AFC South: Wes Welker

Quick Take: Colts at Patriots

January, 5, 2014
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Three things to know about Saturday's Indianapolis Colts-New England Patriots divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium. This will be the first playoff matchup between the two teams since the epic AFC Championship Game the Colts won 38-34 on Jan. 21, 2007.

1. Battle of receivers. Quick: Can you name a receiver on either team not named T.Y. Hilton? Andrew Luck of the Colts and Tom Brady of the Patriots are the two best quarterbacks in the league when it comes to getting the most out of their receivers. They both lost their primary receiving targets to injury this season. Colts receiver Reggie Wayne's season ended in Week 7 with a torn ACL. Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski's season ended with a torn ACL and MCL in Week 14. Receiver Julian Edelman led the Patriots in receiving this season with 1,056 yards and six touchdowns. Hilton, who set a franchise playoff record with 224 yards against Kansas City on Saturday, led the Colts with 1,083 yards and five touchdowns this season.

2. Ugly first game. Luck is making his second appearance against the Patriots at Gillette Stadium. New England beat Indianapolis 59-24 during the 2012 season. The Colts led 14-7 at the end of the first quarter and trailed only 24-17 at halftime, but the Patriots outscored them 35-7 in the second half. Luck was 27-of-50 for 334 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. Brady was simply better, as expected. He was 24-of-35 for 331 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. But Brady won't have Gronkowski (137 yards) or Wes Welker (80 yards) to throw the ball to this time around. Hilton had six catches for 100 yards. Colts linebacker Jerrell Freeman had 12 tackles in that game.

3. Stopping the run. Brady is obviously the focal point for the Patriots, but New England does have a decent running game, too. Running backs Stevan Ridley and LeGarrette Blount finished within a yard of each other during the regular season, with Ridley gaining 773 yards and Blount rushing for 772 yards. They also combined for 14 touchdowns. The Colts, on the other hand, had Donald Brown rush for 537 yards and Trent Richardson finished with 458 yards.
DENVER -- Bernard Pollard is hardly afraid to pop off. The Tennessee Titans strong safety is one of the NFL's most outspoken players. And he's got no issue raising the volume.

Sunday, after the Titans fell to 5-8 with a 51-28 loss to the Denver Broncos, he was reserved and resigned.

He didn't raise his voice and he didn't really talk in specifics. He merely spoke of the NFL as a higher power and pointed out the limits he felt that power put on the Titans as they tried to slow Peyton Manning.

[+] EnlargeBernard Pollard
AP Photo/Jack DempseyBernard Pollard was penalized twice in the loss to the Broncos.
"It's a shame the way, you know, power is held," he said. "It's hard for us to play the way we want to play. We understand what Peyton has done, we understand all of it, man. It's just difficult for us as a secondary, as a defense, to get things done."

Cornerback Alterraun Verner has had a Pro Bowl-caliber season, but he got flagged three times in this game, once for pass interference and twice for defensive holding. One of the holding calls was wiped away because Denver had a bigger penalty to accept, a personal foul against Pollard who delivered a hard shot to receiver Eric Decker on an incomplete pass up the left side.

It was a hard hit, delivered with a shoulder to a shoulder. But referee Scott Green and his crew viewed it as a dangerous hit to a defenseless player and gave the Broncos 15 yards and helped fuel the drive that put Denver ahead for good.

"It was a foul in their eyes," Pollard said softly. "I hit a defenseless player."

I thought Verner was a little more handsy than usual and didn't have a big issues with the call on him. The call against Pollard was botched. It’s another call coach Mike Munchak should get an apology from the league for if he dials league headquarters on Monday. It's a phone call the coach doesn't like to make, but one that yielded three admissions of mistakes against Tennessee in the Titans' last loss.

Pollard also got an unsportsmanlike conduct for talking to an official. He said he told him "that play stinks," Green got involved and made the call.

Free safety Michael Griffin was out for last week's loss to the Colts -- suspended for an accumulation of four hits to defenseless receivers that the NFL judged illegal and fined him for.

He was not nearly as calm about the personal foul call against Pollard or the calls overall.

"What do I think about it? It was [expletive] clear as day," he said. "It was the same hit I had against [Doug] Baldwin from damn Seattle, hit him in the shoulder pad. The official said it was a defenseless receiver. I said that's bull----. He hit him in the [expletive] shoulder. Notice he didn't hold his head, he held his shoulder."

"I feel like they got game tape, they already look and say, ‘He just got suspended, the other guys has had some flags thrown on him also.' Anything close that even looks bad, these refs are throwing the flags quick."

Verner said he thought he was playing "good, tough coverage."

"But the Broncos found a rhythm and took off like a rocket," he said.

Bad calls didn't ultimately account for the 23-point gap in this game. Manning completed a Broncos' record 39 passes for 397 yards and four touchdowns.

No, players cannot adjust their strike zone in a split second when their target is moving. They should be able to deliver a shoulder hit with a shoulder without being penalized. Other adjustments are possible, it's just the Titans seem unwilling or unable to make them.

The Titans have to be good enough and smart enough to realize how a game is being called and to adjust to it. And they simply aren't, whether it's holding calls in Oakland or pass interference/defensive holding calls in Denver.

Or when they play superior talent they have no choice but to make plays that are being regarded as fouls and accept the consequences.

They'll be accused by some of whining or crying. I think they are reasonably frustrated and, when considering the 5-8 record, not as talented as they believe.

"I think we need to have a referee meeting," Griffin said. "To me, it's not called consistent around the league. Some places it's called, some places it's not called. When you see the replay [of the Pollard play], everybody across America can see that it was shoulder to shoulder."

Late in the second quarter, a Broncos trainer put his hands on Pollard to move him when he knelt to pray for Wes Welker after the receiver suffered a concussion. Pollard didn't react well to being touched that way.

But after the game he wasn't talking about the higher power he asked to heal Welker.

"When you see certain things happen in the game, that's not how we played it all year, that's not how we wanted to play it," Pollard said. "But the higher power wants to play it like that."
DENVER -- Linebacker Paul Posluszny spent a lot of time after the Jacksonville Jaguars' 35-19 loss to the Denver Broncos playing good cop-bad cop.

He lauded the defense for forcing three turnovers (including his interception return for a touchdown) and holding the Broncos to season lows in total yards (407) and points.

But he also was critical of several costly defensive mistakes that ruined the Jaguars' chances of winning, mainly stupid penalties and failing to get off the field on third down.

While there were a lot of positives, the mistakes bother him more because they helped keep the Jaguars winless.

"We've got to take a really hard look at the type of mistakes we made," Posluszny said. "Early in the game we had them third-and-forever and they hit a checkdown, kind of a running back screen to get a first down. We're off the field on third down and all of a sudden we get a penalty.

[+] EnlargeJacksonville's Paul Posluszny
Chris Humphreys/USA TODAY SportsPaul Posluszny had seven tackles and also returned an interception 59 yards for a TD against Denver, but admitted the defense made too many mistakes.
"This is Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos. You can't do things like that and expect to be successful."

There aren't moral victories in football, but what the Jaguars did defensively against the NFL's top team should qualify. The Broncos hadn't scored fewer than 37 points and had scored 52 and 51 points the past two weeks. But in the first half, the Jaguars held them to 14 points and 165 yards and frustrated Peyton Manning.

They forced two turnovers as well. Posluszny had the biggest play, picking off a Manning pass intended for Wes Welker and returning it 59 yards for a touchdown that cut the Broncos' lead to 14-12 with 36 seconds remaining.

"They ran a simple play-action and I had a guy running up the seam," Posluszny said. "I was able to read the quarterback's eyes, make a break on it, and get my hands on the ball.

"I just wanted to catch the ball and secure it first and then it opened up. Andre Branch makes a great block, make a cut off that, and we get to go. So that was great for us."

Posluszny described the play without a smile, strange because it was his first career touchdown. But he was so bothered by the mistakes the Jaguars made on what seemed to be every Broncos scoring drive that he couldn't enjoy it.

Manning converted a third-and-20 with a dump-down pass that running Knowshon Moreno took 28 yards to the Jaguars' 9-yard line. Moreno simply turned around and went straight up the middle of the field and got a couple blocks from receivers before cornerback Will Blackmon was able to drag him down. Two plays later they led 7-0.

The Jaguars stopped the Broncos on their next possession when Moreno caught a pass and gained just 4 yards on third-and-14. But Branch was penalized for unnecessary roughness.

The Broncos scored five plays later for a 14-0 lead.

The Jaguars held the Broncos scoreless on their next four possessions, ending one by recovering a Manning fumble and another with Posluszny's interception.

There were more mistakes in the third quarter. Safety Josh Evans was penalized for pass interference and unsportsmanlike conduct and safety Johnathan Cyprien was penalized for pass interference in the end zone -- all on Denver's first drive.

In Posluszny's mind, all those things ruined the things the defense did well, and coach Gus Bradley agrees.

"We celebrate the victories within the game," he said. "We celebrate the good things that took place. We're going to celebrate that we got a pick-six because we talk about that. Get the ball and score. That defines you as a defense. That's a good thing. We'll celebrate that. But the overall, the outcome that we're looking for, it's not where we want to be."

Get to know the Denver Broncos

October, 8, 2013
10/08/13
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Denver Broncos are on a roll so far that tops what the New England Patriots did in 2007. They are scoring points at a record pace, lead the NFL in total offense and passing yards and are favored over the visiting Jaguars on Sunday by 28 points -- which ties the largest point spread in NFL history.

Kickoff is set for 4:05 p.m. ET (CBS).

Here’s a look at the Broncos:

Record: 5-0.

Last week: beat Dallas 51-48.

Coach: John Fox, third season (26-11); 12th season overall (99-82).

Offensive coordinator: Adam Gase.

Defensive coordinator: Jack Del Rio.

Series record: Jaguars lead 5-3 (regular season).

THREE PLAYERS TO KNOW ON OFFENSE

QB Peyton Manning: He has already thrown for 1,884 yards and 20 touchdowns, with only one interception. He’s also completing 75.8 percent of his passes. Those are staggering numbers, even for Manning.

WR Demaryius Thomas: He is Manning’s favorite target and leads the team with 34 catches for 450 yards. He’s one of the league’s top young receivers and has already established himself as one of the game’s better big-play receivers. What makes him so hard for defensive backs to handle is his size (6-foot-3, 229 pounds).

LT Chris Clark: Why an offensive lineman on this list? Because he’s replacing Ryan Clady, who is out for the season with a Lisfranc injury. Clady was a rock at left tackle. Clark has filled in capably. The offensive line has allowed Manning to be sacked only five times.

THREE PLAYERS TO KNOW ON DEFENSE

NT Terrance Knighton: The former Jaguars defensive lineman has started every game and has seven tackles. He’s anchoring a defensive front that leads the NFL in rush defense (69.6 yards per game).

LB Wesley Woodyard: The Broncos’ leading tackler (35) left last Sunday’s game with a neck injury but said on Monday that he felt fine and would be ready to play against the Jaguars. He is coming off the best season of his career: 117 tackles, 5.5 sacks and three interceptions in 2012.

S Duke Ihenacho: He leads the Broncos with 28 solo tackles (32 overall). He has started every game this season after playing in only two in 2012 as a rookie.

ETC.

The Broncos have scored 103 points in their last two games. … Denver has lost three in a row to the Jaguars. The last Denver victory came in 2005 in Jacksonville. … The Broncos have won 16 consecutive regular-season games dating back to a 31-21 loss at New England on Oct. 7, 2012. … Denver has scored more than 40 points four times this season, which is already a single-season franchise record. … Receiver Wes Welker is the first player since Washington’s Charlie Brown in 1982 to catch at least one touchdown pass in each of his first five games with a team.
ANDERSON, Ind. -- What do the numbers seven, 20 and 12 mean for the Indianapolis Colts?

Unfortunately for them, they're not positive numbers.

Those are number of catches -- 12 -- and appearances -- 20 -- by the seven receivers in training camp not named Reggie Wayne, Darrius Heyward-Bey, and T.Y. Hilton.

You can take Heyward-Bey's name out of the mix, which makes those numbers even more alarming, because the former first-round pick is out with a sprained left knee.

An MRI on Heyward-Bey's left knee came back negative, coach Chuck Pagano said Monday. He's day-to-day.

Are the Colts worried? Not yet at least. But there will likely be some uneasiness if Heyward-Bey, who signed with the team in the offseason, is out for an extended period of time, because he's been starting opposite of Wayne during camp.

Pagano looks at Heyward-Bey's absence as an opportunity for others to step up.

"Those guys are taking full advantage of it," the Colts' coach said. "You're talking about guys like Griff Whalen and (Jabin) Sambrano and Nate Palmer. It's a great opporunity for those guys to take advantage of that."

Hilton has slid into the No. 2 spot, and Whalen, who spent last season on the injured reserve list because of a foot injury, will get more reps to build on what has already been a strong training camp for him.

Whalen, a teammate of quarterback Andrew Luck at Stanford, has caught almost every pass that has come his way.

Think Denver's Wes Welker and former Colts receiver Austin Collie, both exceptional slot receivers, when you think about Whalen. He is even wearing No. 17, the same number Collie wore while with the Colts.

"He's reliable," Pagano said. "You can count on him. He knows exactly what to do. He doesn't make mental mistakes. Catches basically everything that is thrown to him."

And the early hype surrounding Whalen's success so far in camp?

"I haven't been paying much attention to it to be honest," he said. "I'm just trying to come out every day and approach it as what I need to do."

Newest Titans will add depth

April, 1, 2013
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The Tennessee Titans added their 11th and 12th free agent in their ongoing roster revamp, signing receiver Kevin Walter and interior offensive lineman Chris Spencer.

Walter is familiar to the Titans as he played the last seven years for the Houston Texans, often serving as the second wide receiver opposite Andre Johnson.

He had 65 catches and eight touchdowns for Houston in 2007, but his role had diminished with only 39 and 41 catches the last two seasons and five total touchdowns. He was a recent salary-cap casualty for a team that drafted a couple receivers last year and is expected to draft a more dynamic No. 2 receiver at the end of the month.

The Titans have struck out with several veteran receivers, including Danny Amendola, Wes Welker and Brandon Gibson. Indications are they’d like to trade the expensive Nate Washington, but I am not sure Walter will add enough to make Washington expendable.

Walter joins Kendall Wright, Kenny Britt, Washington, Damian Williams, Lavelle Hawkins and Michael Preston on the Titans receiving corps. The group has a new position coach in Shawn Jefferson.

Spencer is the third veteran, interior offensive lineman the Titans have added. He joins Andy Levitre, who will start at left guard, and Rob Turner.

While Fernando Velasco is expected to remain the starter at center, right guard will be wide open and Turner and Spencer could compete with a draft pick or slug it out between them.

Seattle picked Spencer in the first round in 2005 out of Ole Miss and he played the last two years in Chicago, where offensive line struggles were a big issue.

“Both Kevin and Chris are established veterans in this league who have a great deal of starting experience,” said Titans general manager Ruston Webster said in a statement. “They have made significant contributions on good teams during their careers. We feel like they can come in and provide increased competition at their respective positions for us.”

The addition of Spencer could mean the end of overpriced Eugene Amano, who was hurt in the preseason last year and missed the entire 2012 season.
I did not think receiver would be a spot the Titans delved into in free agency.

I was wrong on that.

They were players for Danny Amendola and were even part of the conversation about Wes Welker. (Regarding Welker, Titans GM Ruston Webster said on The Wake Up Zone in Nashville: "They contacted us and we looked into it ... but he had another destination.")

Clearly the Titans like the idea of finding a true slot guy, which would make Kendall Wright largely an outside receiver. If they add someone, they’d look to deal Nate Washington, who’s expensive.

[+] EnlargeNate Washington
Jim Brown/USA TODAY SportsNate Washington is reportedly in coach Mike Munchak's doghouse.
I can understand them asking Washington to take a pay cut. He’s due base salaries of $4.2 million this year and $4.8 million in 2014.

But he’s a far more dependable guy than Kenny Britt, who’s entering a contract year. Dumping Washington would leave the Titans with Wright, Britt, the newcomer, Damian Williams, Lavelle Hawkins (overpriced at $1.9 million this year) and Michael Preston. And a year from now they’d likely be subtracting Britt from that group.

Word is Washington lost favor with the team after he gave half-hearted effort over the last month of the season. If they didn’t think he worked, they should have gotten in his face about it. They should tell him they can’t pay him what he’s scheduled to make. Perhaps they’ve done those things.

I’m not sure they should be looking to trade him. But there is a big theme with this team right now, that Mike Munchak will sink or swim in his third year as coach with his guys. And his guys don’t give half-hearted effort in the last month of the season no matter how bad things are.

The thinking on Amendola or Welker was that they are different than anyone the Titans have, and could be super-reliable on short, simple passes for Jake Locker.

Who else out there profiles like that? I don't know if anyone does. Julian Edelman?

Brandon Gibson of the Rams doesn't seem the same type of guy to me, and he’s the next guy the Titans are courting.

Scouts Inc. rates him as an excellent route-runner, however, so I can understand the appeal of that.

“He understands how to read coverages and does a good job of finding seams to settle in when looking at zone schemes,” Scouts Inc. says.

Is Gibson at a cheaper rate an upgrade over an expensive Washington? I’m not so sure.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Last year they took a shot, drafting wide receivers in the third and fourth round.

The Texans still have high hopes for DeVier Posey and Keshawn Martin, though Posey’s recovering from a ruptured Achilles suffered in the playoff loss in New England. They still like Lestar Jean, too.

But Houston’s being honest: It needs a dynamic second receiver to play opposite Andre Johnson and eventually, potentially, take over his mantle.

[+] EnlargeKeenan Allen
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsHouston needs a receiver able to stretch the field. Is Cal's Keenan Allen a solid fit for the team?
“I think that continues to be right now a big focus for us as an organization,” coach Gary Kubiak said. “We drafted a few young guys last year. I do have a young guy in Lestar Jean that I think a lot of. DeVier Posey was making big, big progress and now we're dealing with a significant injury that is going to take some time

"So I think it’s important that we continue to strengthen our team in that area. Andre is in Year 11 or something like that now, so we’ve got to find some other guys to continue to produce alongside of him.”

The team's current No. 1, Kevin Walter, could wind up a salary-cap casualty. He does dirty work that doesn’t get enough credit, and that’s important. But if your dirty-work guy is also the second receiver on the field most of the time, it helps the offense if he’s a bigger threat against the one-on-one coverage he’s likely to draw.

Cordarrelle Patterson out of Tennessee is likely to be gone by the time the Texans draft 24th in the first round.

Cal’s Keenan Allen and Terrance Williams of Baylor probably rate as possibilities at the spot.

Evaluators say Allen can line up outside or inside and is a smooth route runner and at 6-foot-2 and about 210 pounds, he’s got some size. Allen rates himself as a physical, Anquan Boldin-type of receiver.

He won’t run at the combine because he tweaked an old knee injury in training so questions about his speed are likely to linger until his pro day on March 14.

“I feel like I'm a starter, self-motivated, a humble guy,” Allen said. “My work ethic is there. I'm a film junkie so I'm definitely doing that type of preparation for the game.”

Williams ranks as more of a vertical guy, and stretching the field more is something the Texans need to do to pen space for Arian Foster and Owen Daniels.

“I can stretch the field in a hurry,” Williams said.

He dismissed concerns that he’s only a vertical route runner, saying that when he’s asked to run other routes he’ll prove he can do so reliably.

West Virginia’s Tavon Austin is most different from anyone the Texans already have. He’s a smaller, slot-type of guy and should bring a spark to the team that lands him. But like anyone who’s 5-8 and 174 pounds, durability is a concern.

Austin admires Wes Welker, who’s pretty much the patron saint of up-and-coming slot guys nowadays.

“I think I’m a little quicker and faster than him,” Austin said. “So I figure if he can do it, I can do it, too.”

It’s not a great receiver class overall. Pro Football Weekly rates it as a "C" group.

Houston went for guys in the middle of the draft last year and didn’t find immediate impact. A choice near the top of a middling class could do a lot for a team that could be one big piece away from being a constant matchup problem.

RTC: Schaub wasn't good enough

January, 14, 2013
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Reading the coverage…

Houston Texans

“The Texans were eliminated in the divisional round because they didn’t make enough plays when they needed them, made too many mistakes at the worst time, failed to take advantage of opportunities, and consistently failed on third down,” says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

The way Matt Schaub played in December and January will not get it done, says Jerome Solomon of the Chronicle.

Given the limited choices of Super Bowl or bust, the Texans wound up with B, says Randy Harvey of the Chronicle.

The lack of third-quarter execution stopped the Texans from completing a momentum shift, says Dale Robertson of the Chronicle.

Even without Rob Gronkowski again, the Patriots offense steamrolled the Texans, says Don Banks of SI.com.

The Patriots reminded the Texans who the boss is in the AFC, says Mike Freeman of CBSSports.com.

The gap between the Patriots and Texans only widened, says Nancy Gay of Fox Sports.

The Chronicle’s notebook: Danieal Manning did well returning kicks, Rick Dennison thought his meeting with the Bears went well, inconsistency plagued the Texans offense and other notes from the Chronicle.

Owner Bob McNair thinks the Texans need more depth to take the next step, says Tania Ganguli of the Chronicle.

Receiver DeVier Posey’s got a torn Achilles, says Ganguli.

J.J. Watt explains his pregame spitting “controversy,” from Ganguli.

Wes Welker let his play speak for him, says Seth Lakso for the Chronicle.

Indianapolis Colts

Jim Irsay’s decisions to change things proved awfully smart, says Michael Marot of the Associated Press.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars will have to wait on the 49ers playoff run to talk to offensive coordinator Greg Roman about their head coaching job, says Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union.

CFL quarterback Mike Reilly recently worked out for the Jaguars, says O’Halloran.

Tennessee Titans

New Jersey police want to talk to Kenny Britt about an incident in which a close friend was stabbed, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

Wyatt says Mike Munchak wants to lure Sherman Smith back to Tennessee to coach running backs.

Alan Lowry may have lost his job as special teams coach because of a perception that players had begun tuning him out, says Wyatt.
Foster-SchaubElsa/Getty ImagesMatt Schaub and Arian Foster find frustration again in New England.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Player after player fell back into a common NFL safety net following the Houston Texans' 41-28 loss to the New England Patriots.

We’ve just got to make more plays, they said.

It’s a blanket, clichéd and too-easy solution to a loss like this one, five weeks after a 42-14 drubbing here at Gillette Stadium.

In many ways, the 2012 Texans maxed out, and here they finished at the same stage as last year’s team, an overachieving bunch that lost several key players to injuries and rallied behind a third-string rookie quarterback.

It’s the nature of an NFL player to defend his teammates and to believe his locker room is filled with the ingredients needed to be a championship team.

“We’ve got the guys right here in this room capable of getting the job done,” cornerback Johnathan Joseph said. “We got the job done all year to win 13 ball games. There a lot of teams out there that won three, four ball games. Of course we’re capable of doing it. It’s just about doing it all the time. I have no problem with the people we have here on this team.”

Hopefully, coach Gary Kubiak and general manager Rick Smith will see more need for change than Joseph does. The Patriots aren’t going to come back to the pack in the AFC. Houston has to hunt them down. And with these two losses the Texans simply proved they don’t have enough, in scheme or in personnel, to do so.

To catch and pass the Patriots, they don’t need cosmetic surgery, they need genetic alterations.

On offense, the Texans have developed a power running game that comes out of the zone-blocking scheme and a play-action passing game that plays off of it. But they bog down in the red zone and need a receiving threat or two that can present an option in the end zone. Houston, too, needs to alter a generally conservative mindset. Sunday, it allowed for Matt Schaub, taking a snap from the New England 1-yard line in the fourth quarter with time running out, to throw a quick pass to Andre Johnson short of the end zone that allowed him to be tackled for no gain.

Defensively, the Texans need more quality depth at linebacker and in the secondary to match New England’s variety and depth of weapons. And the Patriots' attack rarely makes mistakes and typically scores a lot.

New England can simply rotate through different pieces on offense to present problems. In the regular-season game, Houston did nice work limiting Wes Welker but got clobbered by Aaron Hernandez. This time Welker turned eight catches into 131 yards while Hernandez was also an issue again.

Houston struggled with the combination of pace and personnel the Patriots weave together.

“The hurry-up, again we weren’t fully prepared for some reason,” said outside linebacker Brooks Reed, who didn’t play in the first matchup because of a groin injury. “It’s extremely hard to get the call in and line up when they are going hurry-up. They’re not going to wait for you. They’ve got plays planned out and one audible and they’ve got their play ready. Whereas we’ve got to get the call from the sideline, get lined up, recognize the formation.

“It takes us a lot more time to get lined up than they do. That’s the challenge and again that’s what kind of got us today. And making plays too, it’s them making plays not just them hurrying up. I think we could have been a little bit more prepared. We knew that was going to happen. We saw it on film, them lining up quick and defenses not being ready. We didn’t think it was going to be us and in some cases today it was.”

And questions about mental toughness will linger in the offseason. At 11-1, they controlled the AFC. They blew a first-round bye and home-field advantage and a chance at a deep run with a 2-4 finish.

Like Joseph, though, Kubiak didn’t talk of change but of staying the course.

And owner Bob McNair didn’t help with his immediate reaction, saying at least three times in his conversation with reporters that the Texans are close. (If you’re that close and you get every officiating break in the game, you should win, shouldn’t you?)

Schaub put up 343 yards in a come-front-behind effort, but was uneven. He has the continued unwavering backing of Kubiak and the franchise.

“I’ve got a ton of confidence in him. I think he’s one of the top quarterbacks in football,” Kubiak said. “You don’t get over that hump unless you’re willing to keep going back there and keep getting yourself in that position. It’s very, very difficult. I do not take anything for granted for where we are tonight; it’s very hard to get there.

“We’re going to continue to push him to a new level as a player. And that’s all of us. But he’s definitely the one leading the way.”

Schaub was asked if he belongs on a list with the quarterbacks who will be playing next weekend -- Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers, Matt Ryan of the Falcons, Joe Flacco of Baltimore and Tom Brady of the Patriots.

Logic at this point says Schaub does not, or he’d have advanced as they did.

“No doubt I belong,” he said. “I think I belong up there with every one of them.”

I don’t think he’s delusional, just well-programmed in what he believes a confident quarterback is supposed to say. I hope when he and his coaches review this game, that is not the conclusion they come to. They have to address the sense of panic that creeps in at moments like the middle of the third quarter, when flushed to his left from the pocket Schaub simply dropped the ball as he ran and had to dive on it for a 9-yard sack.

I’m not sure the panic problem is completely fixable. He can improve still, but he’ll be in his 10th season next year, and that deep into a career most players have become what they will be.

The Texans need to surround him with better players, particularly on the right side of the offensive line and at receiver beyond Johnson, to maximize his chances and theirs.

There is only so much they can do with the roster given salary-cap constraints. While they’ll be looking to chase the Patriots, they’ll also need to hold off Indianapolis in the AFC South, and the Colts have plenty of money to spend as they look to build on a breakout season.

After the playoff loss in Baltimore last season, defensive lineman Antonio Smith and his teammates made a pact to get to the Super Bowl this year.

“This was not an achievement to any of us,” he said of finishing a second season in a row on the road in the divisional round. “It’s the biggest disappointment you can have.”

“It’s always a gut-check, proving the naysayers right.”

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Thoughts on the Houston Texans' 41-28 divisional-round loss to the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium:

What it means: The end of the road for the Texans, who finish 13-5. A season that once looked like it could end at the Super Bowl in New Orleans crumbled at the end, with two losses at New England in five weeks. This is a team that is still not complete enough to rank as a legitimate championship contender and that certainly doesn’t measure up to the Patriots.

What I didn’t like: Matt Schaub had his moments, but there is no way to come out of this game convinced he’s a championship quarterback. On one panicked scramble, he simply dropped the ball. Later he threw a pass for James Casey that had no chance not to be intercepted by dropping end Rob Ninkovich. The Texans took too long to figure out how to get their run game going, while Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen consistently hurt the defense. The Texans overestimated their ability to contain Wes Welker based on what they did in the first meeting and he ate them up with eight catches for 131 yards. Tom Brady topped 300 yards against a pass rush and defensive backfield that couldn’t do much to slow him at crucial moments.

What I did like: Arian Foster carried 22 times for 90 yards and a touchdown and caught seven passes for 63 yards and another score. Andre Johnson caught eight passes for 95 yards and grabbed a 2-point conversion. The return games were a major highlight, but Danieal Manning lacks breakaway speed that could have turned big returns into touchdowns. The two scores for 10 points late in the first half to get it to 17-13 at intermission were impressive. But the Patriots came out of the break, drove to a touchdown on the opening possession of the third quarter and never looked back. Houston fought to within 38-28 in the fourth quarter, and they can talk about fighting to the end.

A lot of breaks: Gary Kubiak won a fourth-quarter challenge that resulted in a 25-yard DeVier Posey touchdown reception. Bill Belichick lost a fourth-quarter challenge on a fourth-down spot that went in Houston’s favor. The Texans also had a Foster touchdown run upheld. Owen Daniels got away with what looked like a fumble when officials made a quick call on forward progress being stopped. Patriots receiver Brandon Lloyd was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for throwing a ball at an official when he may have just been tossing it back to a zebra who wasn’t looking. The Texans may have gotten away with a running into the kicker penalty after a Zoltan Mesko punt. Even with all those going in their favor, the Texans couldn’t finish closer than 13.

What’s next: This team needs an honest assessment of where it stands, and that means some additions of note in the offseason beyond the return of Brian Cushing. The Texans platooned mediocre people at right tackle and right guard and need to get at least one big-time guy who fits their system to plug in there, not count on the development of the three youngsters involved to graduate into solid players. They need depth at the inside linebacker and the secondary needs an upgrade. Better mental toughness and play in the clutch from Schaub is a lot to ask, but is something else they need to have a chance in games like this. They could wind up in more of a fight with Indianapolis for the AFC South crown than battling teams like New England for AFC supremacy.
Did Reggie Wayne get a fair shake from the Associated Press panel of 50 voters who pick the NFL All-Pro Team?

It’s easy to rant and rave and say no.

Detroit’s Calvin Johnson and Chicago’s Brandon Marshall are the first-teamers, with Cincinnati’s A.J. Green and Andre Johnson on the second team.

Calvin Johnson got 49 votes, one short of being unanimous. Marshall got 23, Green 16.5 and Andre Johnson 8.5. Having anything less than that and having zero amount to the same thing, really.

Demaryius Thomas of Denver, Wes Welker of New England and Julio Jones of Atlanta each got one vote.

Calvin Johnson is an automatic here, with a new single-season receiving yardage record of 1,964. Andre Johnson and Brandon Marshall have strong numbers though I think Johnson’s were more meaningful as they came in an offense that was ranked much higher than Chicago’s. (I know you can flip that, it’s a matter of perspective I suppose.)


Wayne had both a “low” yards per catch and a “low” touchdown total. I’m sure that’s what hurt him even as he was third in the league to Marshall and Calvin Johnson on third down with 31 catches and his third-down average (14.5) was well up from his overall average.

He was uncanny in the leadership department for a young team that has no business winning 11 games and going to the playoffs. He was a fantastic target for Andrew Luck in his rookie season. He led the way for a team that lost its head coach to a fight against leukemia for most of the year.

But most of that qualifies as intangible. Looking at the voting, panelists didn’t seem to score those sorts of things very highly.

Nothing screams unreasonable in the way things came out, though I can understand the disappointment in Indianapolis as different results would have been fair, too.

While Andre Johnson wound up a second-team choice here, two of his teammates are on the first team: J.J. Watt was a unanimous choice at defensive end while Duane Brown is one of the tackles.
Wade PhilipsAP Photo/Patric SchneiderThe Patriots torched Wade Phillips's defense during their Week 14 matchup and won 42-14.
The New England Patriots gobbled up 419 yards and scored six touchdowns against the Houston Texans in a regular season meeting.

The guy who’s got to get the Texans defense ready for a better showing Sunday, Wade Phillips, said the unit’s effort at Gillette Stadium on Dec. 10 wasn’t as bad as it appeared, and believe it can fare far better in Sunday’s divisional round playoff game.

“We always want to execute better,” Phillips said. “We’ll give them some different looks, obviously. But we’ve got to execute. That’s what we do, we try to play fundamentally sound, make it hard to complete the ball on you, those kinds of things.

“We’re going to try, just like we always do, to play the running game and force them into throwing it.”

That’s dangerous, of course, because the guy the Texans want to throw it is Tom Brady who was surgical against them in the regular season blowout and has a stellar playoff record.

Here’s Phillips on some key issues heading into the game:

Attacking Brady: “You’re not going to get to him very much. That’s what he’s great at. He recognizes blitz and changes protections better than anybody in the league, anybody that I’ve ever been around. He finds out where you’re coming from, he’s patient enough to wait and do it at the last second and pick up most. You just don’t see people get to him much. You’ve got to beat some one-on-one blocks, but to get guys clean on him is hard to do.”

Presumptive defensive player of the year J.J. Watt didn’t sack Brady in the first game, but he did hit him four times and was more disruptive in that game than he got credit for.

Defending Welker: The Texans wanted to slow Wes Welker down and did a good job of it. He had three catches for 52 yards. Other pass-catchers hurt the Texans far more in the loss.

That was the first game for Brandon Harris working as the nickelback in place of the injured Brice McCain. The penalty-prone Harris is a lot better now than he was then.

Houston’s top corner, Johnathan Joseph is far healthier this time around. He typically tracks the opponent’s best receiver but stays on the outside. Last week in the win over Cincinnati, Joseph even followed A.J. Green into the slot.

I asked Phillips if we might see Joseph do the same with Welker.

“Ah, Welker’s not Green,” Phillips said. “He’s a good player, but he’s not that big or a real athletic guy. He’s a quick guy that gets open on option routes. Harris actually played him pretty good. He got a holding penalty that hurt us early in the game. But Harris played pretty well… If we don’t get him on a speed guy, we’re in good shape.”

Joseph will be outside on someone like Brandon Lloyd or even one of the Patriots tight ends.

Speaking of which…

Slowing two top tight ends: Aaron Hernandez ate the Texans up with eight catches for 58 yards and two touchdowns. Now Rob Gronkowski, who missed that game with an arm injury, will also be on the field.

“What makes it tough is, they’ve really got two tight ends in there but sometimes it’s like four wide receivers,” Phillips said. “They’re athletic enough to play out in space. So that gives you matchup problems. If you play your base defense against them it’s one thing, and if you play a sub defense against them it’s something else. If you play a sub what happens a lot of times with the two tight ends is they just run over people.

I think you have to mix it up and see how you match up, which players can play them and see if they need help. Do you need somebody to bang them at the line of scrimmage and then rush? If you have matchup problems you’ve got to do those kinds of things.”

Phillips said Hernandez really qualifies as a wide receiver in a lot of situations and indicated the Texans will cover him as such.

“If you put a corner on him they’re not quite as good,” Phillips said. “We hope we can match up well there. If they split him out wide and you put a corner on him instead of a linebacker they may look a little different. We’ll have to see.”

The Texans also insert a third safety to work as an inside linebacker in some situations. Shiloh Keo is slower but more physical than Quintin Demps and has taken over that role recently.

Phillips vs. Belichick: Shalise Manza Young breaks down Phillips’ work against Bill Belichick in this piece.

“He’s a great coach, he does a great job with them obviously,” Phillips said. “I don’t remember ever game we played. He’s had championship teams and winning teams for a long time. They’re always going to be good against anybody. His numbers are going to be good against anybody.”

Rematch attitude: “We talked about it last week -- hey we ought to be confident, look at all the things we’ve done in winning 12 games,” Phillips said. “Going into the Cincinnati game we said let’s get our swag back, we know we’re good, let’s go ahead and play like we play.

“We’ve got confidence going into this game. We feel like we should win. That’s our guys, that’s our mentality.”
Tom Brady and JJ WattGetty ImagesThe Texans sacked Tom Brady, left, just once in their first meeting with the Patriots. Can J.J. Watt and the front seven do a better job in the rematch?

The Patriots seemingly snickered after they blew out Houston on "Monday Night Football" back on Dec. 10.

The Texans arrived in New England wearing letterman jackets that they thought showed team unity, but instead came off as high schoolish, particularly after they were easily dispatched in what Andre Johnson called the biggest game in franchise history.

For the Patriots it was the next game on the schedule.

Before the Texans got on the bus, middle linebacker Bradie James said the Patriots had delivered a lesson in championship football. The Texans headed back to Houston, humbled and officially in a slump. They lost two of their next three, fumbling away the AFC’s No. 1 seed and a first-round bye.

A win over Cincinnati in the wild-card round earned the Texans a trip back to Gillette Stadium.

Can the Texans put up a better fight as major underdogs Sunday? James Walker of the AFC East blog joins me to discuss the game.

Paul Kuharsky: Tom Brady shredded the Texans in that regular-season game, James. He threw four touchdown passes in no time, recognizing Houston couldn’t keep up with his targets, particularly Aaron Hernandez. Now, Brady has Rob Gronkowski back.

Do you see any way the Texans can get Brady off his game at home in the playoffs?

James Walker: The key to stopping Brady is not a secret: You must beat him up. Brady doesn’t like getting hit in the face, especially at age 35. The problem is that is much easier said than done. New England is extremely good at self-scouting and schemes very well to keep Brady upright. Houston got only one sack against Brady in the first meeting, so it was no surprise that he threw four touchdowns. I expect New England to once again keep some running backs and tight ends in protection to keep Houston’s pass rush off Brady. The Texans will need to throw caution to the wind and blitz more defenders than New England has blockers, and that’s where the chess match begins. Brady is tremendous at reading the blitz and rarely gets fooled with coverages. That's why he's so difficult to beat. Speaking of quarterbacks, what do you expect from Houston counterpart Matt Schaub in his first divisional-round playoff game?

[+] EnlargeMatt Schaub
Mike Carter/US PresswireMatt Schaub's ability to connect on big plays downfield could be key for the Texans.
PK: Schaub finally had his first playoff experience last week and he’s now 1-0 in the postseason. But facing Cincinnati at home and New England on the road are two different things. He did fine against the Bengals, but I felt like coach Gary Kubiak was especially careful not to require many throws that were even moderately risky -- especially after Schaub threw that bad pick-six. Schaub has a bit of an unfair reputation for not being good in big games, mostly because he hasn't been in many big games. To spring an upset here, he’ll have to supplement the run game with some big plays and, obviously, avoid killer mistakes. To have a chance, the Texans need to really ride Arian Foster. He has gone over 100 yards in all three of his playoff games. He had 19 touches in that regular-season blowout. To maximize their chances, I’d say he’s got to have close to 30 this time.

JW: Paul, I agree: Foster is the biggest key for the Texans in this game. He enters with some momentum after rushing for 140 yards and a touchdown last week against the Bengals. Getting Foster 30 or more productive carries would not only wear on New England’s defense, it would keep the Patriots’ high-scoring, up-tempo offense off the field. New England has thrived this year by getting off more plays and offensive possessions than its opponents. Houston's best chance is to slow down the game and make it ugly. Teams that beat the Patriots this year, such as San Francisco and Baltimore, ran the football well and limited New England’s possessions.

PK: What’s the status of the Patriots' run game? Stevan Ridley ran fine in the regular-season game, gaining 72 yards on 19 carries. He earned a little doghouse time late in the season because of some fumbling issues. Has he regained the trust of Bill Belichick and the staff? And how much does it matter? It’s not as though New England needs to run or is afraid to play a game without handing it off a lot and we know that they will keep throwing it even in a blowout situation. So does it even matter if they can run it?

JW: Trust is big in New England, and Ridley has yet to earn it in the playoffs. Last year Ridley fumbled in the divisional round and didn’t play for the remainder of the postseason. The Patriots do not have the luxury to bench him again this year, which makes Ridley a key player to watch. New England’s offense usually passes to set up the run, but the ground game is more important than most people think. The Patriots rarely blow leads because they can run successfully when they need to. That time usually comes in the second half once they’re ahead.

[+] EnlargeStevan Ridley
AP Photo/John BazemoreStevan Ridley may not figure heavily in the game plan, but he needs to make the most of his opportunities and limit mistakes.
I don’t expect Ridley to be a huge part of the game plan. His carries probably will be in the teens. But he needs to make the most of each carry and take care of the football. If Ridley doesn’t step up, look for the Patriots to go to a more dependable and sure-handed option such as Danny Woodhead. The Texans' defense allowed 42 points and 419 yards in the first meeting. What adjustments will Houston’s defense need to make to be more successful in the rematch?

PK: The coverage has to be way tighter. Johnathan Joseph played in the first meeting but had not been practicing and had missed time with groin and hamstring injuries. Brandon Harris was starting for the first time as the nickel after Brice McCain’s foot injury. The Texans set out to slow Wes Welker and they did, then got killed by everyone else. They know they aren’t going to get more than a sack or two on Brady because of how he gets rid of the ball and how skilled he is at changing protections. I expect they’ll mix it up on Hernandez and Gronkowski but they won’t be afraid to treat them as receivers.

The secondary had a bad night in Foxborough and a bad final quarter of the season. Joseph and Kareem Jackson and safeties Glover Quin and Danieal Manning are all better cover guys than they showed that night, when they were even getting beaten by Donte' Stallworth, who had been back in the league for barely five minutes. They simply have to be better if the Texans are going to be in this game.

JW: I was with you in Houston last weekend, and I noticed the secondary played much better than the last time I saw the Texans in Foxborough. Joseph looked more like himself and did a good job, for the most part, on Bengals Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green. On the other hand, I think an intriguing matchup will be Patriots corner Aqib Talib against Houston’s Johnson, who had another monster season. Big games and matchups like this are why the Patriots acquired Talib in a midseason trade. He instantly became New England’s best cover corner. The Patriots usually play a lot of zone, but they’ve been able to mix zone and man coverages a lot better in the second half of the season with Talib in the lineup. Houston will have a few opportunities to take shots down the field with Johnson against Talib one-on-one, and I think whoever wins those battles will have an impact on this game.

PK: It’ll be hard for the Texans to pull a surprise if there aren’t a couple of big Schaub-to-Johnson connections.

Houston will arrive in New England with an "us-against-the-world" mentality, because the Texans are heavy underdogs. The Patriots aren’t invincible. But if they start fast, they may look that way to the Texans yet again.

Texans get a lesson in 'what it takes'

December, 11, 2012
12/11/12
2:27
AM ET
Matt SchaubAP Photo/Steven SenneGary Kubiak and Matt Schaub couldn't solve the New England defense while the game was close.


FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Their critics punched holes in 11-1, citing a soft schedule, trouble against top quarterbacks and a quarterback of their own who still has not really been in high-stakes games.

The amplitude of all of that will skyrocket now, after the Houston Texas turned in an unqualified 42-14 dud at Gillette Stadium against the New England Patriots. It was so bad the Texans basically waved a white flag early in the fourth quarter, huddling on offense rather than hustling to maximize their time, and running the ball on four consecutive plays.

The Texans still have a one-game lead on the Patriots in the AFC standings, and bigger edges on the other division leaders, Denver and Baltimore, whom they’ve beaten.

This clunker hardly undoes a great season that has three games, plus playoffs, remaining. But it does tell us three things about the near future for the Texans:

  1. They don’t have sole control over the division anymore. Win next week and they own the AFC South. But the Colts can now say they control their own fate, too. If Indianapolis wins its final three, including two against the Texans, they’ll wrest the division crown away
  2. The Texans really need home-field advantage if they are going to get to the Super Bowl. Sure, anything can happen. But a return trip here would make for a very difficult path to New Orleans.
  3. The Texans’ two losses have come against Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. They gave up a lot to Peyton Manning in a victory, too. This team’s odds of beating two Hall of Fame quarterbacks in the playoffs, even if both games are at Reliant Stadium, are low. The Texans would benefit greatly from an upset dished out by someone else in the wild-card round or by New England and Denver playing each other in a divisional-round game.

A sober locker room was filled with guys who weren’t going to say their season has fallen apart.

But several veterans said this was akin to a school field trip.

“I think they showed us what it takes to be a champion,” inside linebacker Bradie James said.

Defensive lineman Antonio Smith agreed.

“I sensed it from the coin toss. It was business, straight up, to them,” he said.

“You can see just how serious they were. They’ve been here before. I’m a movie buff, you know. It reminded me of that movie, ‘Troy,’ when Achilles told Hector, ‘Now you know what you’re dealing with.’ That’s what it was like. No love. ‘We’re coming in here to show y’all who the big dogs are.’”

Earlier in the week, the Texans got letterman jackets, and they wore them to town in a harmless show of unity. Early Tuesday morning, hometown reporters in the press box jokingly debated who could write that New England took the Texans to school. I’d imagine some of the Patriots were making the same crack in private. For those seeking fresher material there was this: The team’s equipment men struggled to get some stuff back to their truck because the cart they drove down a stadium tunnel had a flat tire.

The Texans pointed to early mistakes as a key to their downfall, though I’m not sure there was a formula for them to win against this team in this setting on this night.

They had the Patriots stopped on their first third down, and a needless defensive holding penalty against Brandon Harris on Wes Welker kept a drive alive.

[+] EnlargeJ.J. Watt
AP Photo/Steven SenneJ.J. Watt wore a grim look during the third quarter, but said hopeful things about the Texans' prospects.
They had them stopped again on a third-and-10 early in the second quarter, and safety Danieal Manning was called for pass interference on Welker as he impeded his path, bumping him without looking back.

New England took advantage of both mistakes and moved right along to touchdowns.

After the first one, the Texans were in great position to respond. They moved 59 yards to the Patriots’ 21-yard line. But safety Devin McCourty broke beautifully on Matt Schaub’s second-down pass for Kevin Walter in the middle of the end zone and took it away.

Houston didn’t put points on the board until 6 minutes, 12 seconds remained in the third quarter, and the Patriots already had 28 and complete control.

Down four touchdowns at the start of the fourth quarter, coach Gary Kubiak surrendered. His offense didn’t hurry, huddling at its regular pace. Schaub handed the ball off to third-string running back Ben Tate until it was time to punt.

Players stopped short of calling it a white flag, but receiver Andre Johnson and left tackle Duane Brown didn’t love it. They shouldn’t have. It sends a team a bad message to give up at that point. At least go down slinging it.

“I have no control over that,” Johnson said.

“I just line up and do my job,” Brown said.

Schaub pointed to the short week ahead and a crucial game against Indianapolis as a reason for letting up.

Brady, like Rodgers in a win and Manning in a loss before him, was the third MVP quarterback to shred the Texans this season. He hit 21 of 35 passes for 296 yards, four touchdowns and a 125.4 passer rating before stepping aside for Ryan Mallett.

“Obviously, I didn’t do enough game-plan-wise against the guy,” defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. “It doesn’t feel like you have more wins than New England right now.”

The Patriots did well to keep the best players wearing the visitors’ uniforms in check. Johnson caught eight passes, but for only 11.9 yards a clip. Arian Foster managed only 85 total yards. J.J. Watt had four tackles and three quarterback hits but no sacks and no passes batted down.

His biggest play didn’t even benefit his team. Early in the fourth quarter, he tracked down Danny Woodhead and punched the ball loose after a 16-yard catch. But the ball shot forward into the end zone, where Brandon Lloyd corralled it for his second touchdown.

Watt looked furious as he made his way briskly to the bus, but he still managed to hit a hopeful chord.

“We still have everything we want in front of us,” he said.

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