Found January 11, 2013 on Boston Sports Then & Now:
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Gronkowski & Hernandez need to have big games on Sunday Three more days. Three more days until we get a taste of what the 2012 New England Patriots will accomplish in the 2013 postseason. While the first-round bye has provided the Pats some much needed rest, it’s time to get back on the field and crush some skulls at 4:30 on CBS. Belichick was quoted Wednesday stating; “You don’t win a war by digging a foxhole and sitting in it. You need to attack.” With Brady at the helm and a healthy Gronkowski on deck, the Texans are poised for a long night. If Tom takes home the bacon, he will become the NFL’s all-time quarterback leader for playoff victories with 17. Endurance and consistency on Sunday will play an integral role in deciding the victor in this Divisional Round matchup. The Patriots jumped out to an early 21-0 lead at half time in Week 14, but powered through the third and fourth quarters to drop a total of 42 points on Houston. The majority of analysts in the media give the nod to Matt Schaub as the deciding factor for Houston and they couldn’t be more accurate. There is no doubt Brady and Schaub are in different classes of quarterbacking, however; the Texan QB has a better running back in Arian Foster. If the galloping beast finds early success, play-action could be deadly for the Patriots. There are a myriad of variables that come into play when analyzing a matchup. Take a look at these three keys to victory for the Patriots to move on to the AFC Championship: 1)   Protect Tom Brady: New England held J.J. Watt and the Houston defense to just one sack in Week 14. In fact, it came in the third quarter when the Patriots were up 28-7. The offensive line started the season with injuries galore and some glaring holes to patch up. In Week 2, the Cardinals sacked Tom four times in the upset loss at home. Baltimore knocked down Brady eight times in Week 3, two of which were sacks. The offensive line began to come together slowly but surely and only gave up one sack in the Seahawk loss. Week 15 was a rough one against the 49ers, TB12 was sacked three times over the course of the epic comeback attempt. Case and point, Brady has been sacked in every loss this season. If these statistics aren’t telling, I’m not sure what else is. One positive is the health of Logan Mankins. After discovering he played in last year’s playoffs with a torn ACL, the Patriots have the Pro Bowl mauler back to full health this January. While Brady may be the best pocket passer in the game, his mobility is limited. New England will find success through the air if Brady can stand tall between the hash marks. 2)   Protect the Football: Aside from the 31-30 loss in Baltimore, the Patriots have also committed a turnover in every game in which they have been defeated. Brady threw two uncharacteristic interceptions in both the Seahawk and 49er losses, ouch. He has 8 on the year, down from 12 last year but up from 4 two years ago. Ridley has fumbled the rock 4 times in 2012, losing 2 of them to the opposition. Taking care of the pigskin is a must on Sunday. Although the Patriots lead the league in turnover differential with an astonishing +25, this area of the game is crucial. In my preview yesterday, the Stevan Ridley and Danny Woodhead fumbles are analyzed critically. The latter occurred when the game was out of hand; however, Ridley fumbled on the Patriots’ opening drive and it should have been a turnover if it weren’t for a muffed recovery. The thing about having a seasoned veteran like Brady quarterbacking the squad is this, he isn’t afraid to take a sack in order to sacrifice a bad throw. Eliminating turnovers and forcing the Texans into a few will prove to be the deciding factor on Sunday. 3)   Protect this House: A collapse against the Texans would put Brady and Belichick at a measly 7-7 in the playoffs since the 2007 18-1 season. It won’t happen on Sunday. The Patriots are too powerful offensively with our versatile tight ends and the best slot receiver in the game. That combination has been deadly all season but keep in mind that Gronkowski and Hernandez have only been on the field together for less than half of it. Mirroring Week 14 is ideal and that starts with getting out to an early lead. Assuming the Patriots defer, the defense will get the first crack at setting the tone on Sunday. The blizting schemes Belichick has drawn up have been somewhat effective in 2012, 37 sacks on the season is good for 8th in the AFC and 15th in the NFL. The Patriots had 40 last year; however, New England lost Andre Carter and Mark Anderson. In my opinion, it’s all about how this game starts. The game is 60 minutes but the first 15 could make or break the Texans. The Patriots are poised to make a run in the playoffs this year once again, this time at full health. I predict a 31-21 victory for New England on Sunday.
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