The New England Patriots served us all a little reminder on Sunday. They’re still one step ahead of everyone else in the NFL.
Trailing 33-28 with 2:24 left in the fourth quarter, the Patriots took the ball at their own 25-yard line, following a Houston Texans field goal. They had the benefit of the two-minute warning and one timeout remaining. However, they held another advantage that was even better than stopping the clock.
Houston’s defense was exhausted, dehydrated, and and flat-out cooked.
With temperatures in the mid-80’s on a sunny afternoon in Foxboro, the Texans’ exhaustion was no more evident than when they called a timeout of their own with exactly one minute left in the game and the Patriots at midfield.
Tom Brady, from his own 48-yard line, had just thrown an incomplete pass to Brandin Cooks on 2nd-and-18. Needing a touchdown, it was obviously four-down territory the rest of the way.
And Houston’s defense was toast. So they used a timeout.
You could see it in the Texans’ eyes. They had nothing left in the tank. The worst part about it all, for Houston, was that the Patriots were all over it. They could see the Texans huffing and puffing, practically begging for the water boys to run onto the field during that timeout.
On the very next play, Brady, on 3rd-and-18, connected with Danny Amendola for a 27-yard gain down the right side of the field. Then, the Patriots did something that most of the league would never do.
They refused to stop the clock.
I’m convinced that at least 28 other offenses in the league would have either spiked the ball or called a timeout after the Amendola catch, would have given the Texans’ defense a chance to catch its breath, and would have then lost the game by not scoring.
Instead, as the clock ran down to under 30 seconds, Brady and his panic-free offense jogged to the Houston 25-yard line in typical no-huddle fashion, and they snapped the ball with 29 seconds on the clock. Brady pump-faked right, and sent a deep pass into the left side of the end zone, where an open Cooks jumped up in between a fatigued cornerback and a snoozing safety, and caught the game-winning touchdown pass with 23 seconds remaining.
The Patriots converted the two-point conversion to make it a three-point game, and went on to win 36-33.
It wasn’t a convincing win, by any means. But it was another example that, as long as Brady and Bill Belichick are running the show in New England, they’ll be the cream of the crop in the NFL.
There’s the Patriots, and then there’s everybody else. Even when things aren’t looking so good.
While the Pats are 2-1 to start the season, the eye test will tell you there’s plenty of room for improvement. From offensive injuries to defensive communication issues, these Patriots are far from perfect.
The most alarming issue also jumps out on paper. Through three weeks, the Patriots have allowed the most points per game in the NFL at 31.7. And their pass defense is also statistically the worst in the league, allowing 330.7 pass yards per game.
Those numbers — to go along with what we’ve all seen with our own eyes the last three games — have been the cause for some concern in New England. But the decision, on Sunday, to feast on an exhausted Texans defense rather than panic and stop the clock with just seconds remaining, should do something to calm your nerves.
It should serve as a reminder that the Patriots are still one step ahead of everyone else.
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