Pats Beat Texans, 34-31

The AFC East is all but sewn up for New England

The Patriots eked out a 34-31 victory over a hapless Texans team on Sunday, but in the NFL, where anything can happen from one week to the next, it counts all the same.

New England moves to 9-3 on the season and with the AFC East all but sewn up, they're focused on keeping one of the top two seeds in the conference. (So far, so good on that front.)

Critics will point out that the Patriots needed 56:45 seconds to secure the lead against the two-win Texans, but there was also a lot to like from a team that featured two rookies in the secondary and was without running back Stevan Ridley.

Coach Bill Belichick explained after the game that Ridley was inactive "Because there were 46 players ahead of him that were active." Translation: As long as Ridley fumbles, he'll be on the bench. As for the rookies, cornerback Logan Ryan and safety Duron Harmon more than held their own.

The running game was efficient in Ridley's absence; LeGarrette Blount rushed for 44 yards while Shane Vereen added 38.

"LeGarrette ran really hard," quarterback Tom Brady said. "Shane's doing a great job for us coming back off being out for a while, and Brandon got a lot of touches, too. So all those guys contributed. We're going to need them all, that's one of the strengths of our team."

It's unclear how long Belichick will keep Ridley on the bench, but the good news is that Brady looked very Brady-like through the air. He finished with 371 passing yards and both Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelmen had more than 100 yards receiving (127 and 101, respectively).

Meanwhile, Vereen, who also added a touchdown reception midway through the third quarter, wasn't willing to acknowledge that he played an important role in the win.

"I wouldn't say that. But I would say that when it does come down to the those kind of games we feel comfortable," said Vereen. "And it's something that we've done so many times, so when it comes down to game time, we're ready to go. We have 100 percent confidence in this offense and the team and my teammates. Sometimes we falter, but we always know that once we start executing, we're pretty good."

And while there's much to celebrate, Belichick knows that there is work to be done if this team has designs on a deep playoff run.

We're not playing well enough, we're not coaching well enough," the coach said of the Pats' going down 10-0 in the first half. "We're not doing a good enough job in any area, from opening kickoff, from the defense to the offense, nothing's good enough. We've got to do a better job coaching, we've got to do a better job preparing, we've got to do a better job executing."

A week after the Broncos jumped out to a 24-0 lead before the Pats stormed back, Brady concedes that the offense needs to play better early in the game.

"I've got to watch the tape and figure it out," he said. "But just what we're doing is not good enough, and we can't keep getting behind because you've got to play too well in the second half to overcome."

But when you're 9-3 and control your postseason fate, these are good problems to have.

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