The Houston Texans return to the scene of the crime on Sunday when they face the New England Patriots in the AFC Divisional Round. That crime was a 42-14 beatdown administered by New England in week 14 of the regular season. To make matters worse, it was witnessed by a prime-time national audience on Monday Night Football. As hyped as that game was, the stage and the stakes are much bigger this go round. As the Texans travel to Foxborough, Massachusetts, a spot in the AFC Championship Game will be at stake.
There weren’t too many positives that Houston could take from that December game. New England jumped out to a 21-0 first half lead and the rout was on from there. The Texans played their worst game of the season while the Patriots played perhaps their best game of the season. A Houston win would’ve kept them on course to lock up the #1 seed and home-field advantage in the AFC. Instead, the loss sent the Texans into a tailspin that saw them lose three of their last four to fall to the #3 spot in the conference. Both teams finished the regular season with identical 12-4 records, but the Patriots 28 point win gave them the tiebreaker over Houston. Thus this game will be played at Gillette Stadium instead of the friendly confines of Reliant Stadium.
While New England was enjoying a first round bye, the Texans were defeating the Cincinnati Bengals 19-13 in the wild card round. Houston’s defense and run game got their mojo back against the Bengals, and they will need to carry it with them to Foxborough if they want a different result this time around. The same ingredients that the Texas used to beat Cincinnati, will need to be the same ones they use if they are to upset the Patriots. That means that Arian Foster will need to have another big playoff game. The NFL’s #1 team in time of possession this season, Houston controlled the ball for 38:49 against the Bengals.
That will be crucial Sunday to keep Tom Brady and the league’s highest scoring offense on the sideline. That will help the Houston defense, who is coming off of a performance where they did not allow a touchdown or a 3rd down conversion (0-9) to Cincinnati. The Bengals also had only 198 total yards in the game. The challenge will be more daunting this week for the Bulls on Parade. Brady tossed four touchdowns against the Texans in the first meeting, and that is a number they will need to at least cut in half on Sunday.
There is a great chance that this contest will be much different. There are players on both sides who missed the December 10th game who will play on Sunday. For the Texans, that includes LB Brooks Reed, RT Derek Newton, and possibly TE Garrett Graham, who has to be cleared after suffering a mild concussion at the end of the Bengals game. For the Pats, All-Pro TE Rob Gronkowski will play after missing the first game. That will add another element to New England’s offense that will make it even more challenging for Wade Phillips and crew.
History also says there is a high probability that the second time around will be different. There have been 22 previous instances where a team that lost to an opponent by 28 points or more in the regular season, faced that team again in the playoffs. Half of those teams won the second time around, as they are 11-11 in the post-season rematches. Also, each of the last six New England playoff losses have been in games that were a rematch of a regular season contest. In fact, all six Patriot playoff losses under Bill Belichick have been in rematches. Texans hope to make that a lucky seven come Sunday.