The Patriots got what they needed Sunday afternoon with a convincing win over the visiting Texans at Gillette Stadium. True, it was just the 4-10 Houston squad under first-year coach Gary Kubiak and true it was the sort of game that playoff caliber teams are supposed to win. But it was also something Patriots players needed in terms of confidence to build on heading into a season-ending two game road trip.
While New England has generally been a team that's dominated in the later part of the season under Bill Belichick, that's not been the case in 2006. After going 2-2 in the November, including back-to-back losses to the Colts and Jets to start the month that marked the team's first losing streak in nearly four seasons, December didn't start off much better. The Patriots struggled to eek out a 28-21 victory over the Lions, one of the poorer sisters of the NFC North. A week later the team was in Miami getting dominated and shut out by the Dolphins 21-0.
Hosting Houston was the answer to the playmaking woes. A week after throwing for just 78 yards against Miami, Tom Brady completed an efficient 16-of-23 passes for 109 yards and two touchdowns in the bounce-back win. Brady benefited from short fields all afternoon as the Patriots rolled to the 40-7 rout over Houston. And the New England defense held David Carr and the Texans in check most of the day, while forcing and taking advantage of four turnovers.
But what does the performance against the struggling Texans mean for the long run in New England? It means the team, one that spent last week defending its own 9-4 record and overall body of work, heads into the final two games of the season with a bit more confidence and breathing room building toward January. Long touchdown runs by Fred Taylor or Maurice Jones-Drew, or watching Vince Young carry Tennessee to victory to close out the year wouldn't squash any positive momentum New England picked up against the Texans. A convincing win over Houston is far better than the stinker the team laid the previous week in Dolphin Stadium or struggling to beat the Lions at home.
The days of Brady and Co. dominating all the way down the regular season stretch might be in the rear view mirror. But so are comparisons to the dynasty Patriots from 2003 and 2004. Right now the Patriots are a soon-to-be division winner in the mix for postseason play. Belichick and Brady matchup as well as any coaching-QB duo in the game. That's all that matters at this point in New England. The Patriots were in the same spot a year ago before blowing up in Denver in the divisional round of the playoffs. Could that happen again? Sure. Will it? Only time will tell. But at least the Patriots now have some positive momentum for the final two weeks, a confidence that's been lacking for most of the season.
"We sort of have something now to build on," linebacker and defensive captain Tedy Bruschi said. "What can you take away from a shut out loss in Miami? Not much. So now you have a game where all three units of your team you think performed well and so you go from there and you don't want to go backwards anymore."