It was a cinch, but not a clinch, writes Mike Reiss of The Boston Globe. That's because the Patriots beat the Texans 40-7 but did not clinch a playoff berth due to the fact that the Jets also won yesterday to stay alive in the AFC East. The Patriots can clinch the division with a win in either of their last two games, at Jacksonville (Sunday) and at Tennessee (Dec. 31). A loss by the Jets, who visit Miami and host Oakland, also would clinch the division for New England.
This week was all about the Patriots shortcomings, pens the Boston Herald's John Tomase. "The offensive line couldn't block to save its life. The outside receivers had no prayer of separating. Ball protection did not exist. Vince Wilfork's absence would render the defense helpless." As a result, the Patriots got mad. Then they got even, taking down the Texans 40-7. "We'll see what this team is made of over the next two weeks," said quarterback Tom Brady. "We're playing for a championship now."
Last week against the Dolphins, Tom Brady came out of the game for the purposes of his own preservation, explains Shalise Manza Young of The Providence Journal. "This week, Brady came out to prevent any further damage to the Houston Texans, and to savor a total team victory that saw his teammates make big plays in every phase of the game. What a difference seven days can make." After Brady came out, both Matt Cassel and Vinnie Testaverde took snaps, though Testaverde didn't run any plays. He just kneeled on the ball. Manza Young explains that Brady was only sacked once while laying down the most solid thrashing ever to take place in Gillette Stadium.
Alan Greenberg of the Hartford Courant points out the fact that the Patriots, playing without their leading receiver, Benjamin Watson (knee), and again without their most explosive running back, Laurence Maroney (back), managed only 230 total yards and averaged 3.5 yards per offensive play against one of the league's weakest defenses. But four interceptions by the defense gave the Patriots some good field position in this game.
What we learned, yet again, is the Patriots can beat a bad team into submission, writes Tony Massarotti of the Boston Herald. "What we do not know, still, is whether they can stand up to someone who hits back." Massarotti points out the Texans terrible league rankings on both offense and defense, unconvinced that the Patriots accomplished anything, before moving on to talk about the things the Pats did well.
Ron Borges of The Boston Globe reports on the outstanding play of the Patriots defense against David Carr and the Texans offense. "We thought we had a chance. Obviously we watched what Miami did last week. They are a beatable team. But we knew they were going to come back out and play with the intensity that they play with. They haven't won three Super Bowls the last [five] years for nothing," Carr said after being sacked four times and throwing four interceptions."The defense was not only efficient but also dominating, and the special teams were suffocating when covering kicks and explosive when returning them," writes Borges.
Jennifer Toland of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette also reports on the defense's rebound after last week's game. New England finished the regular season 5-3 in its usually friendlier home confines. If the Patriots, who have road games left at Jacksonville and Tennessee, do win the division, they would return to host a playoff game here.
Jackie MacMullan of The Boston Globe explains that the Texans were just what the doctor ordered for the ailing Patriots. Since December 2004 the Texans are 6-25. Their beleaguered quarterback was again an unmitigated disaster. In most cases, NFL teams are usually far too competitive and proud to allow any game to be over by halftime, even when the score is 27-0. MacMullan argues that this game may have been over in the first quarter when Kevin Faulk caught a screen pass and galloped 43 yards into the end zone to make it 17-0. "Blowouts like these are uncommon in the NFL, which strives for, above all, parity. But there's no denying what a good old-fashioned whuppin' does for the psyche of a football team," writes MacMullan.
Michael Felger of the Boston Herald explains that the Patriots simply had to win that game by a lot. A sloppy win like against Detroit two weeks ago, or, God forbid, a loss, and you would be reading the team's obituary today. Yesterday's win may not have told us all we needed to know about their ability to beat an elite team on the road in the playoffs, but the alternative would have told us everything. It would have told us they were done.
Tully Banta-Cain, who's filled in for the injured Junior Seau (now on IR) had his second multi-sack game of the year, reports Amalie Benjamin of The Boston Globe. "I'm in my fourth year and I'm trying to make an impact where I can, trying to make my mark on this defense," said Banta-Cain. "That's always been my goal, to show that I can play in this defense. I can be a leader, not so much vocally, but by example. I just want to be reliable. I think I'm taking the right steps, but this game was definitely a step in the right direction to showing that I can be counted on." He recorded six tackles, two sacks, one forced fumble, and a quarterback hurry against the Texans.
Bob Duffy of The Boston Globe reports on the outstanding play of Ellis Hobbs, who returned a kick off 93 yards for a touchdown in in yesterday's game. "Once I got past the kicker, man, I could just feel it," said Hobbs. "Ask any kick returner and he'll tell you, you know [when you're going all the way]. What's a car have, six gears? I was trying to kick it up to seventh or eighth gear."
Michael Parente of The Woonsocket Call explains that Hobbs was benched on defense last week, but got himself out of the doghouse in this week's win. Hobbs has struggled since breaking his wrist in September, which led to his demotion against the Dolphins, but he and Belichick met face-to-face this week and appear to be on the same page as the Patriots prepare for the playoffs.
Dan Ventura of the Boston Herald also reports on Hobbs, explaining that "the second-year defensive back from Iowa State returned a kick 93 yards for a touchdown and added an interception in the third quarter." Hobbs spoke after the game, saying, "This means a lot, just getting back to my form of ball. I don't consider myself being an average player out there. I want to get back to making plays like Ellis Hobbs knows how to make plays. (Yesterday) we took a step toward making those plays."
Eighth-year running back from Louisiana State Kevin Faulk registered the second two-touchdown game of his career, reports Christopher Gasper of The Boston Globe. With respect to former Yankees ace Ron Guidry, Faulk was Louisiana Lightning yesterday, scoring twice on his first three touches to help the Patriots jump to a 17-0 first-quarter lead. Gasper also explains that after the game, Faulk was favoring his right leg, which had a black protective wrap on it, and gimped past reporters twice in the locker room before politely declining to talk.
Paul Kenyon of The Providence Journal reports that Faulk was undergoing medical treatment when he should have been celebrating. Faulk made several passes through the locker room while reporters waited at his locker. He was accompanied by a member of the medical staff, and wearing a black compression sleeve on his right leg when he finally emerged to deal with the media. "I don't think I'm talking today," was all he could muster.
Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald reports that Brady laid out some harsh comments, saying he felt not enough of the players were properly accepting coaching last week. The Patriots played the type of game needed to be played in wake of their quarterback's criticism. They did not turn the ball over. They did not commit many penalties. The defense made big plays, forcing four turnovers. The offensive line kept Brady safe, allowing one sack. "It wasn't perfect, but it was certainly much better than what we saw against Miami and Detroit," writes Guregian.
Overall, Brady was pleased with how the Patriots took coaching this week, according to Mike Reiss of The Boston Globe. Brady finished 16 of 23 for 109 yards with two touchdowns and a 108.8 passer rating, as the Patriots had excellent field position for much of the game because of four turnovers created by the defense. "I think everybody had a lot of fun," Brady said. "It was good to do that, especially this time of year."
Shalise Manza Young of The Providence Journal reports on a fake punt attempt by the Texans, which was sniffed out by special teamers Heath Evans and Corey Mays. "We knew they'd try a stunt play," Evans said. "From the preseason, and our history with this coach (former Denver offensive coordinator and first-year Houston head coach Gary Kubiak, we knew they'd try a gadget play. We knew to be alert for anything. They have four wins; they have nothing to lose. We were ready for it."
Rich Garven of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette reports on the Patriots outstanding special teams play. Also included are notes on the Patriots inactive players, and their turnover ratio, which saw improvement in this game.
Howard Ulman of The Republican offers an Associated Press piece on the game, highlighting Hobbs' 93-yard kickoff return. "You want to respond," Hobbs said. "You don't want (their) offense to get momentum, feel like they can do something. That's a big downer for them, a big morale lifter for us."
Michael Parente of The Woonsocket Call reports that the Patriots recorded their most complete victory since shutting out Green Bay last month at Lambeau Field. "We were clicking on all cylinders, we had good energy, we forced turnovers and the offense didn't give the ball away and they scored points," safety Artrell Hawkins said. "Like Bill (Belichick) always says, you have to make a deposit to get a withdrawal. We've been making deposits for weeks here and we finally got a little payout today."
Don't forget to check out USA Today's Inside Slant on the Patriots for a look at where they stood entering the Texans game.