Things to consider while being glad the Patriots are hosting the AFC Championship Game. How happy, Jerry? Happier than Brandon Lloyd in lederhosen:
*This was a blowout that didn’t feel like a blowout. When you win by two touchdowns despite giving up a couple of late scores after the game was basically over AND put 41 points on one of the alledgedly best defenses in the league, that is a blowout to any neutral observer, right? I just think we didn’t feel like it was because this season and this weekend we’ve seen too many insurmountable leads surmounted and for a while there were afraid the Pats could actually Bronco this thing away. But from the 3rd quarter on, the outcome was really never in doubt.
*I’m just curious about how big the final margin would’ve been if Brandon Lloyd had walked that ball over to the official, cradled it, gave it a gentle caress and handed it over to him like giving a baby back to its mother. Because once he flipped that ball off Referee Sensitive’s face, not a single call went the Pats way.
*Obviously I can’t go too far without mentioning the loss of Gronk because it’s huge. But at a time like this I always go back to what Napoleon said: “The cemetaries are full of indispensible people.” Or what that other short, despotic tactical genius Bill Belichick says: “Next man up.” Autocorrect has until next week to learn to spell Hoomananwanui. We’re all gonna need it.
*I don’t know which Wes Welker play it was… It might have been the catch between bracket coverage right after Gronk went down. Maybe it was the next play when he caught a bubble screen and ran through like nine defenders for the 1st down. Or it could have been the 47 yarder he caught up the sidelines while wearing Kareem Jones like a backpack. But somewhere during his 8 catch, 131 yard performance I remember thinking he looked pretty athletic. But I defer to Wade Phillips on that. He’s the expert.
*The play of the secondary was everything we could’ve hoped for on the day they made the Aqib Talib trade. I don’t care what the numbers say. The safeties are taking away the deep play (fun fact from Shalize Manza Young of the Globe: in games 1-10 they gave up 7 plays of 40+ yards. Since then? One. A screen pass by Jacksonville). The corners and slot guys are playing tight man coverage and making receivers fight to get off the line. They all kept plays in front of them and the tackling was flawless. Plus they got Houston off the field on 3rd down. They’re not the ’78 Steelers, but they’re playing damn sure well enough to win two more games.
*The best thing about Aqua Taliban isn’t that he’s a “shutdown corner.” That species went extinct around the same time travel agents did. But what he is is the closest to a shutdown allowable by NFL rules: He’s adequate. And his presence makes the whole backfield better because everyone moves to the spot they’re most suited for. Devin McCourty is a born safety. Kyle Arrington moves inside to the Star spot where he doesn’t have so much room to cover. Talib takes the Andre Johnsons so Alfonso Dennard isn’t overmatched, and so on. It’s like that old commerical where all the cat food dishes are lined up and the first cat knocks the second out of the dish and all the cats keep bumping each other out of their dish until the end where Pat Chung is on the bench mostly.
*Talib’s best asset: He had the uncanny ability to hold and grab just enough not to get called for it. A skill not seen around here since Ty Law in his prime.
*We can’t know exactly how many points McCourty is directly responsible for saving, but we can start with 4 as a baseline. When Danieal (why the extra “a” mom? Honestly, why?) Manning hit midfield on that opening kick he had a good 7-8 yards on McCourty who ran him down like a cheetah bringing down a springbok on Animal Planet. Then on 3rd & goal after he was the lone safety and when Matt Schaub looked for Johnson in the back of the end zone, McCourty was just enough of a presence coming over that he was forced to back shoulder the throw and it wasn’t even close.
*It’s funny how when the defense is playing well like this, that Matt Patricia looks more like head coaching material. It’s like when a candidate gives a great speech and they say he seemed “presidential.” On a night like last night Patricia’s beard even looks better. It’s more King Leonidas, as opposed to just looking like a Woodstock vagina.
*The only sour note on the tackling was that horsecollar by Stephen Gostkowski. Somebody better reign him in. He’s getting a reputation as a real vicious head hunter.
*I love JJ Watt’s style of play as much as the next guy. But you can also see him turning into a meathead before our eyes. He’s obviously caught up in his own hype and is playing it up to the hilt. He reportedly came out to midfield in warm ups and spit on the Patriots logo. He’s mugging for the TV cameras with his pregame pep talk. Then he did the finger wagging thing at Stevan Ridley. He’s starting to play himself as a character. At this rate I give it til next year before he starts referring to himself in the Third Person. Then 3 years, tops, before the Gastineauification of this guy is complete.
*We say it every week but the O-line continues to handle everything opposing fronts throw at them. Watt moves around a ton so there’s no singling any one guy out but it seemed like Dan Connolly took the brunt of him and won all the 1-on-1s. There was one time when Watt turned Sebastian Vollmer around for a pressure, which I think had as much to do with Houston fireblitzing two through the same gap as anything. And Nate Solder came up huge. He had Watt a few times but mostly took out Conner Barwin. I was one of many who had a severe draft crush on Barwin. But twice now he’s faced the Pats and Solder couldn’t have made him more invisible if he threw a Field Turf ghillie suit over him.
*One series in particular where they neutralized the Houston line was early in the 2nd. Solder had Barwin and Connolly had Watt on a blitz where they bought Brady enough time to hit Welker on a very unathletic Sluggo for a huge gain. The next play they ran a stretch play away from Watt’s side and got a nice kickout of Barwin by Hoomba, while Shane Vereen cut inside Hoomba and followed Solder for 22. The next play was a quick snap where the middle of the line got a massive push and Vereen went behind them for 8. It’s just remarkable to see how well the line is playing after all the boxes of Depends we went through worrying about them in August.
*Houston D’s bread and butter is rushing 5 and putting 5 in man coverage with a safety on top. They run it like 40% of the time. So I was worried Phillips would have the good sense to mix it up and throw out looks the Pats weren’t prepared for. I shouldn’t have been. When they did mix it up and start playing zone, Brady shredded them: Screen to Ridley for a 1st. Short stop route by Vereen when he had an 8-yard cushion and he got past Bradie James for 25. Aaron Hernandez out of the backfield (with Vereen split wide) behind a Welker crossing route down to the 2. Then they capped it off with a quick snap to Vereen who went in untouched while the Texans were still shuffling around like a crowd of commuters trying to guess where the Green Line trolley is going to stop.
*At times like that throw to Vereen when he saw Barrett Ruud in single coverage, it’s like Brady is playing “War” only he gets to see which card you’re playing before he plays his. He just sees the most favorable matchup and exploits it. Even when he’s missing the Ace of Gronk, he’s still got enough in his hand to beat you every time.
*Though I didn’t much appreciate that “Alabama” call he kept making. Too soon, Tom. Too soon.
*I have dreams about Venus and Serena too, but believe me they don’t involve ping pong.
*If Roger Goodell ever figures out how to squeeze a couple of bucks out of a promotion like “The AT&T Worst Official’s Call of the Year” or something like that, I nominate that bogus non-fumble by Arian Foster. So Wilfork barely gets an arm around him and while he’s still fighting for yards, the ball comes loose. But they rule his forward progress was stopped. But earlier in the game Foster sat on his ass for a full second before reaching across the goal line, and that’s a TD. Let this be a lesson going forward: Flipping the ball into the ref’s face is like arguing with a cop. Even if you’re right, you’re wrong. And it’ll cost you.
*For the most part the Front 7 played a vanilla Under front, with Rob Ninkovich playing down in passing situations and standing up against run looks as the strong side DE/OLB. But on his interception, the Texans motioned the tight end away from him so Ninko slid over and was actually at nose tackle on the snap. But he dropped into coverage and Schaub never saw him. If there’s such a thing as “knack,” as in “knack for making plays in big games,” Ninkovich has “knack.”
*This week’s Applicable Movie Quote: ”Is this the first time you’ve lost a soldier? …Right now we’ve got to put that aside and get this done. “ – Captain America, “The Avengers”
*I got in on that CBS poll where you get to choose the ending of “Hawaii 5-0.” I voted for the one where it ends on a really terrible Peyton Manning interception.