The last game of the divisional round of the 2013 NFL playoffs features a rematch of a Week 14 matchup between the Houston Texans and New England Patriots, with the Texans desperately hoping for a different outcome than the last time these two teams met.
Houston was annihilated in that game 42-14, and while many experts predicted a similar outcome in Sunday's meeting, there were a few dissenting voices, including Stephanie Stradley of The Houston Chronicle.
However, the Patriots were the presumptive favorites, and as SportsCenter pointed out, the past three times that New England has made the playoffs as the second seed, things have worked out pretty well.
This is 4th time in Patriots' history that they've been 2-seed in playoffs. Previous 3 times, they made the Super Bowl (2004, 2001,1996).— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 13, 2013
The game also featured a little added pregame drama, as star defensive end J.J. Watt spit on the New England logo, according to USA Today.
J.J. Watt reportedly spit on the Patriots logo before today's game: usat.ly/V6zdQq— USA TODAY Sports (@USATODAYsports) January 13, 2013
That's poor sportsmanship, and bad hygiene.
Things got off to a rousing start for the visiting team thanks to their special teams.
Danieal Manning returns opening kickoff to Pats 12 yard line. 94 yard return. #TexansGameday— Houston Texans (@HoustonTexans) January 13, 2013
Houston was forced to settle for a field goal, however, and Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post wasn't shy with the sarcasm after Texans quarterback Matt Schaub air-mailed a pass into the end zone.
Matt Schaub: "The guy in row W was wide open on that play!"— Bart Hubbuch (@HubbuchNYP) January 13, 2013
For the Patriots, the early story was injuries, as two important keys to New England's offense went down on the team's first two offensive series, both of which ended in punts.
Danny Woodhead left the game with a thumb injury. His return is questionable.— New England Patriots (@Patriots) January 13, 2013
Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski is headed to the locker room. It looks like he may have re-injured that left arm.— Fantasy Sharks (@fantasysharks) January 13, 2013
A short Houston punt led to great field position for the Patriots, and the last thing you want to do is give Tom Brady a short field.
The Patriots rolled down the field, running their no-huddle offense to perfection, and after catching the Houston defense unprepared, Shane Vereen walked into the end zone for the game's first touchdown.
The first quarter closed with the Texans facing a 7-3 deficit, and John McClain of The Houston Chronicle, one of the most respected beat writers in the NFL, was already expressing concern about the Texans' early performance.
Texans have 2 drops, 1 29-yard punt and 2 missed tackles on pass plays. No wonder they're behind.— John McClain (@McClain_on_NFL) January 13, 2013
The Houston offense continued to sputter, and with Schaub only 7-of-14 to begin the game, Manish Mehta of The New York Daily News relayed a very distressing stat regarding the Texans quarterback.
Texans trail Patriots 7-3 at end of 1st quarter. Matt Schaub has now not thrown a TD pass in the last 16 quarters.— Manish Mehta(@MMehtaNYDN) January 13, 2013
Meanwhile, the Houston defense continued to have problems with New England's hurry-up offense, and while the Texans were able to hold the Patriots to a field goal that made the score 10-3, Houston's defensive issues were puzzling to The Grove Sun's Richard Stroud.
Have the Texans never seen the Patriots' hurry-up offense? Did they not know they did that?— Richard Stroud (@GroveSunSports) January 13, 2013
Unfortunately for Houston, the same cycle repeated.
The Texans' offense once again stalled, and after a seven-play, 80-yard drive aided by a long pass from Brady to Wes Welker culminated in Shane Vereen's second score of the afternoon, Houston was down 14 and there was blood in the water.
The tweets of fans of the opposing teams reflected the game's flow to that point.
ProvidenceNightOut (@nightlife_info) January 13, 2013
The texans don't want this W, at least they aint playing like it.— Professor Hood (@shmackinghoes) January 13, 2013
A horse-collar tackle on the ensuing kickoff and two long runs by tailback Arian Foster set Houston up with 1st-and-goal and a chance to get back into the game.
This time the Texans were able to punch it in, and a drive that was vital to the Texans' chances of staying in this game ended as it began, with tough running by Foster.
That Texans TD drive was brought to u by Arian Foster, who had all 5 carries for 47 yards, including 1-yard TD to make it 17-10 w/1:15 left— Manish Mehta(@MMehtaNYDN) January 13, 2013
The Patriots played it close to the vest, and a short punt gave the Texans the opportunity to add points at the end of the half.
Shayne Graham booted through a 55-yard field goal as time expired in the first half, and while the Texans still trailed 17-13 at the break, as James Christensen of USA Today remarked, 10 Houston points in the last 75 seconds of the half provided a big swing in momentum.
Nightmare last three minutes for the #Patriots. Big drive coming up for Tom Brady at the start of the 2nd half.— James Christensen (@NEPatriotsDraft) January 13, 2013
He was far from alone in that belief.
Good fight by the Texans there at the end, showed some mental toughness.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) January 13, 2013
Very impressed with #Texans hanging in. Heating up. Ask Pete Carroll how big that field goal may wind up being...— Mike Greenberg (@Espngreeny) January 13, 2013
Intermission gave me a chance to post my stat of the half:
IDPManor) January 13, 2013
That momentum was fleeting.
Brady and the Patriots came out firing to open the third quarter, and a seven-play surgical drive that featured a 40-yard catch-and-run by tight end Aaron Hernandez culminated in a Stevan Ridley touchdown run that led former NFL safety Chris Harris to win this week's Captain Obvious Award.
The Patriots with Tom Brady + legit running game = Dangerous— Chris Harris (@ChrisHarrisNFL) January 13, 2013
The absolute last thing that the Texans could afford at that point was a turnover, and the team was given a gift when tight end Owen Daniels' forward progress was ruled to have been halted before he fumbled, a call that didn't spare Daniels the ire of Houston fans such as Joe Tammaro.
Owen Daniels has on patriots underwear. Dude is awful today!— Joe Tammaro (@Joe_Tammaro) January 13, 2013
The Texans were able to force a New England punt, at which point the game had its' first Three Stooges moment.
GIF: This mysterious fumble is part of Matt Schaub's slapstick routine.twitpic.com/buzbzi— BuzzFeed Sports (@BuzzFeedSports) January 13, 2013
Schaub redeemed himself with a conversion on 3rd-and-16, and then just like that, the nine-year veteran jumped right back into the doghouse by committing the game's first turnover, eliciting an English lesson from Bleacher Report's Alessandro Miglio.
Matt Schaub throws a Sanchez. (Sanchez (n.): 1. terrible and/or comical turnover in a football game 2. Day-old burrito)— Alessandro Miglio (@AlexMiglio) January 13, 2013
You can't give the Patriots extra chances.
New England hammered that home, as the middle of a Houston defense that has been hit hard by injuries was gashed for 23 yards by Stevan Ridley before Tom Brady finished the drive with his second touchdown pass of the game.
Touchdown, Brady to Lloyd! Pats take a 31-13 lead at Gillette.— New England Patriots (@Patriots) January 13, 2013
That score essentially put the Texans in desperation mode, and as the third quarter wound down Houston faced a huge 4th-and-short.
A great second effort by Arian Foster picked up the first down, but on a later 4th-and-short, Schaub threw it deep down the field to no one at all, which brought out more Schaub sarcasm from John Lopez.
The good news is you have Matt Schaub for four more years. I mean, stone cold LOCKED UP.— John P. Lopez (@LopezOnSports) January 13, 2013
On the very next play the Patriots stepped on Houston's neck.
Tom Brady found tailback Shane Vereen deep down the sideline for each players' third score of the game, and with the Patriots up 38-13, the proverbial fat lady was warming up her voice.
New England's destruction of the Texans for the second time this season was all but complete, and the manner in which they did it left Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated impressed.
Methodical, complete dismantling of the Texans by the Patriots. To me, this is more impressive than 12/10, b/c Houston was more prepared.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) January 14, 2013
However, the Texans at least tried to stay in it, and after another long return from Manning, a controversial touchdown catch by DeVier Posey closed the gap to 18 and gave fans of the team a glimmer of hope.
Yes, Keep it going. #Texans!!— Tony(@TonyBenitez84) January 14, 2013
The Texans were able to force a quick New England punt, and as Houston drove towards a score that would at least make things respectable, Pro Football Talk reported some news that stole some of the luster from an all but certain Patriots win.
Per source, Rob Gronkowski is done for the rest of the postseason.Re-injured forearm and needs another surgery.— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) January 14, 2013
Houston closed to 38-26 on a Matt Schaub to Arian Foster pass, and after getting the two-point conversion, Houston trailed by 10, a far from insurmountable margin, especially given that Houston scored 10 points in less than two minutes in this very game.
The second huge play of the game by linebacker Rob Ninkovich secured the onside kick for the Patriots, however, leading David Bloom to give the seventh-year veteran some well-deserved props.
From there it was simply a matter of the Patriots working on the clock, and the team did so with the same ruthless efficiency that has been a hallmark of their offense all season long, adding a Stephen Gostkowski field goal that made the score 41-28.
That was the final, and as Fox Sports tweeted, Brady can add one more achievement to his already gaudy resume.
Tom Brady is now 17-6 in the postseason, passing Joe Montana (16) for the most playoff wins by a quarterback.— FOX SPORTS: NFL (@NFLONFOX) January 14, 2013
For the Texans it was a disappointing, if not unexpected end to the 2012 season, and while Matt Schaub threw for more than 300 yards in the game, his shaky end to this year has folks such as Doug Farrar of Yahoo! Sports questioning whether he's really the answer under center for the Texans.
Matt Schaub is the worst kind of quarterback -- just good enough to keep you from replacing him, and that's where it ends.— SC_DougFarrar (@SC_DougFarrar) January 14, 2013
For New England, there was a lot to like about the game, including 229 total yards and four scores from running backs Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley, and the Patriots' win sets up the first AFC Championship game rematch in more than 25 years.
However, the loss of Gronkowski and potential loss of Danny Woodhead saps some of the thrill from the win, although Bill Belichick told Albert Breer of NFL.com after that game that he doesn't regret playing Gronkowski.
Belichick on if there's any regret putting Rob Gronkowski out there/his readiness to play: "The doctors handle medical decisions."— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) January 14, 2013
The Patriots roll on, the conference championships are set and a thrilling weekend of football comes to a close.
Good. I'm exhausted.