Following a 42-14 thrashing of the previously 11-1 Houston Texans, the New England Patriots have moved to 10-3. Here is a look at the five most important things that we learned during Monday's nationally televised game in Foxboro.
J.J. Watt can be contained
Coming into this game, I didn't think the Patriots had a prayer when it came to stopping former Wisconsin Badger J.J. Watt. He'd already registered 16.5 sacks and 15 passes defended. However, the New England offense line, aided by the return of standout left guard Logan Mankins, was able to shut down No. 99 completely. For the first time this season, Watt was held without a sack, tackle-for-a-loss or pass deflection. This is a remarkably impressive feat for what's been a banged-up offensive line and can hopefully provide them with some confidence as we move towards the end of the season.
The reemergence of Brandon Lloyd
Just one week after seeing a grand total of one target against the Dolphins in Miami, first-year Patriot Brandon Lloyd was New England's top pass-catcher in their Monday night game against Houston. The former Denver Bronco reeled in seven balls for 89 yards and a touchdown and was also able to fall on a loose football in the endzone for a second touchdown. Lloyd's possible reemergence is something that might fly a little under the radar in New England but is greatly important to a Patriots' playoff-push. One thing we've learned through years of watching this football team is that it's nearly impossible to regain the trust of quarterback Tom Brady. Once you've lost it, it's awfully tough to get it back. Just ask Chad "Ochocinco" Johnson. Early-season drops led to him being fazed almost completely out of the offense. In the first match-up with the Jets, Lloyd mishandled at least three throws that most think should have been completed. Lloyd's target numbers have declined ever since that game, leading me to believe that the quarterback/receiver trust had been breached. However, Monday's performance against Houston is a tremendous sign for the Patriots.
Ball security shouldn't be an issue at this point in the season
Lost in the daze of overwhelming victory, Patriots' fans haven't been talking about something that likely got Stevan Ridley and Danny Woodhead an earful from head coach Bill Belichick on Tuesday morning: ball control. Both tailbacks fumbled the football inside the red-zone, though both finding good fortune in New England recoveries. However, ball control is one of the most elementary aspects of football and is something that shouldn't be haunting a Super Bowl contender at this point in the season. The Patriots simply can't afford those types of mistakes in a playoff game against an elite football team.
Patriots put a stop to the NFL's best running back
Arian Foster's rare combination of speed, cutback ability and power has often drawn comparisons to the great Terrell Davis. He is without a doubt the most complete tailback in the NFL. However, the Patriots run defense was able to put a stop to No. 23 Monday night, holding him to just 46 yards on the ground and one touchdown. Monday's performance was a statement from Vince Wilfork, Brandon Spikes and company that they are for real and are amongst the league's best front-seven groups.
Don't count the Texans out yet
Monday night might have been a complete disaster, but the Houston Texans are still an extraordinarily good football team. For a franchise with just one playoff win in two tries, perhaps the lights were just turned up a little too brightly. A good majority of the players in the Houston lineup on Monday have never played in a game of that magnitude in front of a national audience. The experience that New England has in thriving under those circumstances is what truly separated the two teams on Monday evening and could very well prove the same in the postseason. However, the Texans are a very well-rounded team with playmakers on both sides of the ball. I wouldn't count them out of this AFC title picture just yet.
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