A lot of games come down to the simple comparison of turnovers – one quarterback makes one, the other one doesn’t. Tom Brady, becoming the all-time leader among quarterbacks with 17 career postseason wins, made sure the New England Patriots remained mistake-free.
Regular season rematches tend to go a little differently in the playoffs, and the Houston Texans didn’t prove to be the same kind of doormat they were in the 42-14 loss on their previous visit. Still, their defense couldn’t handle the pace of the Patriots’ offense, as Tom Brady made it through without a scratch in the passing game despite losing his favorite target, Rob Gronkowski, very early on.
It didn’t really matter what kind of defense the Texans showed Brady – heavy pressure or one that waits back. Brady mixed up his passing between Welker, Lloyd and Hernandez very well, but his most efficient target was Shane Vereen, who caught two passes for a touchdown and ran for 41 yards and another score as the Texans defense from earlier this season didn’t make another appearance. They did get a few hits on Brady, but managed to sack him only once.
Brady was 12-19 with 208 yards and two touchdowns against five or more pass rushers, while facing such pressure on 46 percent of his dropbacks. The Texans have allowed an NFL-worst plays of 30 yards or more when sending five pass rushers. Brady completed three passes for 30 yards or more on the day, including a 33 yard touchdown pass to Shane Vereen, making it 38-13 early in the fourth quarter, before Houston managed to make it a bit more respectable with garbage time scores en route to a 41-28 loss.
With Gronkowski out, the Patriots simply used their running backs much more in the passing game Vereen finished with 83 yards on 5 receptions while Stevan Ridley also caught a pass for 13 yards. In all, they combined for 219 yards from scrimmage (nearly half the Patriots’ offense) and scored four touchdowns. Out of their 122 rushing yards, 113 came inside the tackles for more than 6 yards per rush, the highest totals by Patriots backs in any of their previous five postseason games. Vereen was exceptional by being placed as a wide receiver on many plays, finishing with the most receiving yards in a game for a running back lined up wide over the last three seasons.
As also to serve as something of a warning, despite losing Gronkowski, the Patriots didn’t give up on the two wide receiver set, Brady throwing for a season-high 244 yards and tied a season-high with three touchdowns with two or more tight ends after Gronkowski’s injury. The Patriots used multiple tight end sets on 56-of-65 plays (86.2%), their second-highest percentage of the season.
Just another chapter in the history of the Bill Belichick – Tom Brady era. Brady has now won 17 playoff games, more than any other quarterback in history, his 17-6 record leaving Joe Montana (16-7) behind in second place. Bill Belichick reaches his 7th conference championship game, tied for the 2nd-most all-time among head coaches, tied with Don Shula and Chuck Noll. Tom Landry stands at the top with 10 appearances.