HOUSTON — Pigs can fly. Republicans and Democrats agree on everything. Larry Bird is buying rounds for the house. Jackie Bradley is a .350 hitter who never strikes out.
And the Houston Texans just beat the New England Patriots, 28-22.
Anything is possible.
DeShaun Watson took it to the Boogeymen Sunday night at NRG Stadium, throwing for three touchdowns and catching another as the Texans snapped an eight-game losing streak vs. New England. Former Belichick protege Bill O’Brien secured his first win against mentor Bill, breaking a humbling and at times humilating 0-5 skid. Late in the game, with the Texans leading, 28-9, Antonio Brown tweeted, “Still I Rise.’’
Meanwhile, Tom Brady (24 for 47) at times looked like Willie Mays stumbling around center for the New York Mets at the end of a brilliant career in the 1973 World Series.
And that is what will fuel football fireside chats from now until the Kansas City Chiefs come to Foxborough Sunday afternoon. There were times when Sunday felt like the end of the Brady-Belichick, two-decade run.
Silly, right? Some of us thought it was over back in 2009–2010, when the Pats were taken out of the playoffs at home in back-to-back seasons by the Ravens and the hideous Jets.
It was not over then, of course. We had another decade of dynasty and Super Bowls and confetti raining down on Tom’s handsome head.
So be careful not to declare the Patriots done after Sunday’s loss to the Houston Texans, of all people. The Patriots are still 10-2, set to get a first-round bye, and always seem to have an answer when things go awry. They came back from that national embarrassment against the Chiefs in 2014 — “They’re not good anymore!,” declared Trent Dilfer — they came back from Deflategate, and they came back from 28-3 and benching Malcolm Butler for no good reason.
The network carnival barkers and wiseguys of the airwaves will be at it again. Brady will be falling off a cliff again. We will be reminded that the 2019 Pats are a house of cards, artificially inflated by an early season lineup of cream puff opponents, but ultimately exposed by the reality of an inept offense.
Traditionally, Belichick and Co. have been able to bounce back by relying on the stupidity of their opponents. Brady could stay the course and wait for the enemy to make mistakes.
Right now, that’s all the Patriots have. It may not be enough this time. The Ravens have four remaining games, against the Bills, Browns, Jets, and Steelers. If they don’t lose, the Pats can’t catch them, and that would mean playing the AFC Championship on the road for a second straight season.
The Patriots hate that. Getting to nine Super Bowls in 18 seasons, the traditional path has been to play all games in Foxboro. Brady has won only four road playoff games, same as Mark Sanchez. Unless Lamar Jackson gets hurt — always a possibility when it comes to the team’s good fortune — it’s hard to envision this Patriots team winning a playoff game in Baltimore.
Sunday’s loss represented the Pats first game of consequence at NRG Stadium since they came back from a 28-3 deficit in Super Bowl LI in February 2017.
The Pats led, 3-0, after their first drive, then gave up 21 consecutive points on touchdown passes by Watson. Included in this was a bad Brady interception, and an 88-yard drive which mildly exposed New England’s vaunted defensive unit.
There was an excuse, of course, and we should all prepare for a chorus of Patriot zealots blaming this loss on the flu bug which infected the team during the week leading up to the game.
Remember Joe Pesci in “My Cousin Vinny” — a Belichick favorite if you remember his “Mona Lisa Vito” presser from Deflategate — telling the judge, “The whole store got the flu”? That’s the story the Pats media cartel was pushing in the hours leading up to kickoff.
Due to the much-documented virus, a whopping 17 Patriot players were listed as questionable when the injury report came out on Friday. Nine of the 17 were questionable because of the flu, including A-listers Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, and Stephon Gilmore.
Flu fear went viral and by Sunday morning, it was as if the Pats had experienced an outbreak of the bubonic plague. ESPN breathlessly reported that the Pats had flown to Houston in two planes, “one to accomodate those who were sick and keep others away from them.’’
More panic ensued when linebacker Van Noy came off the team bus and walked across the field wearing a medical mask.
But when the inactive list was announced Sunday evening, there were no surprises. No impact players. The whole store did not have the flu.
As for the two airplanes?
“Pump the brakes on that,’’ confided a member of the travelling party. “There were only about 12 people on that second plane, and I think six of them were corporate clients.’’
No matter. The Patriots had things just the way they like them: While a victory would have put this game in the Willis Reed/Curt Schilling pantheon, the Pats had a built-in excuse to explain the loss.
Don’t let the final score fool you. Houston played extremely soft once it got the 28-9 lead. This was not a close game.
The PA system played “Josie” minutes after the game.
Take that, Zo!
With four weeks to play and the red-hot Chiefs coming to town, the Patriots are the number two seed, and the Super Bowl seems far away.
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org