1. Shane Vereen – Filled in brilliantly for Danny Woodhead, especially in the passing game, where the Texans chose to put 250-pound Barrett Ruud on him for some reason. Ran 7 times for 41 yards. Added five catches for 83 more yards. Scored three TDs. His best game ever.
2. Stevan Ridley – Ran hard. Underused late, when the Pats should have been pounding the ball down J.J. Watt’s throat. Ran 15 times for 82 yards, and will be fresh for the Ravens next week.
3. Devin McCourty – Nah, he’s still solid at best in the secondary. But the hustle in the kicking game, running down Danieal Manning at the 12, was a four-point save.
4. Wes Welker – Yo, no Gronk tonight and he drew mega-coverage, yet somehow Wes Welker found a way to catch eight balls for 131 yards. Guy is unstoppable. Get the new deal done, Pats. Say, two years and $24 million, with $18 million guaranteed. He’s your glue.
5. Aaron Hernandez – Big performance when it mattered most, catching six balls for 85 yards. On his 40-yarder, it looked like the Texans DBs were drawing straws not to be the guy that had to hit him.
6. Tom Brady – Stood tall in the pocket and took a couple savage shots. Didn’t you get the feeling after the listless start that Brady just went to the bench and told his teammates that there’s no way they were losing to these chumps. Then he went out and grabbed the win, hitting 25 of 40 for 344 yards.
7. Rob Ninkovich – A pick, a QB hit, a tackle for loss, another pass defended and a key recovery of a 50-50 ball on a Texans onside kick. The guy was everywhere.
8. Zoltan Mesko – Averaged 52.8 and netted 49.4 yards on his five punts, with a pair backing the Texans inside the 20.
1. Aqib Talib – Is nine solo tackles a good thing for a cornerback? Only if you are playing Army or Navy and the option offense. Andre Johnson (8 for 95) wins the battles.
2. Nate Solder – Might have been the one weak link on the offensive front. Every time J.J. Watt lined up across from him, it was an adventure.
3. Stephen Gostkowski – Danieal Manning’s return work is all on the kicker. Your job is to boot the ball out of the end zone every time. So get it done.
Drill-master’s note: Notice, on a day Arian Foster ran 22 times and Jerod Mayo had just five solo tackles, I am leaving him out of the No Shows. Mayo is a leader on a defense that still remains mediocre (allowing the pathetic Ravens offense 425 yards) but somehow managed to stay in the game when it was needed. The captain gets extra credit for stuff like that.
GRADING THE GROUPS
Line (B-) … Again, the quarterback got bumped around, and there really weren’t a ton of holes to hit. Still, they kept Tom Brady upright long enough to throw the football. And they made the cracks wide enough for Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen to shimmy through.
Running Backs (A) … Huge all-around day, especially considering the loss of Danny Woodhead. When they hold on to the football, these guys are dynamite.
Wide Receivers (A) … We’ll allow Brandon Lloyd a pass, as he drew a ton of attention from Jonathan Joseph. That said, you could make an MVP case for Wes Welker, and Aaron Hernandez was dynamite, too.
Tight ends (D) … Nothing from this group, save for the one play that re-broke Rob Gronkowski’s forearm, a sweet catch out of bounds.
Quarterback (A) … Any doubt that Peyton Manning can’t hold this guy’s girdle pads was washed away this weekend. The best ever is on his sixth Super Bowl track.
Line (B-) … Houston’s offensive line did a nice job on these guys, taking Vince Wilfork out of the equation much of the day. Still, it’s not like the Texans rolled it up. Many of Arian Foster’s yards came in the “thanks for the 35 seconds off the clock, keep running” portion of the game. Don’t tell that to Gary Kubiak. He still doesn’t know.
Linebackers (B) … Might have been a C+ or B- but when Brandon Spikes gave us the Patriots football, first-down snake move, fresh out of the classic movie, “Krush Groove,” our crew earned some much-needed extra credit. Couldn’t you just hear Sheila E? “Krush Groovin’ … Body movin’ …”
Secondary (C) … Whose brilliant idea was it to play Kyle Arrington on Andre Johnson in the slot anyway? Seriously, Matt Schaub threw for 325, despite a great man-under, zone-over scheme from Bill Belichick. Somebody can break it to the Texans now that they needed to throw the intermediate crossing routes to beat the Pats, because neither Gary Kubiak nor Schaub figured it out yesterday. Aqib Talib proved he couldn’t stay with Andre Johnson underneath in a 9-tackle performance. Other than that, the safeties were often late to the scene. Yes, at times, even later than Schaub.
The turning point
Houston opens the game with a dynamic 96-yard kick return by Danieal Manning to the Patriots’ 12.
So how does Texans coach Gary Kubiak capture the quick burst of energy? On first down, he runs Arian Foster off tackle, which predictably nets three yards. Think out of the box, Gary!
Moron, if you don’t gamble against the Pats, you lose!
Now look, if you are dedicated to running the football – via three yards and a cloud of dust – fine. Commit to it on second and third down.
But no, Kubiak then calls back to back pass plays – incompletions – and his team settles for a field goal.
Why run on first, if you plan on throwing the football? Coaches make this mistake so often inside the 15-yard line. A run is a waste if you’re not running it every down.
I expect this total 1990s thinking from a stiff like Kubiak. The game was over the minute he handed off to Foster on first.
Why Belichick’s better
With 16 minutes left in the game, and Houston down 18 points, the Texans were actually huddling with the clock running.
That lazy, worry-free attitude is something that I will never understand. In pro basketball, they foul to extend time in games.
In the NFL, Matt Schaub takes extra time to talk to his buddies.
Changing to the other side, how many times yesterday did Tom Brady snap the football with the Houston defense coming out of its huddle? At least two of the TDs came with the Texans rushing to their pre-snap positions when the ball was snapped.
For this to happen repeatedly to a professional playoff team is a sheer embarrassment.
Houston, you have a problem
The Patriots don’t have a rusher like Arian Foster, a receiver like Andre Johnson, a corner like Jonathan Joseph or a destructive defensive player like J.J. Watt.
Thankfully, the Pats don’t have a quarterback like Matt Schaub either. Schaub pocket presence is pure panic, something Tom Brady simply wouldn’t fathom.
Schaub has no backbone. And that leaves the talented Texans left smothered in the mass that is the middle of the NFL pack.
At what price, victory?
Ouch, the losses of Rob Gronkowski, Danny Woodhead and Chandler Jones had to sour the mood a little bit in the Pats locker room afterward. Still, everyone loses players at this time of the year, and with the way the running backs and Rob Ninkovich stepped up, this team flaunted its depth at exactly the right time.
One simple question
When is the last time Tom Brady dropped to pass, felt zero pressure and handed a game to the opposition like Matt Schaub did yesterday?
Schaub somehow stared right at Rob Ninkovich yesterday, hitting him right in the hands for his easiest interception probably since Pop Warner.
How does that happen in pro football? Ninkovich was in plain sight. And you know what, if he wasn’t there, Steve Gregory had the second best chance of catching the ball, not intended receiver James Casey, who had no chance.
We’re so lucky to have No. 12
Tom Brady moved to 17-6 in the playoffs, moving a game ahead of Joe Montana (16-7) in that category.
Is it me or does 23 playoff games boggle the mind.
I give my man Mike Felger (98.5 the Sports Hub) props for bringing it up this week as Brady heads to his seventh AFC title game. Peyton Manning now has seven first-round playoff losses.
Once again, Brady, in a key moment, was utterly sensational. There was tight coverage everywhere, and he kept sticking the football on his receivers’ hands. While his opposite number, Matt Schaub, was splitting the 5-0 on Rob Ninkovich’s jersey, Brady threw his guys open with laser-like precision.
It will go unheralded, because Houston’s offense and coaching staff are simply anemic and inept, but this was one of the great Brady performances of our time.
Six thoughts as we look ahead to a home date in the AFC title game
1. I wonder if John Fox would like to use those 36 seconds and two timeouts now, after watching Matt Ryan save Atlanta from the most humbling of defeats yesterday. Too bad John Elway didn’t realize when he ran Tim Tebow out of Denver that he forgot to run the gag artist in the corner office out of town, too.
2. As predicted here, Houston would lose with dignity. Yep, they never quit. Sadly, with their coach and QB, they never had a chance.
3. If this Ray Lewis “pre-destination” thing is really true, we could be in for a long day in the AFC title game. There really is no fairy-tale to the Pats. It’s just Tom Brady and Bill Belichick feasting on the mediocrity that is the AFC. But for the Ravens, think of the nine million points God could drive home with Baltimore reversing last year’s playoff loss.
4. Love the 15-yarder on Stephen Gostkowski for a horse-collar tackle, but the officials missed a glaring 15-yarder for tripping on the kicker the next time Manning went streaking by.
5. No chance on this planet that Joe Flacco comes into Foxboro this week and beats Belichick and Brady. As porous as the Pats’ pass defense remains, Flacco will be forced to throw short and intermediate routes … and that will sound the death knell for the Ravens and Ray Lewis’ playing career. This is something Flacco simply can’t do.
6. By the way, the Pats are an early 10-point favorite vs. Baltimore. San Francisco (-3) is the favorite at Atlanta in the NFC title tilt.