When the Patriots ran:
The Patriots offense never seemed to be running smoothly Saturday night and that was certainly the case with the running game. Dion Lewis once again opened as the lead back only this time he was never able to find any substantial room to move. Aside from a couple of runs late in the game, most of his carries resulted in short gains that accomplished little in terms of setting up manageable situations. He finished with 13 carries for 41 for a 3.2-yard average. LeGarrette Blount spelled him from time and time and fared no better, picking up 31 yards on eight carries for a deceptive 3.9-yard average since his total included an 18-yard run well after the outcome had been decided. Aside from two tricks plays – a Julian Edelman jet sweep (12 yards) and a Danny Amendola reverse (15) – the Patriots offensive line failed to create holes in the running game. Overall New England managed just 98 yards on 27 carries for a 3.6-yard average – even including the output of the wideouts.
When the Patriots passed:
Houston came into the game with the top-ranked defense in football in terms of yards allowed. It was easy to see why after the game. Nothing the Patriots produced was easy, and in fact big chunks of yards came on plays that Bill Belichick later referred to as "prayers." Tom Brady was under the gun all night and his numbers showed that. He completed just 18 of 38 passes (47 percent) for 287 yards with a pair of touchdowns and also two picks for a 68.8 passer rating. Those are not the numbers we expect from the Brady, and in truth they're probably a little better than the on-field performance would suggest. On at least three occasions Brady hurriedly chucked ill-advised ball deep downfield toward receivers who were covered reasonably well, only to be rewarded with catches. One went for 48 yards to Edelman, who deftly got away with a push off to complete the catch. Edelman was excellent with right catches for 137 yards, consistently finding third corner Kareem Jackson and winning that mismatch. Chris Hogan had four catches for 95 yards, 45 coming on one of the aforementioned prayers. Otherwise the Texans pressure, combined with some sloppiness from Michael Floyd, who had a pass deflect off his hands for a pick, hampered Brady throughout. Houston came to play.
When the Texans ran:
New England gets the nod in this matchup but only slightly. Houston did a reasonable job of picking up enough yards to stay competitive and keep the offense in favorable third down situations. Lamar Miller found some success, particularly in the middle portions of the game when the Texans occasionally threatened to take the lead. He finished with 73 yards on 19 carries for a 3.7-yard average, effectively being eliminated from the game when the passing game couldn't convert. The Texans had efficient runs (4 yards or more, first down, touchdown) on 14 of 22 attempts, which shows Houston accomplished its goals on early running downs. Miller couldn't maintain it, however, and when Houston went to the air it found virtually no success. Overall the Texans finished with 104 yards on 23 carries for a respectable 4.5-yard average, but 18 of those yards came on a brock Osweiler scramble which was not a designed run.
When the Texans passed:
Logan Ryan enjoyed one of his best games as a pro, finishing with a pick, a sack and three passes defensed. He was tight in coverage all night and was the secondary's best player. His fellow Rutgers alums Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon also recorded interceptions as the defense continued its second-half trend of creating turnovers. But the real story here was the utter ineptitude of Osweiler, who was largely responsible for all three picks with poor throws. McCourty's came when his pass went to the inside of DeAndre Hopkins while the other two were bad overthrows, particularly Ryan's, which was tipped by a leaping Hopkins. Osweiler completed 23 of 40 passes for just 198 yards and a touchdown with the three picks. He was victimized by one huge drop by Will Fuller, who had Malcolm Butler beat for a touchdown only to drop the perfect pass in the end zone. That would have made things interesting in the third quarter as Houston could have trimmed the lead to 24-20. Instead Osweiler tossed a pair of four quarter picks to pretty much end the game.
Lewis was the ultimate trick or treat player, ripping off a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and following that up with a fumble that gave Houston possession at the 12 and led to the visitors' only touchdown. Aside from those two plays the return game was uneventful. Edelman handled punts and was held in check (6.5-yard average) while Fuller replaced an injured Tyler Ervin and turned in an 18-yarder. Ryan Allen was excellent throughout, averaging 40 yards on his six punts with four downed inside the 20 including one at the 4 and another at the 2. Shane Lechler wasn't far behind with three of his eight kicks inside the 20 and just one touchback. Kickers Nick Novak (3-for-3) and Stephen Gostkowski (2-for-2) were perfect on field goals, but the relatively even night was decided by Lewis' electric touchdown that put the Patriots in control early.