Tried as they might, the assembled media could not coax Patriots quarterback Tom Brady into embracing alarmism.
For the third time in five weeks New England had faced a double-digit halftime deficit, stumbling into a 17-7 hole to the woebegone Houston Texans by the intermission before mounting yet another breathtaking second-half rally and pulling a 34-31 victory out of the fire on Sunday at Reliant Stadium.
The Patriots executed similar feats of amazement against the Miami Dolphins and, of greater significance, the Denver Broncos before tearing to shreds the Texans’ top-ranked defense. If there is a chink developing in the Patriots’ armor it might be their inability to perform as well in the first quarter as they do in the third. When excellence has been this sustained, the search for flaws can be painstaking.
When asked if he was particularly concerned over this perceptible shortcoming, Brady did not flinch. The query was presented in a manner to lure Brady down the path of worry, but he sidestepped it with the same aplomb he used to maneuver in the pocket and avoid Texans end J.J. Watt earlier that afternoon.
“Yeah, there’s going to be one team that’s happy at the end of the year,” Brady said. “That’s just the way it is.
When excellence has been this sustained, the search for flaws can be painstaking.
“We’re trying to do our best, go out there and execute the game plan, and certainly it’s not always perfect. But every team has talent so it’s tough to win on the road, especially when you get behind 17-7.”
Brady executed that answer as adroitly as he dissected the Texans’ secondary and, later, assembled his wardrobe. The Patriots appear to be the frontrunners in the AFC, their 34-31 victory over the Broncos (who completed a season sweep of similarly formidable Kansas City later Sunday) last week confirming their status as favorites. The Patriots struggled earlier this season to overcome the losses of Wes Welker (Broncos) and Aaron Hernandez (imprisonment), to cultivate a new cast of offensive skill talent around the incomparable Brady. With December upon us, they have reassembled and reclaimed their might.
When your franchise has recorded 13 consecutive winning seasons, as the Patriots have, yet last hoisted the Lombardi trophy following the 2004 campaign, every blemish is worthy of examination and serves as a legit talking point. The Patriots’ run defense, penultimate in the league rankings, surrendered four touchdowns to the same Texans who had accumulated just two rushing touchdowns prior to Sunday.
Sound the alarm.
Receiver Kenbrell Thompkins, fifth on the team with 32 receptions (for 466 yards) and tied for first with three others with four touchdowns, departed in the first quarter against the Texans with a hip injury.
Raise an eyebrow.
And what of those troublesome halftime deficits against Miami and Denver, Carolina and the Texans?
“That’s not the way we want to play, so hopefully we can find a way to coach better than what I’ve done and see if we can find a way to get ahead,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said with unnerving seriousness.
The Patriots Way
No team is infallible, not even the Patriots with Brady and his radiant brilliance, Rob Gronkowski terrorizing the second and third levels of defenses, and a reservoir of tailbacks so deep that leading rusher Stevan Ridley was mysteriously inactive — “Is there a reason why? Because there were 46 other players active today,” Belichick bristled when asked of Ridley — yet New England did not skip a beat. Perhaps it is folly to repeatedly ask Brady to perform so splendidly in rallying the troops that his 263-yard second half felt equally remarkable and routine. But the Patriots make extraordinary appear easy.
If there are loose ends to attend to, they are hardly laid bare. Gronkowski and Julian Edelman were targeted a dozen times each, and Edelman appears to have settled in wonderfully as a complement to both Gronkowski and Danny Amendola, the offseason acquisition charged with replacing Welker.
The Patriots make extraordinary appear easy.
Edelman paces the Patriots with 70 receptions and 711 yards, and he was as difficult a cover for the Texans’ secondary as the frightful Gronkowski. When the Patriots established their desired tempo in the second half, there was little the Texans could do to slow the onslaught. New England converted five consecutive drives into points, showcasing another weapon, kicker Stephen Gostkowski, via two 53-yard field goals in the fourth quarter. When the Patriots longed to score they scored, and that same realization applied to the Broncos last week when Denver fancied itself as the team to beat in the AFC.
If the standard is perfection, the Patriots fall short. But in flipping the switch in the second half for the third time since Miami raced to a surprising 17-3 halftime lead the final weekend of October, the Patriots proved that the underachieving Texans are no more vulnerable than those others left in their wake.
“Yeah,” Brady said through a sheepish grin when asked if the Patriots revealed their prowess in the second half against the Texans, “we figured it out a little bit last week too.”