The Houston Texans knew that if they were going to go into Gilette Stadium and upset the heavily-favored New England Patriots, they had to apply heavy pressure to Tom Brady, and play a mistake-free game on their end.
Houston did accomplish one of those two objectives on Sunday, but that wasn’t nearly enough, because their three turnovers played a large part in their 34-16 loss.
The Texans defense was ranked #1 in the NFL in total yards allowed per game this past season, and had the #2 passing defense in the league this year, only behind the Denver Broncos. The duo of Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney registered a sack of Brady, and hit him five times during the game, putting him under far more duress than he’s used to. Brady threw two interceptions during the game; by comparison, he threw only two total interceptions in the 12 games he played during the regular season.
But after entering the game with guarded optimism around quarterback Brock Osweiler, given his steady performance in the Texans win against the Oakland Raiders, they were dealt an unforgiving reality-check. Houston’s high-priced free agent acquisition, who was benched late in the regular season due to his erratic performance, threw three interceptions of his own on Sunday, finishing the game with a pathetic quarterback rating of 13.7.
The Texans were 4-point underdogs by the time kickoff took place on Sunday, but the idea of pulling off one of the greatest playoff upsets in the history of the NFL was still somewhat a reality, when they cut the Patriots lead to 14-13 thanks to Osweiler’s seven-yard touchdown pass to tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz. That score was set up for the Texans when Patriots running back Dion Lewis, who scored both the Patriots touchdowns at that point in the game, fumbled a kick return attempt. On Lewis’ most previous kick return attempt, he went 99 yards for a touchdown.
New England added a field goal before halftime. The Texans defense did force the Patriots to punt on five of the seven times they got the ball on offense, including a three-and-out after the Patriots got the ball to start the second half. But after the Texans went three-and-out themselves, the Patriots went 90 yards on nine plays, including Brady’s 19-yard touchdown pass to running back James White. That pushed the Patriots lead out to 24-13.
Houston did tack on a field goal late in the third quarter, but on their next drive, Osweiler threw his second interception of the day deep in his own territory. That gave the Patriots the ball on their own six-yard line, and Lewis ran the ball up the middle for a one-yard touchdown just two plays later. That made the score 34-16 with just over 12 minutes left in the game. Houston went three-and-out on their next possession, and on their last drive of the game, Osweiler threw his third pick, which basically represented the definitive ending of the game.
The Patriots win pushed their postseason record since 2001 at home to 16-3. They’ll now face the Pittsburgh Steelers for the right to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LI.