With one minute remaining in the first quarter, the Patriots had taken a 14–3 lead off a Dion Lewis 98-yard kick return touchdown. At that point, I imagined some people walked away from the game to go do more interesting things. The Texans were 16-point underdogs and we all thought they were going to get killed – and suddenly they were down by 11 in the first quarter. You may have stuck around for the next drive (Houston receiving the kickoff) to see if they might try to get back into the game. Three and out. You knew you couldn’t trust Brock Osweiler. You were wondering if Tom Savage was getting ready to come in. Game over, right?
Four minutes later it was 14–13 Patriots.
From the moment the Texans got down 14–3, and as I thought they were going to fold up and get destroyed, for the following two quarters they were the better football team. The Texans applied constant pressure to Tom Brady in the pocket. Osweiler looked less Osweiler-like. They started to run the ball a little. They stuffed the Patriots on four of the next five drives…just 17–13 Pats at the half.
When New England scored in the early third quarter to make it 24–13 you had to feel like it was over. If you didn’t, the next drive you did – Houston started driving downfield and Osweiler threw a terrible interception to stall the drive. Now it has to be over, right?
Another Tom Brady interception later…leading to a field goal…and it was a 24–16/one-score affair with 14+ minutes left. The Texans squashed the Patriots on the very next drive. The momentum had shifted to Houston over the previous two quarters. The upstart Texans were actually getting to the Patriots. The Patriots didn’t look like the Patriots. I started to believe Houston might actually win this game…despite Brock Osweiler.
And then just like that – from his own 11-yard line Osweiler throws an interception, returned to the 6-yard line, which led to a touchdown. Houston was within reach, but the 2016 season decision to sign and stick with Brock Osweiler thrust its final, devastating impact on their season.
I mention all of this not to pat the Texans on the back for a ‘nice try’, but to let you know the 2016–17 New England Patriots are not the New England Patriots we all have built up in our minds from yesteryear. Deservedly so…we have an image of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. They deserve it, absolutely. As a football observer, a student of nearly every game/every play from every team for the last several years – I tell you this current Patriots team is not as good as we think they are. They may win a Super Bowl because they are very good…and ‘Brady’ and ‘Belichick’. However, they are not world-beaters. No Gronk. Mediocre run game. Solid but not spectacular defense. Brady and Edelman starting to show signs of the end…or the beginning of the end. Michael Floyd inexplicably playing a key role – and he’s a guy who helped destroy the Cardinals’ 2016 season with all of his drops…he had a few of them in this game as well. This is not a pretty picture. They may win the Super Bowl, but I would not automatically assume they are the favorites going away.
I would also mention on behalf of the Texans – if J.J. Watt comes back at 100% and they are able to make a trade for Tony Romo – how are the Texans not one of the favorites for the Super Bowl next season? They are 2–3 very viable moves away from being one of the top teams in the NFL — possibly possessing the best defense in the NFL over the past few years…up there with the 2015 Denver Broncos. Texans greatness is within reach.
— Did you know Tom Brady (18-38 for 287 yards, 2 TD/2 INT) completed 47.3% of his passes in this game?
I look back over Brady’s season and see three matchups with top defenses in the NFL – Seattle, Denver, and Houston here in the playoffs. In those three games, he completed just 55% of his passes with a total of 2 TDs/3 INTs. Brady is starting to fade right before our eyes. It may be from an A+ to an A…but the slide is happening. I don’t care what kind of pajamas he wears – he’s going to be 40+ years old at the start of next season.
Brady claims he wants to play 3+ more years, but if you own him in a dynasty league — you had better make sure to secure things with Jimmy Garoppolo. The end of Brady greatness may be a lot closer than we realize. Age is a bitch. It gets to all of us eventually. Remember how fast Peyton Manning fell off the face of the earth?
If Brady struggles and loses to the Steelers next week, and then shows signs of decay in the 2017 regular season – then Brady has a decision to make about 2018. Does he end it with honor or have one of those quasi-embarrassing ends to a football career in Los Angeles or New York?
I don’t believe Belichick will cold trade/cut Brady. You think he’d be heartless and a businessman and do what needs to be done. If I had Tom Brady for the past 17–18 years and you’ve had all that success together – I’d stick with Brady to the very end…even if I destroyed the Patriots’ franchise for a moment in the declining results. Brady deserves that kind of respect. Midseason, I thought Belichick would choose Garoppolo in 2017 or 2018 and Brady would be moved on a la Brett Favre or Joe Montana at the end – a Darth Vader heartless move. The more I think about it, if I am Belichick, with all that Brady has done for me and the team – Brady can do whatever he wants. He’s earned it. If the team has to suffer for a couple of seasons – so be it. He was the greatest quarterback on arguably the greatest franchise run in NFL history – I’m not gonna be the one to take Old Yeller out back and pull the trigger.
In case Belichick does pull the trigger, and if you own Brady in dynasty, you might want to secure Garoppolo just in case – not as easy to get him as in prior years. Worst case, Jimmy G will be on the move to a place that makes him their franchise QB in 2017 or 2018. Potentially, a win-win with Jimmy Garoppolo ahead. You might have to wait a year before it matters, but it will.
— What about Brady as the Texans quarterback next year?
I’m just kidding. But someone else will be the Houston quarterback next year, besides Brock Osweiler (23-40 for 198 yards, 1TD/3 INT). As long as Bill O’Brien is there, I’d say Tom Savage has the inside track. However, as long as the radically embarrassed GM Rick Smith is still there – I’d say the favorite is Tony Romo. The only way Rick Smith can erase the embarrassment of Brock Osweiler is by trading the entire franchise away, if he has to, to make the splash move – to make the right move.
A few weeks ago I thought Denver would be a likely landing spot for Romo, but now that the Broncos have overhauled the coaching staff, and the more I consider how good Houston can be next year – Romo to Houston is almost a guarantee.
If so, now is the time to get DeAndre Hopkins in dynasty while the price is down.
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— If the Patriots get crushed by the Steelers, I could see a lot of other changes coming in New England.
I could foresee the Pats looking to add running backs with more pop. LeGarrette Blount (8-31-0) has been solid for fantasy, because of his touchdowns, but it’s probably coming to an end if the Patriots aren’t Super Bowl champs.
I also would not assume Dion Lewis (13-41-1, 2-23-1/7 targets) takes over everything in the backfield. Yes, he scored three touchdowns in this game so you think he’s a no-brainer for 2017. Remember when Jonas Gray scored 4 TDs in a game for the Patriots in 2014 and he was going to be the future? I know Lewis is better than Gray, but there are flaws to Lewis’s game. There are better Dion Lewises out there to be had, cheap. I think Belichick will go try to find one. I thought it might be D.J. Foster, and it might be, but I’ll bet you see some other guys brought in as well. I’m half expecting Rex Burkhead is going to join this group in 2017.
Julian Edelman (8-137-0/13 targets) is still a workhorse, but you can see he is starting to slow down a bit. He’s scored only 3 TDs in his last 19 games. He can still catch the ball, obviously, but he’s not that backbreaker he used to be. 2017 could be a shockingly good season for Malcolm Mitchell taking a big step up.
— Besides Tony Romo acquired in trade and J.J. Watt back to full health – the biggest thing the Texans have to do in the offseason is re-sign shutdown corner AJ Bouye (5 tackles, 2 PD).
If Houston re-signs Bouye and Watt really does come back fine and then they trade for Romo (and he stays healthy) – this has to be a Super Bowl contender.
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