By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- To say that the sky was falling in New England would be to overstate things a bit. It's more like the roof had sprung a leak, and inspectors had been called in to check the support beams, but the sky had yet to crush the hopes and dreams of everybody in the region.
A loss to the Texans, though, might have caused some real damage.
But, as you know, the Patriots made sure that such a thing didn't happen, and thanks to some serendipitous intervention by the Steelers and Raiders, Bill Belichick's team walked out of Week 14 with a guaranteed playoff spot and with the current No. 1 spot in the AFC.
As you can see, Belichick could barely contain his excitement as he left the field.
Bill! There are kids watching at home! Have some decency!
In any event, the Patriots now completely control their destiny. Win three, and you get home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs and, of course, a first-round bye. And that's only necessary if either the Broncos and Bengals win out and win the tiebreaker over the Patriots, a scenario that looks less likely after Brock Osweiler ran out of magic pixie dust and Andy Dalton broke his thumb while trying to make a tackle.
I'm sure that America, treated to a prime-time Patriots game for the sixth time in 14 weeks, was just overjoyed to see so many things turn the Patriots' way on Sunday evening. Lots of good vibes being sent New England's way, no doubt.
OK, another late one, so no need to waste time on this sleep-deprived Monday. Here are all the leftover thoughts that are fit to print from the Patriots' 27-6 win over the Texans.
--One of the most enjoyable aspects of this season, from a sheer entertainment perspective, has been the outstanding play of the defense. It feels like it was 100 years ago when the Patriots were a team that could win games on defense rather than offense, but that's no doubt been a recurring theme this year.
It was the case on Sunday night, when the defense allowed just 189 total yards and forced two fumbles, recovering one inside the Houston 10-yard line to set up the putaway score. And though the run defense struggled two weeks ago in Denver, the defense was not to blame for last week's loss to the Eagles, who managed just 248 total yards of offense while capitalizing on special teams.
Provided they perform as expected against the Titans, Jets and Dolphins, the Patriots can finish with top five defense. That might prove useful come January.
--So the defense deserves accolades, yes, but not without mentioning that Bill O'Brien's decision to go to the wayback machine and trot out the Wildcat far too many times was the dumbest thing I saw in the NFL on Sunday. It ain't 2008, Billy!
What is this?
No. Just, no. This fooled zero people.
The Patriots relied on athleticism to stop the play, only having two linemen put their hands in the dirt and letting Jamie Collins and Chandler Jones remain upright to read and react. Patrick Chung contained the edge on the right side, and on the other side, Rob Ninkovich and Leonard Johnson didn't buy Cecil Shorts' brief pass fake. They came crashing in from the offensive right, collapsing on Shorts, who had to go up the middle for no gain.
Bad, Billy O'Brien. Bad!
--There are two types of referees in the world: ones who make every call definitively and with authority even when they have no idea what actually happened, and ones who clearly have no idea what's going on. Most fall into the former category, but Jeff Triplette is quite obviously in the latter.
Multiple times on Sunday night, after a fumble or an incomplete pass or a play that needed some clarity, Triplette sloooowwwwwllly sauntered toward the action, looking around to his crew, hoping they'd make the call and let him know what was taking place on the football field.
The great part about this was that every time a penalty was called, we got to watch Triplette huddle with his officials for multiple minutes. That's what we need in these late-night games.
Oh yeah. That's the good stuff. Need me some more official huddles.
--This didn't matter, and I don't even know if the Patriots recovered the football. I just don't know how the officials can get away with saying forward progress was stopped and the play was dead before the fumble on this play.
That's one of the plays where Triplette actually pretended to know what was going on. Impressive.
--The definition of "incontrovertible" has apparently changed. In the past, the call on the field was upheld if replay review could not conclusively prove that the call was wrong. And in both Danny Amendola's non-catch and James White's non-catch, I've yet to see an angle that proved conclusively that the ball hit the turf or the heel hit the chalk. I know the Amendola pass bounced, but I thought it hit his hand. And White's toes clearly tapped in bounds, and there was no clear angle of when exactly he gained or didn't gain possession, so there was no evidence to overturn the play. Alas, across the league in just about every game, we really never know how the officials are going to rule on replay. For that matter, even a former ref like Mike Carey and former head of officiating Mike Pereira usually don't know, either. That's kind of problematic, but I'm sure the ever-esteemable Dean Blandino will handle the situation promptly and correctly.
--Credit to the Patriots though, who had those two plays overturned on replay and then had the Keshawn Martin muffed punt, but didn't let any of it derail their night. They couldn't keep it together two weeks ago in Denver under similar circumstances, but they flashed some steel on Sunday night ... albeit against a much lesser opponent.
--Martin had the flub on special teams, which was bad, but he was having a rather impressive night to that point. Particularly on his touchdown catch, he worked through this ...
... to turn it into this:
--When Jamie Collins disappeared for a month with a mystery illness, a lot of people seemed very concerned that he had lost a lot of weight. But that dude is out there suplexing people. I think he's all right.
(Could've sworn that's a penalty, especially when it comes after the runner's knee was down. But I guess forward progress hadn't been stopped.)
--The NFL reserves its personal foul for the worst offenses, and the 15-yard penalty attached to it indicates its severity. So forgive me for not understanding how it makes sense for a 15-yard personal foul by the defense on a play resulting in a touchdown to be enforced on a kickoff, a play that for some teams almost always results in a touchback anyway.
But I'm not just here to complain. I've got solutions. The NFL is seemingly dead set on eliminating the kickoff, so if Team B commits a personal foul on a play when Team A scores a touchdown, then Team B automatically starts the next drive at their own 10-yard line (unless Team A wants to try an onside kick).
Boom. Problem solved in 10 seconds. I'm much too efficient to ever work in Roger Goodell's NFL.
--Speaking of efficiency, have we heard from the NFL Catch Committee yet? Do we know what a catch is? Can they tell us? Or will they meet for 10 months, rack up Ted Wells-level billable hours, and end up with a more convoluted explanation than we already have?
--LOOK AT THESE SWEATERS.
--A great pastime in New England is to sit around and complain that "LeGarrette Blount is so slow oh my god what is he doing back there?!" What's often overlooked in this rousing activity is an appreciation of his ability to escape this ...
... and casually rolling out of this ...
... before carrying fully grown adult human males from here ...
... to here:
Blount had a nice night (53 yards on 10 carries) before suffering the hip injury, and we've seen the impact he can make in December and January. The Patriots have to hope that's not a long-term ailment.
Among running backs with at least 150 carries, Blount's 4.3-yard average is eighth-best in the NFL. He's picked up a first down 37 times, which ranks 15th in the NFL, despite fewer touches than all but three of the players ahead of him. He's also still tied for eighth with six rushing touchdowns. He's pretty damn useful, and he's got a unique skill set that can be very difficult for certain defenses to stop.
But, whatever. He's slow. Keep on complaining.
--Blount made Andre Hal look like a tiny freshman partaking in his first varsity practice, but it was only half as bad as what Rob Gronkowski did to Quintin Demps.
A full 7 inches shorter and about 60 pounds lighter, Demps had zero chance. Zero.
But, impossibly, this was not the worst defense employed on Rob Gronkowski on Sunday evening. Nope, that came midway through the fourth quarter, on a second-and-25, when the Texans either completely quit or forgot about the man who is arguably the most dynamic tight end in NFL history.
Need more humans on him.
--To continue the Man Amongst Boys portion of the program, here's Brandon Bolden when three Texans hit him at the 40-yard line:
And here's Brandon Bolden at the end of that run, eight yards farther downfield:
--And the last superhuman feat to share involves Stephen Gostkowski's leg strength. The guy lined up a 49-yard field goal and not only sent it dead central but also provided enough power for it to hit the net here:
Go down the street and try to kick a field goal from the 9-yard line to gain a better appreciation of that very weird skill set.
--I'll just let these notes from the Patriots speak for themselves.
The only time Gronkowski didn't record 10 touchdowns in a season came in 2013, when he played in just seven games. Keep him healthy for the next eight to 10 years, and he'll be the greatest of all time.
--I put the offensive line in my "Downs" for the night, with the careful caveat that the work on J.J. Watt was an impressive task. Watt is a rare game-changing type of talent, so much so that Bill Belichick put him in the same conversation with Lawrence Taylor last week. Yet a dogged attack from the Patriots offense made Watt invisible, and on one play -- the 13-yard scramble by Tom Brady -- they even got Watt to quit.
There ought to be an award for that.
--Guy makes one hell of an entrance though.
--The loss to the Eagles provided a reminder that no game can be taken for granted, but it also likely provided a kick in the butt to the Patriots players. So there's no reason to believe they'll coast through any of the remaining games, not with a No. 1 seed in the AFC there for the taking.
Next week, they'll face a Titans team that is 3-10 and just got blown out by the Jets. Then, the Patriots visit the Jets, who could be a playoff team and will likely provide some pushback. Then, it's a trip to Miami. The Patriots played one of their sloppier games of the season against the Dolphins earlier this year but still managed to win by 29 points. With Dolphins players tasting the sweet release of the offseason, it's hard to imagine the Dolphins providing much competition in Week 17.
So, in all likelihood, the Patriots will finish the year either at 14-2 or 13-3. They already have 11 wins and a guaranteed playoff spot, continuing the most ridiculously successful regular-season stretch we will ever see. In the Bill Belichick era, the Patriots have won 10 or more games in 14 of 16 years, earning playoff berths 13 times. They're on a streak of 13 straight season -- 13 years -- with at least 10 wins, a feat only bested by the 49ers from 1983-1998. The Patriots' 15 consecutive winning seasons ranks fourth all time and looks like it will continue for at least a few more years. And among contemporary peers, there is no match. The Patriots have 15 seasons with nine or more wins since 2001, which is best in the NFL. Indianapolis had 12, and four teams have 10.
There are 16-year-olds buzzing down the highway at 100 mph right now who only know the Patriots in this light.
Obviously, expectations in these parts involve Super Bowls, not regular-season records. But some day we'll all look back at the first two decades of the 21st century and realize just how remarkably these Patriots -- and specifically, the coach and quarterback -- stand out in history.
for more features.