Houston’s 19-13 win over Cincinnati Saturday in the wild-card round of the playoffs can be seen as a positive for the Patriots on two fronts: It gave them an extra day to prepare for the Texans because they knew their opponent before Sunday, and it brings a team that New England already has dominated this season back to Gillette Stadium.
In a conference call Sunday afternoon, Patriots coach Bill Belichick spoke highly of the Texans, especially defensive end J.J. Watt and running back Arian Foster.
He also dismissed any notion that the 42-14 win over the Texans Dec. 10 will mean anything the second time the teams meet. In fact, Belichick was asked if the situation two years ago can be used as a teaching tool, or at least a reminder. In 2010, the Patriots thrashed the Jets late in the regular season, 45-3. A few weeks later in the playoffs, the Jets turned the tables and eliminated the Patriots by winning, 28-21, at Gillette.
“I think there’s certainly a lesson there about the game that we play now doesn’t have much to do with the game we played before,” Belichick said. “We’ve talked about that many, many times here, before and after the 2010 season. Other games don’t have anything to do with this game. It stands on its own.”
This marks the third straight season that the Patriots’ opponent in the divisional round is a regular-season rematch. A year ago, after beating the Broncos in Denver, the Patriots won again in the playoffs, 45-10.
“I think when you play a team twice during the season, the games are totally different; they never go the same way,” Belichick said. “We’ll be able to certainly look at some of the matchups individually, guys that faced each other in the game. I’m sure they’ll have some new wrinkles. I’m sure we’ll have some, too.”
Belichick has been impressed this season with Watt, who had 20½ sacks. Watt and the Texans’ defense held the Bengals without an offensive touchdown, and only allowed 53 yards in the first half.
While Watt gets most of the headlines, he’s not alone.
“He’s a great player, don’t get me wrong. He’s made more big plays than probably anybody defensively this year in the league,” Belichick said. “But [Antonio] Smith, [Brooks] Reed, [Connor] Barwin, [Whitney] Mercilus, they have a lot of other good players, too. Watt is a focal point on that defense, no question, but you can’t ignore the other guys, either. They’re all part of the problem.”
In the running
Foster ran for 140 yards against the Bengals, the third time in three playoff games he’s gone over 100, the only time in NFL history that has happened. In the regular-season loss to the Patriots, Foster was held to 46 yards on 15 carries.
Behind Foster, the Texans held the ball for nearly 40 minutes in Saturday’s win.
“The running game controls the game for them, it sets up their play-action passes, puts them in a lot of third-and-medium, third-and-short situations,” Belichick said. “There’s no question he’s a key guy for Houston and their offense, but his production also complements the other players, as well. We’ll definitely have to do a good job on him.”