Monday, December 2, 2013

New England Patriots 34 at Houston Texans 31 - December 1, 2013


When I first planned the trip, this game looked to be one of the better ones. Then Houston lost 9 in a row and suddenly it was supposed to be a blowout. But the Patriots always play poorly when I am in the crowd, barely beating the Jets back in Week 2 in Foxboro and then losing at Cincinnati, New York, and Carolina, so there was still hope for a good battle.



I love my NFL helmet collection. No more need to try to find the matchup on a scoreboard before the game. Also, note how the logos are similar: red, white, blue and a star. As far as I can tell, these are the only two NFL teams to use the star in their logo. Now there's something I bet you didn't know!



Reliant Stadium

This was an important visit for me as Reliant Stadium was the last "new" venue for me to see on the trip. I have been to Arizona and Seattle for NFL games before, and have seen MLB contests at Qualcomm, Candlestick, and the O.Co Coliseum, so those visits are going to be anti-climatic. I was therefore looking forward to seeing the stadium here.



I arrived in Houston on Friday evening and checked into a hotel right next to Reliant. Saturday was a beautiful day, so I spent some time walking around the stadium when there wasn't college football on the tube. The first thing you will notice is that Reliant Stadium is huge, towering over the Astrodome as you can see above. The Astrodome is scheduled for demolition unfortunately, so I will never get to step inside.



Reliant Stadium, opened in 2002, was the first with a retractable roof in the NFL. When the roof is open, it slides over both the north and south sides, providing an odd look.



There are ramps along the east and west sides. One piece of advice is to take the escalators when you first enter the stadium. Even with the long line up, the escalators are quicker as the ramps are very gently sloped and there are about 10 of them to get to the top, which would probably take about 15 minutes with the crowd.

It was good that I took the opportunity to walk around on Monday because on game day there are restrictions on pedestrians without tickets. I was waiting to have a ticket delivered, so I wasn't able to go to the south end of the stadium as tickets are checked there. I am not sure why this policy is in place, but it was the first time I had seen something like it. As you walk around, you will notice several bull sculptures, each in a different act and each missing a portion of the body.



After I entered the stadium on game day, I took the escalator up and snapped a picture of the party plaza on the south side of the stadium, where you can buy $2.50 cans of beer. There is nothing but parking lots and flatlands as far as the eye can see.



I did not have time to take my usual walkaround as the stadium is just too big and I entered just 45 minutes before kickoff. I ran up to the 500 level and snapped the usual panorama shot.



There are seven levels of seating here, with the 300 end zones perhaps being the best option. I sat in the 500 level in the south end zone, with the view below. Usually Texans' tickets can be tough to get, but with the team losing so much, there were a lot of options in the secondary market.



After the game, I stayed until the stadium emptied and snapped a shot from directly behind the goalpost; this might be the best shot to see just how big the roof is.



Finally, a shot of the Astrodome from the ramp. It was once the 8th Wonder of the World, now it is just a demolition project.



Overall, Reliant Stadium is big and impressive, but didn't have a lot of special spots yet. The franchise is young and needs to develop a bit more history, and the access needs to be drastically improved. If you are waiting in a long line to take the escalator down 15 minutes after the game, there is a problem with the design.

The Game



Houston came in with the best defense in the league, yielding only 290 yards per game led by last season's defensive player of the year, J.J. Watt (above). Of course their 2-9 record shows how YPG stats are entirely misleading.

After both teams punted on their first possession, Case Keenum and Andre Johnson hooked up for a couple of passes totalling 42 yards, bringing the Texans down to the New England 8. From there, Ben Tate (#44 below) rumbled for a touchdown. Upset alert! 7-0 Texans! OK, still too early for that kind of talk.



On the Patriots next possession, Tom Brady (below) threw a rare pick, with Jonathan Joseph returning the ball to the New England 31. Despite the short field, a penalty prevented the Texans from moving the ball and they settled for a field goal to make it 10-0.



The Patriots responded on their next drive when Brady hit Rob Gronkowski with a 23-yard score. That's Gronk celebrating below after spiking the ball.



The Texans continued to move the ball well, but Keenum badly overthrew DeAndre Hopkins and Logan Ryan had a gimme interception. The Patriots were also moving the ball, mostly on the ground, but a sack forced them into a 55-yard field goal which Stephen Gostkowski missed, only his second failure on the year. Houston again had a short field and this time they converted with Tate running for a 20-yard TD to make it 17-7 at the half.

Despite having the lead, Houston fans told me that they would blow it, and they were right. The second half was the Brady show, as he went 18/23 for 265 yards. The first Patriot drive was a sign of things to come. Brady went 3-3, including a 50-yard completion to Gronkowski. James Develin took it in from the 1, breaking 5 tackles on the way, and the Pats were within 3. After Houston went 3-and-out, Brady drove the Patriots down the field again, connecting with Shane Vereen on a 9-yarder to give them the lead.



The Texans replied with a nice drive of their own, with Keenum taking it in from 5-yards out (above), only to have the Patriots score their third touchdown of the half on their next drive, a 7-yard run from LeGarrette Blount that made it 28-24. As you can tell, defense was not on show in he second half.

On the first play of their ensuing possession, Keenum hit Hopkins for a 66-yard gain and two plays later, Tate rumbled home from the 10 for his 3rd TD of the day, and again Houston had a 3-point lead. Still, the fans around me were more concerned than excited. But the Texans' defense got their first stop of the half and although Gostkowski nailed a 53-yard field goal, the game was just tied with 7:21 to go. It was gutcheck time for Houston, but they failed miserably. A couple of drops, including one by the usually sure-handed Johnson (8 catches on 9 targets), doomed the drive and they had to punt. The Patriots used 6 plays to get back to the Houston 35 and another 53-yard kick from Gostkowski (below) gave them the 34-31 lead.



There was still time for Houston to mount one final drive, but they couldn't even get into New England territory, giving up the ball on downs and losing a tough one, 34-31.



The Patriots finally won on the road with me in attendance, ending my mini-jinx. A new mni-jinx was formed though, as Houston was the second team on the trip who ignored my emails and lost. Did you hear that San Diego and Seattle?

It was scary to watch the clinical nature of the Patriots in the second half. They had 5 meaningful possessions and scored 3 touchdowns and those two long field goals. Gostkowski is 28/30 this year and expect to hear from him come playoff time. As for the Texans, this year is a huge disappointment, but the team has a good core. Expect a coaching change and with a last place schedule next year, the Texans might be a surprise in 2014.

Notes

After seeing Selena Gomez in Dallas, I saw another famous person perform at halftime, this time Young MC. I had never heard of him, but knew his hit song "Bust a Move", which he performed along with the cheerleaders.





Next Up

There are four weeks left in the NFL season and I have only five games to see. So I will fill up some of my time with games in other leagues, starting in San Antonio tonight with an NBA til the Spurs and Hawks and following up on Wednesday with an AHL game there as well. As usual, keep checking back for updates.

Best,

Sean

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