One day after learning the Houston Texans will be making a return trip to Foxborough for next Sunday's AFC divisional round game, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said the team is well into its preparation for its first opponent of the postseason.
"We’re full speed ahead here on Houston," Belichick told reporters in a conference call Sunday. "It really gives us a little bit of a jump on the situation so we can spend [Sunday] and really every day now going forward totally focusing our attention on them. Obviously they had a terrific year and a big win [Saturday] against Cincinnati."
The Texans beat Cincinnati, 19-13 in Houston Saturday to advance to the Jan. 13 game at Gillette Stadium (kick-off 4:30 p.m.). It will be the second meeting between the two teams in just over a month - the . While that game will provide some level of familiarity for both teams it will also have little to do with the result of next Sunday's game in Foxborough.
"We’re pretty familiar with [Houston] because we played them a month ago but we still have to go through the whole process again of just going back over it," Belichick said. "We played them back in December; we did a thorough job on [reviewing] all that [film]. ... I think when you play a team twice during the season, the games are totally different – they never go the same way. 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."
The Patriots don't have to look too far back in their own playoff history to be reminded that regular season success against an opponent doesn't always translate in the postseason.
In 2010, the Patriots earned the number one overall seed with a 14-2 record and opened postseason play against the New York Jets in the AFC divisional round in Foxborough. The Pats had defeated the New York Jets, 45-3 in Week 13 of the 2010 season at Gillette Stadium but lost, 28-21 in that AFC divisional round game just over a month later.
And while there are currently 23 New England Patriots on the roster from that 2010 team, Belichick will be sure to remind his team of the lesson learned from two seasons ago.
"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," Belichick said. "It’s another example of that. We’ve talked about that many, many times here, before and after the 2010 season. I don’t think it’s anything that wasn’t mentioned until that situation occurred but it’s an example we can point out. 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."
It's examples like the 2010 season that make this week's focus and preparation on the Texans critical to the Patriots' finding success next Sunday. Belichick and the Patriots' coaching staff wasted little time getting started on its preparation for Houston after the Texans beat Cincinnati.
"I’d say we’re definitely ahead [on game planning for Houston]," Belichick said. "We spent a significant amount of time on [the Texans] last week. It was the first game [of the wild card round], we would know by Saturday night whether they were the next opponent or not, we wouldn’t need to look past that if they won."
Asked if he saw anything different from Houston in Saturday's wild card win that he didn't see in December, Belichick said "nothing revolutionary" but there were schemes designed for Cincinnati.
"I think they had a couple pieces that were specific for Cincinnati, not revolutionary but they geared more to their coverage of [A.J.] Green and things like that, formation, Cincinnati stuff," Belichick said of Houston's game plan. "We have to be ready for all the things that they do. The percentages, what they’ll try to feature against us. We just need a week of preparation and take from the Cincinnati game what we can. There are some good examples of things we can learn from that game but ultimately our game, our matchups are different than theirs and will be different from the first game. Certainly a good game to watch is the most recent one."
Adding to the difference between the Week 14 matchup and next Sunday's AFC divisional round game will be personnel on each side. The Patriots will have tight end Rob Gronkowski back in the fold after he missed the first meeting with the Texans while rehabbing a broken forearm. The Texans have also gotten healthier for next Sunday's rematch as Garrett Graham, Brooks Reed and Derek Newton are all expected to play in Foxborough.
"They have a couple guys that are out, but they added a couple new players as well so we have to be ready for all of them," Belichick said.
Belichick said it will be important once again to focus his defense on stopping Arian Foster, who has gained at least 100 yards in every postseason game he has played.
"I think that’s, again a big focal point in terms of their offense," Belichick said. "Not only the yards that he gains but how the running game controls the game for them, how it sets up their play-action passes, how it puts them in third-and-short situations. There’s no question that he’s the key guy for Houston and their offense but his production also complements the other players as well and the other parts of the game. We’re definitely going to have to do a good job on him."
For more on the Patriots AFC divisional round matchup with the Texans, click here.