FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – A regular-season rout can be a poor predictor of the postseason rematch.
Coach Bill Belichick has another chance to remind his New England Patriots of that less than a month after their 42-14 romp that shoved the Houston Texans into their late-season plunge.
The stakes will be much higher when the Texans return Sunday to the field where they flopped. The winner of the divisional-round matchup goes to the AFC championship game.
“The game that we play now doesn’t have much to do with the game we played before,” Belichick said Sunday, one day after the Texans advanced with a 19-13 win over the Cincinnati Bengals
Two years ago, the Patriots beat the New York Jets 45-3 in the 12th game of the season. Just six weeks later, the Patriots had the NFL’s best record but lost to the Jets 28-21 in a divisional playoff game.
It’s a history lesson Belichick is sure to review this week.
“I don’t think it’s anything that wasn’t mentioned until that situation occurred, but it’s an example we can point out,” he said in a conference call during a break from preparing for the Texans. “We talked about that many times before, how other games don’t have anything to do with this game. It stands on its own.
“That is and always will be the case, but it’s an example to point out of how little relevance the previous game with the same team really does have.”
The Texans had the league’s top mark when the ball was kicked off to start their game at Gillette Stadium on Dec. 10. But less than six minutes into the second quarter, they trailed 28-0 after Tom Brady’s fourth touchdown pass.
That gap grew to 42-7 midway through the fourth quarter, with Arian Foster’s 1-yard run the only touchdown until backup quarterback T.J. Yates ran in from the 1 with two minutes left.
That began a stretch of three losses in four games before the Texans did just enough to beat the Bengals.
The Patriots held Foster to 46 yards rushing, his fourth-lowest output in a season in which he averaged 89 yards per game.
The real Foster is more like the one who ran a season-high 32 times for 140 yards and the game’s only offensive touchdown against the Bengals. That made him the first NFL player to rush for at least 100 yards in each of his first three playoff games.
“There’s no question that he’s the key guy for Houston and their offense, but his production also complements the other players as well and the other parts of the game,” Belichick said. “Yesterday I thought he made a decent amount of yardage breaking tackles and making the defender miss a tackle in the hole, or that kind of thing.”
Starting tackle Derek Newton, tight end Garrett Graham and linebacker Brooks Reed played against the Bengals after missing the first game against the Patriots.
“We were pretty sure that Reed wasn’t going to get in the game, but all the rest of them we prepared for,” Belichick said, “the ones that were able to play played and the others (who) didn’t. It’s kind of the same thing this time. They have a couple guys that are out, but they added a couple of new players as well, so we have to be ready for all of them.”
One of the Patriots’ most important players missed that opening meeting. Tight end Rob Gronkowski returned from a five-game absence after breaking his left forearm and had a touchdown catch in the 28-0 win over the Miami Dolphins in the regular-season finale.
The coaching staff prepared last week for all three potential opponents.
But when Houston won Saturday, Belichick and his staff didn’t have to wait for the Baltimore Ravens to beat the Indianapolis Colts 24-9 on Sunday to learn the opponent.
“We spent a significant amount of time on (the Texans) last week,” Belichick said. “They had a couple pieces that were specific for Cincinnati, not revolutionary. There are some good examples of things we can learn (from) that game, but, ultimately, our game, our matchups are different (from) theirs and will be different from the first game.”