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New England could not franchise WR Wes Welker again, so they chose to part ways with their all-time reception leader. The Patriots instead decided to resign WR Julian Edelman, RT Sebastian Vollmer, and midseason pickup CB Aqib Talib.
The true centerpiece of their offense is QB Tom Brady, who still commands as much respect as any quarterback in the pros. His ability to rack up points keeps the pressure off the defense, which can afford to gamble with stunts and coverages.
This newly developing rivalry was enhanced by two meetings in 2012, including a memorable playoff tilt. As NFL royalty, the Patriots do not like the Texans nipping at their heels. Houston has tried to build the same kind of long-term success as New England, but lacks the rings to validate their efforts.
Unlike the last two contests, this one is in the friendly confines of Reliant Stadium. The last time they hosted New England in 2009, they knocked them out of the playoffs.
The Patriots symbolize the worst fears of the Texans brought to life. An offense with an ultra-confident quarterback who has the talent around him to score at will. An offense so good, the defense knows the game is never out of reach.
The best break Houston can hope for is a breakdown in pass protection by the New England OL. Like any other passer, Tom Brady cannot get it done if he does not have the time.
The Texans choose not to blitz with their usual abandon, but will rush at least five players. Brady starts off by treating these rushers as nothing more than flies at his picnic.
The Patriots’ receivers like to run patterns of 10 yards or less 80 percent of the time. This allows Brady to get rid of the ball in two seconds or less. He finds WR Julian Edelman and TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez lurking just beyond the line of scrimmage time and again.
It has just been a handful of plays, and Houston is already in a 7-0 hole after a 22-yard completion that Gronkowski catches over the outstretched arms of ILB Bradie James. Is this just another replay of the Texans’ previous losses to Belichick Inc.?
Matt Schaub thinks to himself, today is a new day. We were able to run on better defenses than this, and that will be the fundamental to keeping the Patriots offense off the field. It fails to work for the next two series, but eventually pays dividends.
Arian Foster answers the call and lets the Texans’ OL move the Patriots DL one way while he goes the other direction. Foster picks up 48 of the 76 yards Houston uses to match the Patriot’s score. He takes the ball the final eight yards on a bubble screen from Schaub.
To keep Brady off balance, Texans’ DC Wade Phillips also unbalances the defensive line. He puts ILB Brian Cushing over the center and sends two to three rushers from the weak side. This forces Brady to use what little mobility he has, and also means a tight end must stay home to help with the blocking.
Rather than the high-scoring affair most has anticipated, both teams march up and down the field for a lot of yards but not many points. It is the kind of game the Texans had hoped for, even though the field goal contest that ensues does not please the home crowd.
Brady throws for almost 300 yards but just the one TD, while Matt Schaub takes the ball-control approach with only 168 yards passing. Arian Foster earns the game ball with a 133-yard rushing total, and the Texans’ Shayne Graham wins the field goal competition three to two over the Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski.