What we learned during the Patriots’ 42-14 blowout win over the Texans on Monday:
Either the Texans were a bit too juiced to stop the run or Tom Brady is that adept at the play-action fake, for it opened up several big pass plays early on, including on consecutive snaps during an early scoring drive. First, a fake handoff to Stevan Ridley got a Houston defender already in the backfield to wrap up Ridley while Brady converted a 13-yard pass to Aaron Hernandez. Another play-action fake on the very next play left Brandon Lloyd completely alone in the secondary for a 37-yard TD.
A most valuable performance
Brady seems to be behind Peyton Manning and sometimes a few others in most MVP discussions. A classic performance on Monday night against the team with the best record in the NFL might change that. Brady’s dismantling of the Texans was so pristine that it will resonate with voters for weeks to come. He had 165 yards passing and three touchdowns in the first half, during which he completed 10 straight passes at one point. The Pats have an opening, with some help, to gain the top seed in the AFC and their quarterback is performing with surgical precision, now flirting with the best TD-to-pick ratio of his career (36:4 in 2010). Sounds like an MVP to us.
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Not ready for primetime
It was labeled as the biggest regular season game in Texans history, and yet they went the bulk of the first half without a positive play. Snap after snap provided a result that cemented this meeting as a complete mismatch. Perhaps it is a bit different if these teams meet in Reliant Stadium in the playoffs, but only if Houston does some serious homework. It was so thoroughly dominated in all aspects of the game during the first half, looking very much like a team that isn’t quite ready to make the leap. Teams that are ready to make the leap don’t leave guys like Hernandez completely uncovered on a 1st-and-goal from the 4, as was the case with the third TD of the first half.
Wes is the best…
…option to replace the injured Julian Edelman as the primary punt returner. Of course, it’s not foreign territory for Welker. He entered Monday night having returned 225 punts in his career. He looked the part on the opening punt of the game, bringing it back 31 yards to give the Patriots excellent field position on their first drive. It was just one of many big plays for New England in the first half, but helped set the tone for the 21-0 start.
Hold onto the football, Stevan
Among the only negative plays for the Pats in the first half was Ridley’s fumble on the Texans’ 4. The fumble was recovered by Hernandez, who scored on the very next play, but it was Ridley’s third fumble of the season. For perspective, remember that BenJarvus Green-Ellis had zero fumbles in 510 carries with New England. Those have to stop or Ridley will continue to lose snaps, as he did as this one dragged on.
Pass on pass defense
Unless the Texans find a way to stop the pass, an 11-1 start won’t mean squat. Aaron Rodgers torched them earlier this season, as did lessers like Matthew Stafford and even Chad Henne. Someone like Brady can just show up and have a field day against a team that gives up a ton of big plays in the passing game. Houston entered Monday having given up the eighth-most passing plays of over 20 yards, a number that goes up with Donte Stallworth’s 63-yard TD and Lloyd’s score from 37 yards out.
On second(ary) thought
Although Aqib Talib was knocked out with an injury, his impact on the secondary remains. The position shuffle continues to make this a stronger unit all around, as evidenced by another solid game by some of those maligned earlier in the season. Devin McCourty’s first-quarter interception may have prevented an early TD for the Texans, and Kyle Arrington was all over the place on defense and special teams. Both appeared to be as fired up as they’ve been all year.