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Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Patriots Prove Once Again That The First Half is Overrated

Coming off their epic comeback victory over the Broncos, the Patriots naturally had a major letdown the following week. Luckily for them, they were playing the Texans (2-10 overall, 1-6 home), one of the true dredges of the NFL in 2013. New England (9-3 overall, 3-3 away) escaped Reliant Stadium with a 34-31 win. Houston has lost 10 games in a row and truthfully, if the Pats had played almost any other team they would have fallen short.

The first half was an abomination for New England as they fell behind 17-7 vs. backup quarterback turned starter Case Keenum (272 yards) and backup running back turned starter Ben Tate (22 carries, 102 yards, 3 TDs).The Patriots outscored the hapless Texans 27-14 in the second half. After wasting some time before I wrote this, I can only conclude that (cliché alert!) a win's a win in the NFL and you take them any way that you can. The only thing that matters is that New England kept pace with Denver (who won at Kansas City) and retained the No. 2 spot in the AFC playoff picture.

You know it's a weird one when James Develin scores his first career NFL TD, Stevan Ridley is inactive with fumbleitis, LeGarrette Blount scores a rushing TD and Stephen Gostkowski hit not one but two 53-yard field goals. Tom Brady (29 of 41 for 371 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) was great save for one awful underthrown pass intended for Rob Gronkowski (6 catches, 127 yards, 1 TD). Julian Edelman (9 catches, 101 yards) also had an excellent performance, making up for Danny Amendola's (5 catches, 54 yards) quiet day.

Houston got off to a fast start as Tate ran for an 8-yard score in the first quarter and Randy Bullock hit a 43-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead. Gronk caught a 23-yard touchdown that was inches off the ground; you know he's back at full speed since it was his fourth straight game with a TD grab. The Pats did nothing in the second quarter and Tate added a 20-yard rushing touchdown for a surprising 17-7 halftime advantage. Logan Ryan had picked off Keenum but Gostkowski missed a 55-yard field goal attempt on the ensuing drive.

Aqib Talib had a rough outing as Andre Johnson (8 catches, 121 yards) showed why he's still one of the best wide receivers in the game. New England went ahead momentarily with a quick succession of TDs: a bruising 1-yard run by Develin (who went to Brown University) where he broke numerous tackles and a 9-yard catch by Shane Vereen. Houston regained the lead-24-21-with a 5-yard run by Keenum. Wait what?

Blount's 7-yard run made it 28-24 Patriots early in the fourth quarter but Tate had one last burst-10 yards for the touchdown. New England's offense sputtered but Gostkowski bailed them out on that hazardous turf.

Expect more of this same crappy brand of football next week as the Pats host the Browns (4-8, 4th in AFC North) on Sunday (1, CBS) at Gillette Stadium. As if you haven't noticed, New England plays down or up depending on its level of competition this season. That is not a good sign since Cleveland lost 32-28 today at home vs. Jacksonville. It doesn't get much lower than that.

UPDATE 12/4: The Patriots released tight end D.J. Williams who played a grand total of three snaps vs. Houston. New England now has a roster spot open.

UPDATE 12/5: New England re-signed veteran wide receiver Austin Collie. That tells you that Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins are still banged up, he's also insurance for Julian Edelman (knock on wood).

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