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Patriots weren’t able to answer the December call

One look outside the window tells you the New England Patriots feel it’s time to get even more serious than they have been.

Easier said than done, as Sunday’s 28-22 debacle vs. the Houston Texans showed.

“We’re at the point, after Thanksgiving, when we say we have to be playing our best football,” Patriots safety Duron Harmon said. “And tonight we didn’t do that.”

So true. They went into Houston’s NRG Stadium on Sunday night determined to take a step forward, mainly on offense, and you might say they knew it wasn’t going to be easy, even though they’ve owned Texans coach Bill O’Brien.

But it was fairly obvious after the first half that O’Brien and assistant Romeo Crennel had the answers. The biggest thing Sunday night’s game vs. the Texans will likely be remembered for, whether the Patriots would win or lose, was Tom Brady’s first half lecture to his receivers to be, if you believe those who were reading lips, “faster” and “more explosive”.

“I think we’re all trying to do a good job out there,” Brady said after the loss when asked about his lecture. “I’ll give (the Texans) credit, they played well. We didn’t make enough plays.”

Of course, the Patriots at this time of year usually are the team that makes enough plays. But Sunday night’s loss drop them behind the Baltimore Ravens as the AFC’s second seed, and the season-long struggles of the offense are catching up with them.

Of course, this past week they were bitten by the flu bug, almost a third of the roster sricken. But no key regulars were inactive, following Marcus Cannon’s example from a week ago.

“I think things came around a little bit at the end of the week,” Belichick said in his weekly 98.5 FM pre-game interview. “We’ll see how it comes together today. I think we’ll be ready to go.”

How much should we be using this time as a barometer? That’s not always an easy question to answer. Sometimes the Patriots look invincible, like they did back during the 2011 regular season, only to be stunned by a Jets team at home in the AFC Divisional round, a team they had beaten by 40-some points a month earlier.

And then there’s the flip side, which we saw last year. The Patriots finished 11-5, had those tough road losses to Pittsburgh and Miami, and looked like they’d be stuck playing in the Wild Card round for the first time since January of 2010.

But these Texans actually flopped against the Eagles on the road in the final minute of the next-to-last regular season game of the season, costing them a first-round by and giving the Patriots one. Then Houston lost to Indianapolis in the Wild Card Game, the Patriots got to play a Divisonal Round game at Gillette. And we know how it all worked out – perhaps the most unlikely Super Bowl championship since the first one when they also went 11-5 in the 2001 seaason.

Remember, this is a team that prides itself in playing well in December.

“We’re in December,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said after the game. “Good teams find a way to win. And they did a better job of that than we did.”

Yes, the really good teams do just that, and the Patriots, as badly as they played, had you wondering if they could find that way had Brandon Bolden been able to snare that last on-sides kick.

“To play the good teams you’ve got to execute,” McCourty said. “It’s not just about fighting and playing hard, you’ve got to execute.”

They just finished Week Three of a four week stretch that many felt would tell us just how these Patriots really would stand. Last year’s Super Bowl win gave us a sneak peek at what we’re seeing now. A shut down defense with an offense that can make a play here or there but Sunday night it certainly didn’t look like it could do what it did the last time the Patriots were at NRG – yes, rally from a 28-3 deficit to win a Super Bowl, nearly three years ago.

It seems like yesterday. Patriots back James White had that monster game, and that thrusted him into the spotlight as one of the Patriots’ and Brady’s go-to-guys. But that just hasn’t been the case this year, he’s been blanketed and Sunday night was a better runner than receiver – until his two second half TD receptions. Ah, that NRG feeling again. Well, almost.

White says he’s “never frustrated” by the situation. He’s a captain, a veteran, and knows the deal. The Patriots went into NRG knowing the spotlight would be on their offensive problems.

“The NFL each week is ebb and flow,” White said this past week. “You’re going to have ups, you’re going to have downs. Each week you’ve just got to come out there and improve and find ways to get better.”

The Patriots were hoping to say they’d gotten better after Sunday night’s trip to Houston. Instead they took a step back.

It’s December, the white stuff is on the ground, and the most important stuff is just a month or so away.

These Patriots need to make the most of that month.

Tom King may be reached at 594-1251,tking@nashuatelegraph.com, or@Telegraph _TomK.