Texans vs. Patriots: With Tom Brady at QB, Patriots Offense Never Shorthanded
Pundits said all week long that this game would be nothing like the previous one.
They were right.
Last time around, the Patriots throttled the Texans in a quick-scoring fury. This time around, the Patriots had to adjust to some early struggles against the Texans defense, as well as a pair of big-time injuries to tight end Rob Gronkowski and running back Danny Woodhead.
Last time, the Patriots entered the game without Gronkowski and were able to win convincingly anyway. This time, the Patriots lost Gronkowski a few plays into the game, and had to adjust on the fly, and were still able to win convincingly.
The common thread for the offense is Tom Brady, who was equally dominant in both games. Last time, the Patriots coasted to an early lead. This time, the Texans made them earn it, and then made them earn it again.
The Patriots may be without Gronkowsi for the remainder of the postseason, and his return was supposed to mean big things for their playoff run. Instead, the Patriots will have to settle for an offense that scored 36 points more than any other team from Weeks 11 thru 16 (when Gronkowski was out).
The offense once again showed that it has enough playmakers to make many general managers weep.
Shane Vereen's three touchdowns (one rushing, two receiving) were part of a playoff performance we won't soon forget, with the running back showing exactly the explosive capability that made him a second-round pick in 2011. He was almost equally dangerous in the running and passing game, amassing 82 yards rushing and 83 yards receiving on 15 carries and five catches respectively.
These were not routine receptions for a running back; his second touchdown catch was a smile short of a Brandon Lloyd meme.
Vereen's involvement in the game plan was clearly facilitated by the absence of Woodhead, but his impact in that role was made possible by some good play calls and some great throws by Brady.
It will take more of both if the Patriots are to get past the Ravens in the AFC Championship Game, and they may have to do it without one of their best offensive players.
The Patriots had Gronkowski in their previous meeting with the Ravens, but they were without Hernandez. The opposite holds true in the coming meeting, which will bring about some interesting questions as to what the Patriots strategy will be to attack the Ravens.
The fact that they've been without at least one of their key offensive players for almost the entire season gives faith that the Patriots can do without Gronkowski for the postseason, but having a dominant quarterback is the ultimate concealer.
On a weekend where three "elite" quarterbacks entered the postseason, the one that remains will have a tall order on his hands. Judging by the way he and his team have played this season and on Sunday, it'll be tough to bet against them.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless otherwise specified, all quotes are obtained firsthand or via team press releases.
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