The division-leading New England Patriots travel to the Lone Star State this weekend to take on the Houston Texans. The Patriots have won eight of their last nine games, including six wins in a row, and hold a two-game advantage over the Miami Dolphins atop the AFC East standings. New England has won with a combination of solid team defense and an offense that has shown a knack for coming up with big plays. New England's defense has allowed six or fewer points in three of its last five games, including a 12-0 shutout over the Dallas Cowboys last week. The Patriots offense has produced four pass plays of 45 yards or more in the last two weeks, showing an element of explosiveness that can turn a game quickly to the Patriots' favor. This week against the Texans, New England will try to continue its strong run of play and further position itself for a strong finish to the 2003 regular season.
This week's game will be televised by CBS. The game can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4 in Boston. Kevin Harlan will handle the play-by-play duties and Randy Cross will provide analysis. Immediately following the game, the Fifth Quarter postgame show can be seen on WSBK-TV Channel 38 in Boston.
WBCN 104.1 FM is the flagship station for the Patriots Rock Radio Network. Play-by-play broadcaster Gil Santos is in his 27th season as the voice of the Patriots and calls the action along with Patriots Hall of Famer Gino Cappelletti. In 2003, Santos and Cappelletti celebrate their 20th season as a broadcast tandem.
The Patriots have equaled the best 10-game start in franchise history with an 8-2 record through 10 games. New England is 8-2 for just the second time in team history, joining the 1978 squad with eight wins in their first 10 games. Like the 1978 team, the 2003 Patriots lost their first game, then rattled off eight wins in their next nine games. The Patriots are tied for the second best record in the NFL this season, joining Indianapolis, Carolina and Tennessee at 8-2.
RISING TO THE OCCASION
The Patriots are 5-0 this season against teams that currently have winning records, proving that they have what it takes to compete with the NFL's elite. New England has beaten one 8-2 team (Tennessee) and two 7-3 teams (Dallas and Philadelphia). The Patriots also beat Miami and Denver, both of whom are 6-4. New England is the only team in the NFL with seven or more wins to have played as many as five games against teams above .500.
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One of the oldest mantras in sports is that it doesn't matter where you start a season, but it does matter where you finish it. The Patriots have done a remarkable job of finishing strong over the past two-plus seasons, as they have compiled a 19-4 (.826) record after November 1 since the 2001 season. In 2001, the Patriots hit their groove as the calendar turned to the 11th month, winning 11 of their last 12 games en route to the Super Bowl XXXVI title.
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The Patriots and Texans will meet for the first time. This week's game will be the first for the Patriots in Houston since they paid a visit to play the Houston Oilers on Sept. 25, 1988. New England has played 14 games in Houston in franchise history, and holds a 5-9 overall record in those games. The Patriots and the Houston Oilers were old foes dating back to the days of the American Football League, playing twice a year from 1960-69 and 33 times overall before the Oilers moved to Tennessee following the 1996 season. The Patriots are 15-15 when playing a team for the first time. New England is facing a new team for the first time since Sept. 22, 1996, when they hosted the Jacksonville Jaguars at Foxboro Stadium and came up with a 28-25 overtime victory.
HISTORY IN HOUSTON
The Patriots have played 14 games in Houston in team history, all against the former Houston Oilers. New England compiled a 5-9 record in those games, most of which were played in the 1960s as part of the original AFL circuit.