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Loss? Defense wouldn't allow it

Unit played well again on Sunday

It's time we started using a certain sacred `d' word in conversations regarding the New England Patriots' `D.' Dominant.

No one's talking about this team, with its inconsistent offense and special teams, as perhaps the league's best if it were not for the Patriots' defense. It controls games. It changes games. It wins games.

Officially, Adam Vinatieri decided Sunday's 23-20 win over the Texans at Reliant Stadium in Houston with a 28-yard field goal 14 minutes, 19 seconds into overtime, after the offense went 76 yards in nine plays.

And the defense didn't drive 80 yards in nine plays to the tying touchdown with 40 seconds remaining in regulation. But neither score would have been possible had the defense not saved the Patriots from their error-prone offense.

New England allowed Houston only 169 yards of offense, 11 first downs, and two touchdowns in four red-zone possessions. The Texans averaged a paltry 2.9 yards per play. The Texans' longest gain of the day came on Eugene Wilson's 28-yard penalty for pass interference in the first quarter.

Through Sunday's games, the Patriots ranked seventh in the league in total defense (fifth against the run, 13th against the pass). Most important, they allow the third-fewest points in the league.

"They have a good defense," Texans guard Todd Washington said after the game. "They bend but don't break. We tried to break them. They have a lot of guys who have experience and they're crafty guys who know their stuff."

They showed their stuff in the first quarter when they denied the Texans a touchdown three times from the 1-yard line. Trailing, 17-13, late in the fourth quarter, Houston settled for a second short field goal after the Patriots forced a three and out -- one of six such Houston possessions in the game. New England stood its ground when the Texans got something going on their second overtime drive.

And with 5:17 left in overtime, Willie McGinest (team-high eight tackles) made arguably the play of the game when he tackled Domanick Davis for a 5-yard loss at the Patriots' 40, taking Houston out of field goal range. How often is a running back taken down for a 5-yard loss?

"We had outstanding field position and we would have attempted the field goal if we don't lose any yardage," Texans coach Dom Capers said. "Give them credit, they knocked us out of field goal range. One of the things you don't want to do in those situations is lose yardage. You would like to be a able to go in and take a shot and kick the ball."

All of the Patriots' opponents would like to do a lot of things. But New England just won't have it. "Every week, our defense shows up," Kevin Faulk said. "They just step up and make plays and put the offense back on the field."

Scenario a bit iffy New England can clinch a playoff berth Sunday with a win if Kansas City wins or ties at San Diego, Denver loses at Oakland, Baltimore falls at home to San Francisco, and Cincinnati loses at Pittsburgh . . . Apparently Joe Andruzzi suffered a "stinger" Sunday. Rodney Harrison was said to have been experiencing calf problems when he left the game briefly. We'll know more tomorrow (but not much) when the Patriots release their injury report. . . . The search for consistent kicking continues. New England worked out former Maryland punter Brooks Barnard yesterday. Current punter Ken Walter has dropped into a tie with the Jets' Dan Stryzinski for the league's worst average at 38.4 yards. Walter had kicks of 51 and 43 yards against the Texans, but he got off a 31-yard effort from his end zone in overtime. He averaged 31.3 yards per punt Sunday, a figure hurt by Ramon Walker's block in the fourth quarter. . . . After going 1 for 6 in the red zone Sunday, the Patriots now have the second-worst red-zone offense in the league, ahead of only Baltimore. New England scores a touchdown on 34.3 percent of its trips inside the 20; in 35 red-zone possessions this season, the Patriots have come away with 12 touchdowns and 16 field goals.

He's No. 2 The Patriots' listing Rohan Davey as the No. 2 quarterback Sunday may have had just as much, if not more, to do with business than performance.

Davey, a fourth-round pick in last year's draft, has attempted just nine regular-season passes thus far in his career. He hasn't played enough for the Patriots to know whether he can be a reliable backup to Tom Brady. They need to know soon.

Damon Huard, 5-1 as a starter in his career, is in the final year of a three-year contract. The Patriots spoke with him about a new deal before the season, but the sides couldn't agree on compensation. If Davey proves to the Patriots that he can handle the backup job, they could afford to part ways with the more-expensive Huard.

Then again, maybe the coaches feel that if Brady gets hurt, Davey gives the team the best chance to win. It's more likely, though, that they just want to give him a chance.

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afc east standings
  W L T Pct. PF PA
Patriots 9 2 0 .818 19.9 15.9
Dolphins 7 4 0 .636 18.3 15.5
Bills 4 7 0 .364 15.7 17.0
Jets 4 7 0 .364 19.1 20.1
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