Sunday, January 15, 2017

Patriots didn't play crappy game against Texans, but need to improve to beat Steelers or Chiefs

You can't turn the ball over 3 times in a playoff game and expect to win. Unless you're the Patriots and you win by 18, putting up 34 points on the #1 defense in the NFL. Tom Brady, by the way, is now 4-1 in playoff games against #1 NFL defenses. It's amazing how unamazed I am by that tidbit.

The amazing has become the typical for Brady, Belichick, and the Pats.

"Amazing" is not how I would describe the Patriots' performance last night. Brady was off for most of the game (18 for 38, 2 picks). There were times when the O-line couldn't stop the pass rush up the middle. The Pats failed to punch it in from 1st and goal on the 3. And as great as Dion Lewis looked for most of the game, you simply CANNOT fumble a kickoff return. Who does he think he is? Cyrus Jones?

The Patriots can't play 60 minutes like that and expect to beat the Chiefs or Steelers. Those teams probably won't give the ball back 3 times. And those teams will score TDs off turnovers, not field goals.

The Chiefs had the top takeaway/giveaway differential in the NFL at +16. Compare that to the Texans at 26th and a -7 differential. KC only lost the ball 17 times (8th best in NFL). They won't give you the ball back the way Osweiler did last night.

Then there's Pittsburgh, who have a much more dangerous offense than Houston's. Compare Le'Veon Bell to Lamar Miller. Antonio Brown is one of the few WRs out there better than DeAndre Hopkins. And Ben Roethlisberger is just on a different planet compared to Brock Osweiler. Comparing Big Ben to Osweiler is like comparing how great Shaq the basketball player was with how awful Shaq the actor was. And like Osweiler, Shaq the actor was paid a ridiculous amount of money considering the crappy results.

There's room for improvement, but the Pats didn't play a crappy game. The kickoff return TD was the result of excellent blocking and Lewis' agility and outright speed. Edelman seemed to disappear for stretches but finished with 8 catches and 137 yards. Most of the night the O-line protected Brady and gave him plenty of time.

Defensively, the Pats forced 3 turnovers, limited Hopkins to 6 catches and 65 yards, gave up fewer than 300 yards (285), held the Texans on 13 of 16 3rd downs (81.3%), sacked Osweiler 3 times, hit him a few more, and held on 2 of 3 Texans trips into the Red Zone.

I'm optimistic the Pats' offense will perform better. They have no choice. Turn the ball over like that again and the Chiefs or Steelers will make you pay. I also have concerns that some key players like Brady, Blount, Bennett, and Amendola are banged up and it's affecting their usage and/or performance. At least the Pats get an extra day to recover.

And ultimately what matters is that for the 11th time in the Brady/Belichick era and for the 6th year in a row, we're on to the AFC Championship game.

Photo credit: Elise Amendola/AP Photo

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