Heading into the previous matchup between the Patriots and Texans in Foxborough, Houston was looking to assert itself as the team to beat in the AFC. With an 11-1 mark going into that Dec. 10 Monday night game at Gillette Stadium, the Texans seemed to be in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 seed in the AFC and a playoff bye.
But New England’s 42-14 domination of its lifeless visitors that night, and Houston losing its final two games of the regular season against the Vikings and Colts, completely changed the postseason picture. It was the Patriots who got to sit home and rest. And after getting by the Bengals last Sunday, Houston has to travel to the chilly Northeast for the divisional round.
For Houston, it’s about redemption and revenge for an embarrassing effort just a month ago that many Texans players referred to as a “butt whooping.” For New England it’s for a spot in the AFC title game for the second straight season.
According to Bill Belichick, though, that previous matchup will have little to do with the action this time around. Typical of his “the next game is the only game that matters” philosophy, Belichick is preparing for the best that Houston has to offer.
“As we all know, I think when you play a team twice during the season, the games are totally different — they never go the same way,” Belichick. “We’ll be able to certainly look at some of the matchups individually, guys that faced each in the game. As far as plays and calls and things like that matching up, I’m sure they’ll have some new wrinkles, I’m sure we’ll have some too. It will be totally different.”
Some have made comparisons between this second meeting with the Texans and the 2010 postseason that saw the Patriots host the Jets just a few weeks after blowing out the division rival at home. New England lost that playoff rematch.
“I think there’s certainly a lesson there about the game that we play now doesn’t have much to do with the game we played before. It’s another example of that,” Belichick said of the comparison. “We’ve talked about that many, many times here, before and after the 2010 season. 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.”
Talib relishing chance
In a bit of nautical irony, it took Aqib Talib getting out of Tampa Bay, to find uncharted waters in New England.
The fifth-year veteran, who joined the Patriots in a trading deadline deal from the Buccaneers, never experienced what he’s beginning to go through right now in New England — a postseason. In his first four NFL seasons with the Bucs, January was about the postseason, not the postseason.
Though Talib’s coverage has been suspect at times, the former first-round pick was given some credit for an improvement to the New England secondary in the five-plus games he played for the Patriots this regular season. With he and rookie corner Alfonzo Dennard taking over the starting cornerback jobs in Belichick’s defense, Devin McCourty was able to slide into a free safety spot for which he seems far more suited given the former Pro Bowler’s struggles at corner over the last year-plus.
But Talib missed the entire regular-season finale and the bulk of the Week 16 game in Jacksonville with a hip injury. As such, he’s using New England’s postseason bye week in an effort to get back to full health and on the field for the divisional round playoff game at Gillette Stadium on January 13.
“I never got a chance to participate in the postseason,” Talib said. “My first chance, I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
Talib doesn’t seem to worried about his first playoff experience, though.
“I’ve never been to the postseason, but I’m not a rookie or nothing,” Talib said with confidence. “Once we get out there and the game starts, it’s still football.”
As such, he says he hasn’t been picking the brains of his more playoff-savvy teammates, many of whom went on a Super Bowl run just last January.
“I mean, there was a point in time where they had to see for themselves,” Talib said. “So, I’m just going to have to see for myself what it’s like.”
With the Patriots having shut out the Dolphins in the season finale, helping the team finish the year tied for ninth in the NFL in points allowed, Talib rejoins a New England defense that might have a little momentum or swagger heading into the postseason.
But the veteran corner downplayed that factor.
“I believe in preparing for your next opponent,” Talib said in very Belichickian fashion. ‘And I know we’re going to have a pretty tough next opponent. So, we’re going to do a good job of getting better as a team this week, and preparing for that next team, when it’s time to.”
For Talib, that means preparing for his first taste of playoff football.
NOTEBOOK: Belichick expressed plenty of emotion this week in his remarks about longtime Patriots equipment manager Don Brocher, who died early New Year’s Day after complications from leukemia. Brocher had been with the New England organization for 41 years, a mainstay through ownership, front office and coaching changes. A number of players also fondly recalled the man who’d kept them well equipped throughout their Patriots careers. “He just wanted to make sure everything was done and done in a timely manner,” Kyle Arrington told the Boston Globe. “I can’t say enough positive things about Broche and the approach he took to his job and how much he loved it.”
“The biggest thing was he was always here,” defensive captain Devin McCourty added. “Everything he was about was Patriots football. I think that’s what makes this organization so cool — there’s so many guys here that are Patriots football and you see that, you see the tradition and guys like him that have been here through not just coach Belichick, but he’s been here through many coaches.”