HOUSTON — Nobody has to tell the Texans what they need to do to avoid another brutal tutorial from the Patriots on Sunday: finish what they start.
Since its loss at Foxborough Dec. 10, Houston has gone 3 for 13 in the red zone, with kicker Shayne Graham scoring 46 of its 70 points, including four field goals against the Bengals last week.
“It’s been very frustrating for us,” acknowledged offensive coordinator Rick Dennison. “It’s one thing that we’ve been efficient with throughout the year and then we just didn’t get sevens. We settled for threes. You take that many trips and are able to move the ball, you should reap more benefits. It should be more fruitful for you when you get down there.”
The Texans survived on tapas against the Bengals, but that was sufficient because their defense kept the visitors out of the end zone.
“How our defense was playing that day, we could settle for 3 and let our defense go and continue what they were doing,” said quarterback Matt Schaub. “But against this group that we’re going to face this week, we’ve got to get 7.”
Overlooked amid the rubble of the 42-14 loss at Gillette Stadium was that the Texans were 2 for 2 inside the red zone on touchdowns by Arian Foster and T.J. Yates. Problem was, the scores came when Houston was down, 28-0 and 42-7.
“It sure as heck didn’t help,” mused coach Gary Kubiak.
The other iron imperative Sunday will be to give the hosts no gifts, since the Patriots led the NFL in turnover differential (plus-25), with 41 takeaways.
“We’ll have to go down there and play clean in a hostile environment,” said Kubiak. “Obviously, this team has not played a game without a turnover, so we’re going to have to protect the football.”
That’s been a problem the last three weeks. The Texans lost two fumbles in a loss to Minnesota, had two interceptions in a defeat at Indianapolis, and gave up a pick-6 by Cincinnati’s Leon Hall last week.
Kubiak has no problem with Dennison interviewing for the Bears head job on Friday.
“I’m a little different there,” said Kubiak. “I think guys bust their tail for you — for you as a coach, you as an organization — you should want the best for your people.
“Opportunities for guys don’t come along very often in this business. When you’ve got somebody who has been giving you everything he has and he’s got opportunities like that, then we should support him.
“But as far as distractions, that’s not a problem, I can promise you that. The guy is here all night long. He won’t be distracted.”
Count them in
Houston’s three most significant missing persons for the regular-season meeting — right tackle Derek Newton, linebacker Brooks Reed, and tight end Garrett Graham — are healthy and will be back on the field. But the Texans are very much aware that the Patriots’ biggest missing person from that game — tight end Rob Gronkowski — is back as well. “He’s exceptional,” said Kubiak. “If the ball is close to him, he’s going to catch it. The thing about him, people play him with corners on him, they play him with ’backers on him, they play him with safeties. His size is such that it’s just hard. You get in there and bang with him, you’re going to lose that battle.” . . . Foster is lobbying for a uniform change — to all whites, as opposed to the usual white-and-blue combo. “Why do I want to wear them? Because they’re sweet,” he said. “When we wear blue pants and white jerseys, it’s kind of like average to me. It’s kind of mundane.” Kubiak isn’t as concerned with a fashion statement. “I couldn’t tell you what we wore Sunday, to be honest with you,” he said. “I just want him to play halfback.”
John Powers can be reached at email@example.com.