NFL playoffs: Tom Brady survives a beating as Patriots eventually rout Texans
It wasn't pretty, but the Patriots pulled away in the second half to return to the AFC title game
If Bill Belichick ever decides to go back and rank all of his playoff wins after he retires, there's a good chance that Saturday's victory over Houston will rank somewhere near the bottom.
Actually, maybe it will rank somewhere near the top: Belichick seems like a guy who would see the beauty of an ugly win, and that's exactly what the Patriots' 34-16 win over the Texans was: pure ugliness.
Yes, pretty much any game that Brock Osweiler plays in can be classified as ugly, but this one was also ugly on the Patriots' end.
Tom Brady got beat up, the Patriots turned the ball over three times, and their run game was held under 50 yards for the first three quarters. However, none of that ugliness matters now because New England is headed to the AFC Championship Game for a record-setting sixth straight year.
The Patriots broke the previous record held by the Raiders, who went to the AFC title game in five straight seasons back in the 1970s (1973-77).
To be good for that long, sometimes you have to win the ugly ones and that's what the Patriots did against Houston.
How ugly was it?
Just ask Tom Brady. The Patriots quarterback threw two interceptions in the game, which was shocking because he only threw two interceptions the entire regular season. Brady finished 18 of 38 for 287 yards, but it wasn't his fault that he was off-target most of the night.
To put it simply, it was a painful night for Brady.
Need more of this in the second half. pic.twitter.com/I0LG6DntdC— Ross Bolen (@WRBolen) January 15, 2017
Brady's frustrations eventually boiled over in the second half. The Patriots quarterback started yelling at an official after he took what appeared to be a late hit.
The good news for the Patriots is that Brady made it through the game unscathed.
The other good news is that there's a silver lining that comes with ugly wins: The Patriots played arguably one of their three worst games of the season and still came out on top. Not only did they win, but they covered the giant 16.5-point spread.
If Brady and the Patriots offense can play badly for three quarters and still win by 18 points, that has to make everyone in New England feel good about the AFC title game. The Patriots rarely ever play two bad games in a row, which means the Chiefs or Steelers probably shouldn't expect to see the same Patriots team next week as the one that had early trouble with the Texans.
You might be wondering how New England won with so many issues on offense. Here are five more takeaways from the Patriots' victory.
Kickoff return craziness
It's not easy to go from hero of the game to goat of the game back to hero in a span of one half, but that's what Dion Lewis nearly pulled off during New England's win. Late in the first quarter, it looked like the Patriots were going to turn the game into a rout when Lewis became the first Patriots player in postseason history to return a kickoff for a touchdown.
The 98-yard return gave New England a 14-3 lead, and at that point, a lot of people were probably expecting the Patriots to put the Texans away before halftime. That didn't happen though, thanks in large part to a big mistake made by Lewis.
In the second quarter, the Patriots return man gave a touchdown right back to Houston when he fumbled away a kickoff return that the Texans would recover at New England's 12-yard line.
Lewis atoned for that mistake by making NFL history. The Patriots running back became the first player in the Super Bowl era to score a return touchdown, receiving touchdown and rushing touchdown in the same game. Lewis finished with 41 yards rushing and 23 yards receiving.
Brady on fire targeting Edelman and Hogan
"Throw the ball up and hope that Julian Edelman catches it" probably isn't in the Patriots' playbook, but Tom Brady had to do that several times against Houston due to the constant pressure he was facing against the Texans. The good news for the Patriots is that Brady throwing the ball up and praying that someone catches it ended up being their most successful play call of the night, and the crazy thing is that it worked multiple times.
A good example of this came in the second quarter when the Texans brought a blitz. Brady saw the pressure coming and immediately unloaded a long throw to Chris Hogan, who somehow made the catch even with Brady's duck being underthrown by a few yards.
Brady tried his luck again later in the second quarter when he found Edelman for a 48-yard gain.
In both instances, the receiver was covered, but Hogan and Edelman were able to make an unbelievable play on the ball. Both of these guys did a good job of masking Brady's struggles (to be fair, you can't completely blame Brady, who was sacked twice and faced constant pressure).
Overall, Brady went 12 of 17 for 232 yards in the game when he was targeting Edelman (eight catches, 137 yards) or Hogan (four catches, 95 yards). When Brady was targeting other players, things got ugly: He went just 6 of 21 for 55 yards with two interceptions (and two touchdowns). The deadly combination of Edelman and Hogan was a big reason why the Patriots were able to win.
Houston's defense kept the game within 30 points
The only reason the Texans were able to stay in this game is because their defense kept making plays. The 34-16 final score would probably have been uglier if the Texans defense didn't force two turnovers. Both came off interceptions, which is impressive because almost nobody could pick Brady all year. In 12 regular season games this season, Brady only threw two picks. He matched that total in the first three quarters against Houston.
Both interceptions from Brady eventually led to field goals for the Texans, which means Brady basically handed Houston six points with his miscues. Houston also picked up an easy touchdown after recovering a Dion Lewis fumble at the Patriots' 12-yard line following a kickoff in the second quarter. That means 13 of Houston's 16 points came off turnovers.
The Texans defense didn't play a perfect game, but they came close. With guys like Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus and Brian Cushing putting constant pressure on Brady, the Patriots were out of sync for nearly the entire night.
If your defense plays a nearly perfect game, you don't usually lose by 18 points, so how did the Texans end up getting blown out you ask?
Two words: Brock Osweiler.
Osweiler did nothing to help the Texans defense
If the Texans had gotten just an average performance from their quarterback, they probably could've taken this game down to the wire, but they couldn't even get average out of Osweiler on Saturday. Watching Osweiler direct the Texans offense was like watching someone try to peddle a bike that has no wheels: There was a lot of effort, but nothing was happening. The Texans went three-and-out on seven different drives in this game, plus there were another three drives that ended with an Osweiler interception.
Yup, Osweiler threw three interceptions, and the worse part for the Texans is that they all came in the second half. It's not easy to pull off the interception hat trick in one half, but Osweiler did it. Of the Texans' four scoring drives in the game, three of them came on drives that went for 18 yards or less, and all three of those drives were set up by a New England turnover.
Osweiler did make one absolutely perfect throw against the Patriots, but it ended up going to waste after Will Fuller dropped what could've been a game-changing touchdown catch.
If Fuller holds on to that, it's a 24-20 game late in the third quarter. Instead, he dropped it and the rout was on.
Overall, Osweiler finished 23 of 40 for 198 yards. The Texans quarterback also threw three picks and one touchdown pass.
Based on the way Osweiler finished the season, it would be an absolute shock if he's the team's starting quarterback going into training camp next season.
Patriots fans still hate Roger Goodell
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell still hasn't been to a Patriots game since he handed out Brady's original Deflategate suspension, and that streak continued on Saturday as Goodell decided to attend the Seahawks-Falcons game.
It's probably for the best though that Goodell wasn't at Gillette Stadium, because fans there still seem to be kind of upset with him.
On the other hand, maybe that guy's first name is Francis and the back of his jersey is just one giant coincidence.
You can catch up on everything you missed from the game by checking out the live blog below.
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