FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- One New England player watched video of the Houston Texans wearing their spiffy high school-like Texans letterman jackets. Texans players wore them before enduring what would be a complete and embarrassing 42-14 plastering at the hands of the Patriots.
"They look cute," the Patriots player said of the Texans in their jackets. "They look like a high school swim team."
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News of the jackets didn't go unnoticed by some in the Patriots locker room. To at least a few players, the jackets smacked of amateurism, a ploy used by a team not ready for the big time, but pretending to be. A few Patriots turned the jackets into a sarcastic meme in the hours before the game: this ain't high school.
This Texans organization is top notch with a great general manager, good players and a solid coaching staff, but in the end the jackets were a symbol of sorts. The men who went out of their way to create them, and talk about them publicly, and then wear them with pride before the game, played like members of the Houston chess club. The men who didn't give a damn about letterman jackets played like ruthless, unkempt beasts.
"It was a good ass whipping," Texans receiver Andre Johnson said.
Sorry, correction, yes ... ass whooping. Not beat-down.
Lettermen jackets? The Patriots showed the Texans what this sport really is: a brutal arena that is part chemistry lab and part punch to the face. The Texans made a nice statement of unity with their stately jackets but in doing so they forgot the NFL isn't for lettermen. Or gentlemen. It's for men. It's for brutal, ruthless men who think lettermen jackets are for Friday nights and memories over a beer.
There is no shame losing to Tom Brady in a big spot. Many mere mortals not named Eli Manning have done just that. But as the season's end nears, and a playoff pecking order is established, this game did two things, none of them good for Houston.
It established the Patriots as the favorites to win the Super Bowl. The Broncos can be argued, so can others, but after this, it's almost impossible not to like the Patriots as championship material after they manhandled an 11-win team.
Once again, we're seeing Brady's game rise as the season turns from regular to post. In his past seven games Brady has 19 passing touchdowns and only one interception. Against Houston he was 21 of 35 for 296 yards and four touchdowns.
"We had to see where we're at against [one of] the better teams in the league," Brady said.
Most important -- and this will sound somewhat contradictory to many in football who viewed the Texans as fleet-footed frauds -- this outcome provides more fodder. Again, this is unfair, as many teams lose to Brady in December (this is New England's 13th consecutive December victory), but this was one of the worst performances of a supposed big-time team we've seen in many regular-season games.
The closest J.J. Watt got to Brady was ordering UGG boots online. Bill Belichick embarrassed Gary Kubiak. Totally, ruthlessly embarrassed him. Brady was deadly accurate. Matt Schaub was awful. On and on it goes. Houston entered the game with the No. 2 ranked offense but was shut out in the first half, 21-0. It was the first time Houston has been shut out in a half this season. The Texans didn't score until there was 6 minutes and 12 seconds remaining in the third quarter to make it 28-7.
This was a chance for the Texans to make the statement that they could compete with anyone. Instead, this debacle happened.
And the score was far worse than indicated. The Texans did get a few stops and the Patriots offense slowed its blistering start but there's little question this game could have been 50 or 60 to zip with just a few plays here and there.
There has been suspicion around the league that Houston's defense would come up soft in big spots against the better teams later in the season. In losses to the Packers and Patriots the Texans allowed a combined 84 points. There was one moment in particular against New England that was downright head shaking. After Brady's final drive late in the fourth quarter, but before leaving the field, Texans defensive back Kareem Jackson slapped five with Brady in a mind-numbing moment of Stockholm syndrome. It was a shock Jackson didn't ask Brady to sign his letterman jacket.
"I think we put too much emphasis on this being a huge game and not doing our approach," said Houston linebacker Brady James. "Sometimes guys get a little tight and things get out of hand."
Another striking difference between these two teams. The Patriots embraced the challenge of going against the Texans. The Texans got "tight."
Earlier, toward the end of the third quarter, Brady ran for a first down, and then slid. He got up, turned towards the crowd in the closest endzone, and pumped his fist. The moment looked almost primal. The opposite of a letterman.
Because this ain't high school.