HOUSTON — New Englanders love this place. This is where 28-3 happened in February 2017 and where the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick Patriots won their second Super Bowl in February 2004. Houston is where the 2018 Red Sox eliminated the cheatin’ Houston Astros in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series on a night when David Price beat Justin Verlander. It’s where Larry Bird won his first NBA championship in May 1981 and where Roger Clemens learned how to throw a fastball in the 1970s. Houston was headquarters to our space program when Derry, N.H.’s Alan Shepard walked on the moon in 1971.
And it is the home of the Houston Texans, a sometimes formidable football team that is constitutionally incapable of beating the New England Patriots.
So, here we go again. We are Lucy holding the football and the Texans are Charlie Brown lining up for a kick, ever hopeful that it will be different this time. But everyone knows it will not be different.
The Patriots will play the 7-4 Texans at NRG Stadium Sunday night and there is no doubt anywhere in the football universe that the Patriots will win. The Patriots always win when they play the Texans. It is a certainty along the lines of death, taxes, and Kyrie Irving blowing up his own basketball team. Lori Loughlin will get another child into USC before the Texans beat the Patriots in a football game.
The words have all been spoken. Belichick, Brady, and everyone else at Gillette Stadium has paid perfunctory homage to Bill O’Brien, Deshaun Watson, and the division-leading Texans. Vegas has established the 10-1 Patriots as mere 3-point favorites.
I have a long history of mocking the Texans and it has never come back to bite me. When they came to New England with a record of 11-1 in 2012, Houston receiver Andre Johnson touted it as the biggest game in the history of the franchise. The Texans wore Richie Cunningham letterman jackets to the game. When I advanced the game, writing, “The Texans are an overrated, unproven house of cards, waiting for their dope slap of reality at Gillette,’’ running back Arian Foster made me his Twitter avatar.
Patriots 42, Texans 14. And it wasn’t that close. The Texans came out in an illegal formation for their first play. It was 21-0 after 19 minutes and 28-0 five minutes into the second half. Brady was lifted at 42-7.
One month later, the Patriots played them again in the playoffs, becoming the first team in NFL history to get back-to-back byes before advancing to the conference championship. Before the playoff game, I labeled the Texans “pure frauds.’’
Patriots 41, Texans 28. It was not that close.
The Texans went downhill for a while after that. O’Brien, who had been the Patriots’ offensive coordinator, took over as Texans head coach in 2014, but still they couldn’t beat the Patriots; not even in 2016 when Brady was serving a suspension and Jimmy Garoppolo was hurt. Using his third-string quarterback (Jacoby Brissett), Belichick beat O’Brien, 27-0. Later that same year, the Patriots were blessed to get the Texans again in the playoffs. The Patriots were 16-point favorites. In a playoff game. They had outscored the Texans, 150-49, in their last four matchups at Gillette. And this time they got to play against Brock Osweiler.
Again, I taunted the Texans on these pages before the game: “The Texans are the Chuck Wepner/Randall “Tex” Cobb/Peter McNeeley of NFL playoff teams. They are Tomato Cans Sui Generis; Tomato Cans Di Tutti, the Houston Warhols.”
There was no pushback from Houston. “Anybody in their right mind would know the Texans have no chance,’’ offered veteran Houston beat reporter John McClain.
Patriots 34, Texans 16.
On and on it goes. The Patriots are 10-1 all time against the Texans. They have beaten them eight straight times. They have beaten O’Brien five straight times, including last year’s opener at Gillette.
The September 2018 game was a defining moment in a lifetime of watching Patriots opponents get pantsed by Belichick. That was the day O’Brien — who used to teach Brady to quickly snap off another play if there was any chance of a Patriot gain getting reversed by review — stood passively as Brady snapped off another play after a questionable 28-yard catch by Rob Gronkowski. After the big gain went unchallenged, the Patriots roared across the goal line to take a 21-6 halftime lead, effectively ending the game. When O’Brien was later asked why he didn’t call a timeout to give the officials a chance to review the catch, the coach famously answered, “It’s not my job to call time out to make their job easier.’’
Actually, yes. That was your job.
It was the kind of coaching malpractice that has enabled Belichick to make a mockery of sideline matchups almost every Sunday. And to see Bill do this at the expense of a former Patriots offensive coordinator should have been galling to the smart football folks of Houston.
And that’s why Sunday night will be no different. Patriots win. Take it to the bank. Bet the house. I haven’t been this sure of an outcome since I told you that Nick Foles and Doug Pederson couldn’t beat Brady and Belichick in Super Bowl LII.