FOXBORO -- There's very little that Bill Belichick appreciates more than late-game execution. "Situational football," as he calls it, is something that the Patriots practice on a regular basis because it's often the difference between winning and losing.
That work during practices -- in training camp Belichick often calls out downs, distances and time on the clock as he watches his players react -- paid dividends on Sunday.
"Obviously," he said, "a lot of situational football at the end that was critical to the outcome of the game for us . . . The whole game really came down to the last -- call it three, three-and-a-half minutes. Fortunately, we were able to make the plays we needed to make to win."
- Patriots 'got to play to the last second' in win over Texans
- Cooks, Brady connection takes another step with game-winning play
- McCourty explains what went into decision for Patriots to kneel during anthem
- Troy Brown: Robert Kraft should distance himself from President Trump
- Best and Worst: Patriots 36, Texans 33
Let's start there, then.
With 3:23 remaining and the Texans ahead, 30-28, Texans running back Lamar Miller ran for seven yards, giving Houston a second-and-manageable. But, realizing that the Texans would want to keep the ball on the ground to drain the clock, the Patriots were ready for the run and stopped Miller for a gain of two.
That brought up a third-and-one situation on the Patriots 18-yard line. Belichick called timeout. Big-time "situational football" play was coming and he knew it.
The Patriots brought their goal-line defense onto the field and smothered Miller for no gain. Malcom Brown and Lawrence Guy -- who played 46 and 52 snaps in the unseasonably warm weather, respectively -- were in on the stop. That forced a field goal and put the Texans up, 33-28. It also kept the Patriots a Tom Brady-led two-minute drive away from the win.
Belichick brought up the play twice during his post-game press conference unprompted.
"In the end it came down to a handful of plays and situational football at the end of the game," he said. "The third-down stop was our goal line defense against their three receiver set. We made the play there and then, again, we were able to overcome a couple of long-yardage situations on the last drive."
A couple of those long-yardage situations were of their own doing.
David Andrews was called for a hold with 2:20 remaining that gave the Patriots a second-and-20 at the Patriots 15-yard line. Brady picked up eight with a throw to Rob Gronkowski, and then came out of the two-minute warning to hit Gronkowski again for 15 and a first down.
After Brandin Cooks hauled in an 18-yard toss, Brady was strip-sacked and Andrews recovered at the Patriots 48-yard line. An incomplete pass to Cooks, brought up a third-and-18. Not many plays in the playbook for that situation.
Yet Amendola's leaping catch for 27 yards, against Houston's zone-turned-man defense, gave the Patriots their most crucial third-down conversion. That play was followed immediately by Cooks' game-winner.
Situational football at its finest.
"We were in a lot of situational football in that game on offense, defense and special teams," Belichick said. "Yeah, of course you’d like to play better so it doesn’t come down to the final play, but look, this is the National Football League and the Texans are an outstanding team and that’s what it’s going to take to beat them is to play 60 minutes and be able to make the plays that you’ve got to make at the end to win, whether you’re on offense, or defense, or the kicking game or whatever it is. That’s no surprise."
Maybe the way the Patriots finished the game shouldn't be surprising, either. Dramatic? Sure. But their quarterback's penchant for fourth-quarter execution is well-established, as is the coach's devotion to working on those situations in practice.
It's no wonder Belichick was as pleased as he was with the way things played out.
"The players went the whole 60 minutes, played hard, competed well and made enough plays at the end," he said. "Just barely, but made enough plays at the end to win. It was good. It was good."