There were the three long kickoff returns by Houston’s Danieal Manning, and injuries to Rob Gronkowski and two other starters. Other than that, there wasn’t a whole lot for the Patriots to dislike about Sunday’s playoff win over the Texans.
The Texans, though, did put together scoring drives near the end of both the first half (10 points in the final 1:15) and second half (15 fourth-quarter points), so finishing strongly will be a point of emphasis for the Patriots this week.
It’s perhaps even more important considering Sunday’s opponent in the AFC Championship game. The Ravens scored 10 points in the final 4:01 of the teams’ regular-season meeting Sept. 23, erasing a 9-point deficit to win on a last-second field goal, 31-30. Baltimore also scored a touchdown in the final minute of Sunday’s divisional-round playoff game at Denver, forcing overtime in a game it would win, 38-35.
“Yeah, sure. It’s a point of emphasis every week,” said coach Bill Belichick during a conference call Tuesday. “We always think that the end of the half can get a little different than the rest of the game because of situational play and also sometimes offensively teams change their method of attack and what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. I’m sure it will be important in this game. We’ll definitely work on it.”
The Patriots lost twice this year when holding fourth-quarter leads of more than a touchdown: the first Ravens game, and also at Seattle in Week 6, when the Seahawks scored 14 points in the final 7:21 to win, 24-23. Belichick was asked if the opponents’ late-half scoring is because of an emotional letdown after building a big lead, or simply a matter of execution.
“We were trying to do the right things and we did some things that were good, but then we did some other things that weren’t as good as they need to be,” Belichick said. “Houston was able to take advantage of some of the things we were doing. It’s a combination of better coaching, better playing, maybe better preparation, and hopefully it will be better this week.”
Mum on Jones
Unlike Monday, when he uncharacteristically offered information on an injured player (saying that running back Danny Woodhead could have returned to the game if he was needed), Belichick wasn’t as quick to discuss Chandler Jones’s situation Tuesday.
Jones, a rookie defensive end who missed two games earlier this season with an ankle injury, left Sunday’s game with what the team announced as another ankle injury. He was part of the goal-line pile when Arian Foster scored on a 1-yard run late in the second quarter. Like Woodhead (who hurt his left thumb on the game’s first play), Jones was seen on the sideline after the injury. But also like Woodhead, Jones did not return to the game.
“The guys that came in for treatment, we’ll take a look at them today, take a look at them tomorrow, make a decision as to whether or not we think they can practice,” Belichick said. “If they’re not ready, then they don’t practice or they practice on a limited basis. If they’re able to continue and do the things that all the other players are doing, then they do that.”
Bang for the buck
Running back Stevan Ridley is one of five finalists for the 2012 Vizio Top Value Performer Award, which takes into account production and this season’s base salary. Ridley, whose salary is $509,250, rushed for a career-high 1,263 yards and scored 12 touchdowns in the regular season.
The other finalists are Jaguars receiver Cecil Shorts (979 receiving yards, seven touchdowns; $496,461 salary); Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson (3,118 passing yards, 26 touchdowns; $390,000 salary); Redskins rookie running back Alfred Morris (1,613 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns; $390,000 salary); and Broncos receiver Eric Decker (1,064 receiving yards, 13 touchdowns; $490,000 salary).
The winner will be determined by fan voting, which runs until Jan. 21. To vote, visit www.vizio.com/tvp .
Some seats left
A limited number of tickets for Sunday’s AFC Championship game will be available for purchase beginning on Thursday at 10 a.m. Tickets will not be sold at the Gillette Stadium. Those interested can place orders two ways: over the phone at 1-800-745-3000 or online at ticketmaster.com. Visa is the only accepted form of payment. There are mostly single seats available, and customers can buy up to four. Seat prices, which are determined by the National Football League, range from $120 to $269 . . . Patriots players were given Tuesday off, which is typical for a regular game week. The Patriots are scheduled to practice Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.