It wasn't pretty and at times it was downright ugly, but the Patriots 34-16 divisional round victory over the Houston Texans got the job done.
Here are some random thoughts from the Patriots latest postseason win.
Dynasty continues – The Patriots may not have been at their best Saturday night but the victory was enough to advance to yet another AFC Championship Game. This marks the sixth straight year New England has advanced the conference title game, moving past Oakland for the longest streak all time. The Raiders made five straight trips back from 1973-77. Tom Brady has now qualified for the conference title game 11 times, which is also the most for a quarterback in NFL history. "It's great to be playing at this time of year. But the only thing that matters is this year and this team," Bill Belichick said after the game.
Up and down night – Dion Lewis packed a lot of action into the first postseason game of his career. The diminutive running back opened the scoring with a scintillating 13-yard touchdown catch on a screen in which he left linebacker Benardrick McKinney in his dust. He followed that up with an electric 98-yard kickoff return for a score despite fielding Nick Novak's kick near the sideline to his left. He appeared to be cornered but shot through a small gap before stepping out of a tackle as he crossed the field. He closed out the night with a tough 2-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, making him the only player in NFL history to record touchdowns on a rush, reception and kickoff return in the same game. But it wasn't all positive for Lewis as he fumbled twice and nearly lost the ball another time only to be bailed out when the officials ruled his forward progress had been stopped. Lewis coughed one up on a kick return and later on a short run.
Logan's run – Logan Ryan enjoyed one of the best games of his career. He finished with seven tackles, three passes defensed, an interception and recorded a 5-yard sack off a slot blitz in the first quarter. Ryan was quite demonstrative throughout the night and showed great closing speed in coverage while knocking away a few passes. Ryan has been much more effective down the stretch and was responsible for DeAndre Hopkins on a more than a few occasions against the Texans.
Matchup problems – The Patriots offense was stagnant for large portions of the night going against the top-ranked defense in the NFL. Houston's pass rush created issues throughout and the Patriots only recorded six first downs in the first half. But one area New England exploited the Texans defense was matching up its running backs against Houston's linebacker. McKinney and Brian Cushing are bigger than some inside linebackers and their lack of speed was glaring in coverage. Lewis and James White both took advantage of matchups against McKinney, getting the slower linebacker in space to create big plays. White ran a wheel route in the red zone in the third quarter and scooted past McKinney down the sideline before catching Brady's pass in the end zone.
Rut Rowe – Cornerback Eric Rowe made a huge error in the first quarter that allowed Houston to gain its footing and stem the tide of the early momentum the Patriots had created. The Texans were stopped on a third down while trailing 7-0 in the first quarter, but Rowe got involved with some extracurricular activities after the play. After the tackle was made there was a pile up and as the teams started pushing and shoving, Rowe entered the pile and tried to pry a Texan away, leading to the penalty. That is an automatic penalty because players are not allowed to peal opponents off a pile in that manner, and the 15 yards jumpstarted a Houston drive that ended in a field goal. From that point on the Texans were very much in the game until a flurry of late Brock Osweiler interceptions allowed the Patriots to generate some separation.
Not-so-hidden Jules – Julian Edelman had another strong game, finishing with eight catches for 137 yards. His first reception was the 69th of his postseason career, tying him with Wes Welkerfor the most in Patriots history. He wound up setting the record with a 48-yard catch in the second quarter and finished with 76 catches to top the list. Edelman also had a 12-yard run and handled punt return duties, averaging 6.5 yards on his four attempts, including a 14-yarder on his first return. "Jules did a great job and he always does," Brady said. "He's a huge playmaker for us and his ability to create separation and make plays down the field; he did a bunch of that tonight, so he did a great job."
New problems – Michael Floyd made a huge impact in the season-finale in Miami but wasn't as productive in his postseason debut with his new team. Floyd was targeted in the first quarter but dropped a quick slant and had the deflection wind up in the hands of Texans cornerback A.J. Bouye for an interception. Floyd later had a pass thrown in his direction that was nearly interception, and he finished with just one catch for 9 yards.
Extra points – Brady was not at his best, completing just 18 of 38 passes for 287 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions for a passer rating of 68.6. He now has thrown 30 career picks in the postseason, tying him with Brett Favre for the most all time. On the flip side, Brady improved to 23-9 as a starter in the playoffs, adding to his record-setting total. … Belichick improved to 24-10 in the postseason.