This game was not supposed to be a blow out. The Texans were supposed to show a lot more grit and gut this time around. However, sequels usually never turn out as we expect. Houston’s mistakes and the Patriot's ability to create opportunities propelled the latter to a 41-28 victory on an unusually toasty January evening in New England.
With the win, the Patriots advance to their 2nd consecutive Conference Championship game against the Baltimore Ravens. It is a championship rematch bathed in story lines, which stem first from future Hall-of-Fame linebacker Ray Lewis’ media touted “Farewell Tour.”
The Texans started fast. Safety Danieal Manning ran the game’s opening kickoff 94 yards to New England’s 12, eerily reminding fans of a similar 2009 wild card incident that had running back Ray Rice score on the Raven's opening offensive play. That day the Ravens would never look back and they went on to crush the Patriots 33-14. But these 2012 Patriots are not the disheveled 2009 squad. This time they held steady and forced the Texans to kick a field goal.
Houston had opportunities early, starting with Manning’s opening kick return. Yet, they failed to take advantage of the Patriot’s slow starting offense. On the Texan’s third offensive series, running back Arian Foster dropped a clean pass that would have converted a 3rd and 8 and picked up many more yards after.
Missed chances haunted Houston for much of the evening.
Instead, the Patriots found ways to take advantage of their opponent’s miscues, scoring 10 unanswered points to open the second quarter. But because no lead is safe in today’s NFL, the Texans soon mounted the first of their two attempted comebacks. They scored the last 10 points of the half on a questionable 1 yard plunge by Arian Foster and a 55-yard boot by former Patriot’s kicker Shayne Graham.
And then, the Patriots exploded to start the third.
Using a combination of shotgun formation and a ruthless, no huddle attack, New England put together a perfect 7 play, 69 yard touchdown drive. Three drives later, the Mike Vrabel-reincarnation known as Rob Ninkovich turned a promising Texan’s possession on its face when he intercepted Schaub at the Patriot's 37 yard line. Six plays later Brady found receiver Brandon Lloyd for a 5 yard catch and run touchdown.
The Texan’s bright spot was their return game. And more often than not it provided them with a short field to mount scoring drives. In the fourth quarter, Manning again returned Steven Gostkowski’s kick deep into New England’s territory. After converting on fourth down, Schaub connected on a deep throw to receiver DeVier Posey who made a juggling and review-worthy touchdown grab.
As time ticked away so did Houston’s chances of proving to the world that they were a legitimate Superbowl contender. After bringing the score within two touchdowns, the Patriots put a stake in Houston's comeback chances with a field goal and a recovered onside kick that first bobbled its way through players.
Brady advances to the Conference Championship having won an NFL record 17 playoff wins. Belichick scores his 18th playoff victory which pushes him into 3rd place all time.
The Ravens travel to Gillette Stadium next Sunday at 6:30 pm EST.