’s trusty slot receiver Wes Welker was wreaking havoc on the inside of the field. Not only did he work the intermediate game to perfection, but he also made a huge play deep on a 47-yard pass that involved some great football from both Brady and Welker. The connection between them is as great as ever, and Welker came away with eight receptions for 131 yards against a Texans secondary that was clearly overmatched against Welker.
Wilfork has put together a string of at least five games in which he has looked like the best defensive tackle in the NFL. Simply immovable against the run on Sunday, Wilfork finished the day with five tackles that were all a clinic in playing the run as a 4-3 DT. Nobody does it better than the All-Pro defensive tackle, and his dominance will be especially key next week against the Baltimore Ravens.
5. Jerod Mayo
Oh man, there isn’t a player on the Patriots defense who I root for more than Jerod Mayo. I just love the leadership he shows and the shutdown run defense that comes with it. Mayo was responsible for two tackles for loss and seven total tackles, and his improved coverage against tight ends was on tap. However, he and the rest of the linebackers (especially Brandon Spikes) will need to do a better job of containing running backs in coverage, because Arian Foster had a field day on them with seven receptions for 63 yards.
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