It’s been an emotional roller coaster over the last few weeks for the New England Patriots. After a controversial loss to the upstart Carolina Panthers a couple of Monday nights ago, they immediately followed that game up with a thrilling, come-from-behind win against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.
They were ripe for a letdown on the road against the 2-9 Houston Texans today, and they didn’t disappoint. The Patriots, especially Tom Brady, came out flat to start the game. They let the Houston defense dictate the game to them, pressuring Brady time after time.
Eventually, the Patriots adjusted in the second half, spreading the field and beating the blitz by throwing short to open receivers. That might get the job done against a bad team that has nothing to play for, but New England can’t afford that kind of effort against a good team.
The threat of another late-season letdown is chilling to Patriots fans. While Brady and Bill Belichick will always be clutch after winning three Super Bowls in four years, their recent history is chock full of letdowns when it matters the most. For some reason, the New England team has a penchant for not getting up for the big games.
That needs to change this year. Wins in the regular season don’t matter to the Patriots and their loyal fans. A playoff spot is all but a formality at this point, but sleepwalking through the final month of the season is the same thing they’ve done the last few seasons, and it’s only led them to eventual playoff letdowns.
The Patriots need to keep a level of urgency down the stretch. Emotion and momentum are just as important as talent and execution when the one-and-done NFL playoffs come around. You can’t just turn emotion and urgency on and off like a light switch. New England needs to play the rest of the season like their playoff lives depend on every win.