SERIES: 2nd meeting. The Texans lost their only meeting against the Patriots, 23-20 on Nov. 22, 2003. The Patriots closed the game with 13 unanswered points. Adam Vinatieri nailed a 28-yard field goal to close the game.
2006 RANKINGS: Texans: offense 28th (24th rush, 23rd pass); defense 28th (21st rush, 26th pass). Patriots: offense 11th (12th rush, 13th pass); defense 8th (3rd rush, 14th pass)
PREDICTION: Patriots 30-17
KEYS TO THE GAME: This isn't a slam dunk for the Patriots. They have strung together three consecutive sloppy performances, and are just 4-3 at home, with five of those games decided by seven points or less. But look for an inspired performance with New England coming off a shutout loss in Miami. Whether or not he gets a lot of help from his ground game, QB Tom Brady should be able to drop back and dissect the Texans' secondary with Houston possessing only one true pass-rushing threat in rookie DE Mario Williams. Offensively, the Texans could find it difficult to run against the league's No. 3 run defense. That will put even more heat on QB David Carr, whose future with the team could well be determined by how he plays the next three weeks. Carr has a high completion percentage, but he struggles to push the ball vertically and cash in on the few drives the Texans typically put together during the course of a game.
FAST FACTS: Texans: Carr (69.4) seeks to become fourth player since 1970 to complete 70.0 percent or better for an entire season. ... WR Andre Johnson has caught at least six passes in nine consecutive road games. Patriots: Clinch AFC West title with a win and a loss by the Jets. ... RB Corey Dillon needs one touchdown to tie Steve Grogan (35) for third most in franchise history.
SCOUTING THE TEAMS
Texans defensive end N.D. Kalu is frustrated that outsiders think the Texans are heading to New England with the hopes of simply not embarrassing themselves. Despite their record and a disappointing loss to Vince Young and the Tennessee Titans last week, Kalu said the team is focused on only one thing in the final three weeks: Winning.
"Everyone thinks we're going to go out there to try to put up a good game," Kalu said. "We're still men who are getting paid to win. We're going to go there and try to beat the best team in the league. And I tell you what. As bad as we feel right now for letting Vince come and do what he did, if we beat New England in New England, we're going to feel pretty good."
It won't be an easy stretch for the Texans, who must play Tom Brady and the Patriots this week, and then Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts next week. The defense has struggled in past games by giving up a couple of big plays. Usually, they redeem themselves by capitalizing on the opposing quarterback's mistakes though.
They might not find many mistakes the next two weeks, meaning the defense will need almost flawless games to contain Brady and Manning.
It'll be interesting to see how the Texans stack up against Brady and Manning, especially one week after Young won the game with a 39-yard touchdown run. Earlier in the season, the Texans lost after allowing J.P. Losman to throw three touchdown passes -- two of which were for 83 yards. They also allowed Mark Brunell to set an NFL record by completing 22-consecutive passes.
"The most important thing is that we have to make sure we're mentally correct on every play," Kalu said. "We have left guys uncovered at times this season, but because we've been playing a young quarterback he might have missed him. This guy isn't going to miss him. The coaches have taken a whole mental aspect this week, and we just can't make any mistakes."
The players admitted the overtime loss to the Titans is difficult to accept, but said the hangover will be gone by the time they play the Patriots.
"When you are younger in the Pop Warner League, you always play for pride," running back Wali Lundy said. "I think that's what we're doing now. We're playing to get better and we're playing for our pride."
Quarterback David Carr is trying to tune out his critics and focus on rallying his teammates for the upcoming game. Carr will need all the help he can get on the field Sunday, considering the Texans will be playing against the league's 8th-ranked defense on the road.
It's impossible for Carr not to know what is being said about him, though, especially after a game in which the Texans lost to a quarterback many in Houston wish had Carr's job.
"You just take it for what it is," Carr said. "Go out, live your life, play football, enjoy it. Have fun with your family, friends, and let the people who like to talk about that stuff talk about it. But if I was going to go sit in my house and listen to that stuff, I'd be miserable. I'm going to enjoy what I'm doing."
BY THE NUMBERS: 19.8 -- The average number of points the Texans have given up in the last 11 games. They gave up an average of 32.7 points in the first three games.
THEY SAID IT: "They have to teach those guys how to let those things go and go on to the next one. As disappointing as this loss was, imagine what it would be like to go into a place like that and to beat a team that has got a very legitimate chance to be a world champion this year. So you have to look at the opportunity you have ahead of you, and that's what we have to focus on." -- Coach Gary Kubiak on how important it is for veteran leadership to help the younger players as they try to rebound from a tough loss to Tennessee.
The Patriots are looking to rebound from a 21-0 dismantling by the Dolphins when they host the Houston Texans this Sunday. On paper, the 4-9 Texans shouldn't pose much of a problem for the Patriots. However, the team hasn't played well lately and the last time they faced an inferior team at home, they barely eked out a win against the Lions.
The future success of the Texans is directly linked to quarterback David Carr. The team cemented that when they passed on local hero Vince Young in the draft and gave Carr a hefty pay raise to stay in Houston.
Carr has had a decent but unspectacular year. He's completing close to 70 percent of his pass attempts and has cut down on his mistakes. On the other hand, he's only thrown 10 touchdown passes and a lot of those have been near the goal line. So while Carr has been efficient, the Texans passing game hasn't produced many big plays throughout the year.
Kubiak brought with him from Denver the same offensive principles the Broncos employ that has given the Patriots defense fits in the past. He uses the zone-blocking scheme that the Broncos and Falcons have had so much success with and also calls a lot of bootlegs and rollouts for Carr to take advantage of his mobility. Fortunately for New England, Kubiak doesn't have the same quality of players in Houston that he had at his disposal with the Broncos.
Houston hasn't run the ball well this year, something Texans fans are well aware of since they passed on Reggie Bush in the draft. The team is relying on the trio of Wali Lundy, Ron Dayne and Samkon Gado to get the job done. Lundy is the team's leading rusher, although Dayne has become the primary ball carrier the last two weeks. Even if the Patriots are without nose tackle Vince Wilfork this week, they should be able to control a punch-less Texans ground game.
It's hard to believe that Carr hasn't made more big plays through the air with a target like Andre Johnson lining up at receiver. Johnson is a beast who has the size to go over the middle and the speed to get deep. Despite the Texans' struggles on offense, Johnson is one of the NFL's leading receivers with 92 receptions for 1,059 yards and five touchdowns. Asante Samuel is having a great year but he'll have his hands full this week with Johnson. And if the Texans can get their top receiver matched up with Chad Scott, Ellis Hobbs or Ray Mickens, they'll have an even better chance to make some big plays down the field.
The Texans defense has struggled overall, although they have some good young players to build around. Mario Williams will probably never be good enough for Houston fans but he's actually having a decent rookie year, despite playing with an injured foot. Second round pick DeMeco Ryans is a stud at linebacker. He has the ability to be one of the top linebackers in the NFL and a cornerstone of Houston's defense for years to come.
"Defensively they have, obviously, the two young players there, Mario (Williams) and (DeMeco) Ryans have been outstanding," Belichick said. "They've made a lot of plays. Ryans is a real productive player. I think he's a versatile player and can do a lot of different things. He can play the run. He can blitz. He's athletic. He can play in coverage and he's a good tackler."
While Houston has some young talent on defense, they should be no match for Tom Brady and the Patriots offense. New England never crossed the Miami 38-yard line last week, so the offense will want to come out clicking on Sunday. After the way the Dolphins dominated them, the Patriots need some good things to happen early offensively to get that bad taste out of their mouth.
"I think at times we've done it pretty well, and at times we haven't," Brady said about the offense. "I think there's no really easy answer to that one. We've had our back against the wall a few times and performed better than others. There are times we haven't. We'll see how it goes this week."
SERIES HISTORY: 2nd meeting. The Patriots and Texans have only played one time since Houston entered the league in 2002 but it was a 23-20 thriller that was decided in overtime. New England trailed by seven points until Tom Brady connected with Daniel Graham for a 4-yard scoring strike with 40 seconds left to send the game into the extra stanza. The Patriots blocked a field goal and with only 41 seconds left in overtime, Adam Vinatieri kicked a 28-yard field goal to give New England the win. Brady finished the game 29-out-of-47 for 368 yards. The Patriots would return to Houston a little over two months later to play in Super Bowl XXXVIII. New England defeated the Carolina Panthers 32-29 behind an MVP-performance from Brady to capture its second Super Bowl title in three years.
BY THE NUMBERS: 16 -- The number of touchdowns allowed by the Patriots this season. It's currently the lowest total in the NFL.
THEY SAID IT: "I think this team has to listen more to what the coach says. If we listen more and we did more of what our coaches told us to do, I think we'd be a lot better off. But at times I think we figure we can do it our way, and we show that there is quite a bit of inconsistency to that. We just have to keep trying to pound away." -- Tom Brady on what the Patriots need to do in order to play better.
Player News as of Sat 12/16/06:
--The Patriots released WR Doug Gabriel on Tuesday. New England acquired Gabriel on Sept. 2, 2006 from the Oakland Raiders for a fifth-round draft choice. He played in 12 games with the Patriots, with five starts. Gabriel caught 25 passes for 344 yards and three touchdowns but he appeared to get in Bill Belichick's doghouse after losing a fumble against the Jets on Nov. 12.
"One quick word on Doug, I appreciate how hard he worked and what he tried to do here," Bill Belichick said. "Just unfortunately, the way the whole thing came down, it just didn't work out. I don't know if that's anybody's fault, that's just the way it was."
--With Gabriel gone, it could be time for rookie Chad Jackson to step up. Big things were expected out of Jackson when the Patriots traded up in the second round of the draft to get him. However, he's battled injuries since training camp and has only 10 receptions for 131 yards on the season.
"I think it all depends on what you do out on the game field," Tom Brady said when asked about Jackson's development. "He hasn't been out there the last few weeks. He hadn't practiced in a few weeks either. We're going to see what he does when he does practice."
--"I hope so. I could stand up here and say yes, and we could not be, and I could say no, and we could be. It is all going to be determined by how we play and how we perform the next few weeks. It will be a big test for us. I hope we can match the challenge. I hope that my teammates feel that we have a great opportunity ahead, if we don't squander it away like we've squandered some games away this year." Quarterback Tom Brady on if he thinks the team can make a run in the playoffs.
--After a poor showing in Miami, the offensive linemen have shaved their beards. Stephen Neal, Ryan O'Callaghan and Dan Koppen were walking around the locker room clean-shaven for the first time in two months.
--After this week's game at home against the Texans, the Patriots will play their final two games of the year on the road. They are one of only two teams to have its last two games away from home, with the Arizona Cardinals being the other.
--At the end of Wednesday's press conference, Belichick was asked about his comments after the loss to Miami that the Patriots are a 9-4 football team and a lot of other teams would like to be in that position. "I didn't bring it up," Belichick responded. "It doesn't make any difference what our record is."
--NT Vince Wilfork, TE Benjamin Watson and S Rodney Harrison weren't present for the media-access portion of Thursday's practice. Wilfork and Watson both left Sunday's loss to the Miami in the third quarter with leg injuries and didn't return. They are both listed as questionable for this week, Wilfork with an ankle injury and Watson a knee ailment. Harrison has been out the past month with a broken shoulder, but he's been upgraded to doubtful for Sunday's game. All three were listed as out for the game on Sunday.
--WR Chad Jackson (groin) has missed the past two games. He's questionable for this week's contest with the Texans.
--RB Laurence Maroney missed last week's game with a bad back. He remains listed on the Patriots injury report as questionable with that back injury. (Downgraded to out)
--DL Mike Wright (shoulder) has been added to the injury report. He's questionable for Sunday's game.
--The Patriots signed DB Justin Phinisee and S Guss Scott to the practice squad. The team also announced the release of DB James Patrick from the practice squad. Scott was drafted by New England and played for the Patriots from 2004-2005 before being released just before the start of the 2006 season.
--OL Gene Mruczkowski's on again, off again career with the team is back on. He's been re-signed to the Patriots active roster for the third time this season.
--RB Patrick Pass has been placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury, ending his season. Pass only played two games for the Patriots in 2006.
--Defensive end Mario Williams continues to battle plantar fasciitis, and rarely practicing during the week so he is able to play on Sundays. His unique schedule has prompted a little ribbing from his teammates.
Veteran defensive N.D. Kalu said by not practicing, Williams is getting the "Bruce Smith treatment," referring to the NFL's all-time sack leader. Kalu's jokes stopped there though.
"He's the golden child, and you don't want to get cut for making him upset, so we cut him some slack," Kalu joked.
--Eric Moulds has already warned Andre Johnson to be prepared for the trickery of Patriots coach Bill Belichick. Moulds played against Belichick's Patriots twice a year when he was in the same division during his career with the Buffalo Bills.
"I told Andre, 'You have to come with your best game against Bill Belichick because he's going to throw some things at you that you've never seen,'" Moulds said. "He coached me in a Pro Bowl, and you're only allowed to play two coverages in a Pro Bowl. But he made them look like there were about 10 coverages. We confused the guys we were playing against, and we wound up winning the game like 50-12 because of our defense.
"It's going to be a big challenge going down there and playing against him, because he's the mastermind."
--FB Jameel Cook will undergo arthroscopic knee surgery on Monday, ending his first season with the Texans. Cook started 11 games and finished with 18 catches for 107 yards. Cook was placed on IR this week, ending his 2006 season.
--S Jason Simmons will start at free safety in place of C.C. Brown, if Brown is unable to play because of turf toe. Brown has not practiced this week and will be a game-time decision.
--DB Dexter Wynn will return kickoffs and punts if Jerome Mathis cannot play because of a groin injury. Mathis has not practiced this week and will be a game-time decision.
--QB David Carr is working on the shotgun in practice, something he has not done much of all season. The Texans would like to use it more, but they are waiting until Carr and C Drew Hodgdon feel comfortable with it.
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