Gap between Texans, Pats only widens
The New England Patriots maintained their conference headlock on the Houston Texans for the second time in five weeks, and Sunday’s 41-28 divisional victory at Gillette Stadium went largely as the defending AFC champs had planned.
Unfortunately, this was the kind of miserable playoff exit the Texans know all too well after last season.
Baltimore ended Houston’s playoff road in 2011 in the second round. Now the city’s streak of failing to advance to the AFC championship round with the Oilers and Texans has extended to 33 frustrating years.
Houston has never played host to an AFC title game. As long as Tom Brady (17 playoff victories) continues to stand in the way, that futility streak figures to continue.
The former AFC front-runners entered Week 14 at 11-1, then succumbed to a late-season tailspin beginning with a humbling 42-14 loss at Foxboro, losing three of four to end the regular season.
In two games this season, Brady and the Patriots put up 83 points against the Texans. But coach Gary Kubiak doesn’t see a gaping hole separating the AFC South champs from the AFC’s most dominant team over the past decade — even if it felt like the Texans were digging themselves out of one through much of second half of their playoff matchup.
“We’re right there, as a football team,” Kubiak said. “But I think we’re gonna go back and be really disappointed in our opportunities to make some plays.”
There were so many impressive sparks of energy by the Texans that this game never felt truly out of reach until well into the second half. Danieal Manning romped 94 yards on the opening kickoff return to set up a Shayne Graham field goal, and his 35-yard return just before halftime helped set up an Arian Foster 1-yard touchdown plunge that helped the Texans climb to within 17-13 at the break.
By then, cracks in the facade had begun to appear.
Foster rushed for 47 yards in that Houston scoring drive. But his streak of 100-yard rushing games in the postseason was halted at three when he managed only 33 rushing yards the entire second half.
Every time the Texans slipped up with a three-and-out series, or failed to convert a crucial third down, the Patriots capitalized with a vengeance.
Brady led the Patriots on a 69-yard touchdown drive to start the third quarter and the score began to balloon. It spun out of control when Texans quarterback Matt Schaub tossed a risky pass he’ll regret when he sees it again.
Trailing 24-13 and at the New England 37-yard line, Schaub tried to force a pass to James Casey by throwing it over the head of nimble Pats’ defensive end Rob Ninkovich.
Bad idea. Ninkovich plucked the errant pass right out of the air. Six plays later, Brady threw a 5-yard TD pass to Brandon Lloyd and, well, game over.
“I guess I’m just blessed,” Ninkovich said. “Right place, right time.”
Explained Schaub, “They dropped the D-end (Ninkovich) out there and I just didn’t get enough height on it.
“I saw him. I was just trying to get it over the top of him on that play.”
In these Patriots-Texans shoving matches, that’s the kind of “oh-no” moment that typically opens the floodgates for New England’s potent offense.
“Yeah — when they ultimately get the ball, that’s definitely an ‘oh no’ moment,” Schaub admitted. “We knew we’d get another opportunity to get the ball. But they went down and scored off that turnover, which made our situation more difficult.”
It always does.
“That’s the thing when you play against a team like this,” said Texans receiver Andre Johnson, who caught eight passes for 95 yards but never saw the end zone. “They’re capable of scoring every time they touch the ball, and we knew that.”
At some point, as long as the Patriots continue to stand in their way, the Texans will have to stop forgetting that.