Patriots fans might still be basking in the glow of Sunday night’s historic comeback victory over the Broncos, but Patriots coaches already have moved ahead to the Texans, this Sunday’s opponent in Houston.
Two days after overcoming a 24-0 halftime deficit and beating Denver in overtime, Patriots players were given Tuesday off, as is customary. Coach Bill Belichick, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia participated in their weekly teleconference with reporters, fielding questions on Stevan Ridley, Dane Fletcher, and Kenbrell Thompkins, among others.
There were also plenty of questions about the Texans. After a 2-0 start, Houston has lost nine straight. But Belichick said the team he sees on tape isn’t all that different from the team that won the AFC South and made the playoffs last season. Houston came to Gillette Stadium twice, in fact: once in the regular season, and then in the divisional round of the playoffs. The Patriots won both games by a combined score of 83-42.
“This football team looks a lot like last year’s football team,” said Belichick. “They’re very good on defense, they have a lot of good players, they’re very disruptive up front, they’re fast, their offensive line is intact. Going back and looking at last year’s games, this group looks a lot like last year’s group, it really does.”
What’s caught Belichick’s eye is the way Houston has competed against quality opponents this season. The Texans led Seattle by 14 points in the fourth quarter before losing in overtime. They lost by 1 point at Kansas City, 3 points to Indianapolis, and 3 points at Arizona. Three of those teams are in line to make the playoffs, and the fourth, Arizona, is knocking on the door.
In the past two games, Houston lost by 5 points to Oakland and by 7 to Jacksonville. Both of those games came at home, where the Texans are just 1-5.
“I just see them as a real good football teamm” said Belichick. “They’ve obviously had disappointing results, but they’re well-coached, they have good players, they play hard, and I know the type of football they’re capable of playing because they’ve played it on a weekly basis against the opponents that they’ve gone up against here recently.
“The Seattle game, the Oakland game, the Kansas City game, Arizona, Indianapolis, they took all those teams right down to the wire, and had their chances, so they’re a play or two away from, I would say, breaking out and winning a whole bunch of games.
“They’re going to win them, too. They’re right there, one play, one call away from winning, and they’re going to get those, they’re a good football team.”
The third degree
With the 34-31 win over Denver, the Patriots are 4-1 in games decided by 3 points or fewer: earlier wins over Buffalo (23-21), the Jets (13-10), and New Orleans (30-27), and a 30-27 overtime loss at the Jets. Houston is 1-4 in games decided by a field goal or less.
“We’ve been in a lot of games this year that could have gone either way,” Belichick said. “You say if we won all of our close games, our record would be one thing, and if we hadn’t won all our close games, our record would be a whole other thing. You can probably say that about most teams in the league. There’s not too many teams that are winning by 21, 24 points every week”
Front and center
Case Keenum and Matt Schaub have split quarterback duties for the Texans, with Keenum winning the job midway through the season. Keenum is considered a better downfield passer, and with Andre Johnson (74 catches, 1,002 yards) still the prime target, the Texans haven’t had much trouble gaining yards, outgaining their opponents by more than 800 yards on the season. Turnovers (minus-12 differential) have been one of the biggest problems.
On defense, the Texans are still led by linemen J.J. Watt (9½ sacks) and Antonio Smith (5 sacks).
“It starts with the front. If you can handle the front, you’ve given yourself an opportunity to have some success, and if you can’t, then it’s going to be difficult,” McDaniels said. “With Smith and Watt, those are two of the more talented defensive linemen that we’ll play all season, and they’re on the same team.”
A bad trip
The last time the Patriots played at Houston was the regular-season finale to the 2009 season. What had been considered a fairly meaningless game, at least as it pertained to the playoff-bound Patriots, became quite meaningful when receiver Wes Welker tore a knee ligament early in the game and missed the ensuing postseason.
“We’ll do what we usually do when we play on the road: Talk to teams that have played there before in order to at least have the proper footwear options and that type of thing, and then check out the conditions and the environment before we go out there,” Belichick said.
That 34-27 win Jan. 3, 2010, is the Texans’ only victory over the Patriots in five meetings.
The Patriots made a series of minor roster moves on Tuesday, waiving defensive tackle Marcus Forston and defensive back Justin Green, and losing defensive lineman A.J. Francis from the practice squad after he was signed to Miami’s active roster. The Patriots also will be adding tight end D.J. Williams, according to a league source. Williams was a free agent after brief stints with the Packers and Jaguars this season. Forston had been on New England’s practice squad for the first five games, then was promoted to the 53-man roster and played sparingly the next three games (three tackles). He had been inactive the past three games. Green was called up from the practice squad for the Broncos game, and he played eight snaps. Francis, an undrafted rookie out of Maryland, was with Miami in training camp before being released by the Dolphins and claimed off waivers by the Patriots on Sept. 1. He did not appear in any games for the Patriots.
NFL Network will air a condensed, two-hour replay of the Patriots-Broncos game Wednesday from 9-11 p.m. . . . Former Patriots offensive lineman and Pro Football Hall of Famer John Hannah will be signing copies of his autobiography, “Offensive Conduct: My Life on the Line,” at the following locations: The Book Shack in Kingston Dec. 5 (7-9 p.m.), the New England Mobile Book Fair in Newton Highlands Dec. 6 (7-9 p.m.), and the Barnes & Noble in Walpole Dec. 7 (3-5 p.m.).