FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Vince Wilfork was a champion as a rookie with the New England Patriots. So, he wondered, how hard could it be to win the Super Bowl every year?
After the past seven seasons without another title, he has his answer.
Winning one early in my career, you kind of get the sense that it happens like this all the time, but it doesnt, the defensive tackle said. Its very, very hard to win at this level, at any level.
His college teammate at Miami, Andre Johnson, never reached the playoffs in his first eight seasons with the Houston Texans. He finally got there last year. Today, he faces Wilfork and the Patriots in a divisional-round game.
It means a lot, the wide receiver said. It makes you appreciate all the tough times you went through to get to this point.
The Patriots (12-4) are heavily favored, having routed Houston (13-4) 42-14 on Dec. 10.
That 28-point romp has no bearing on the rematch, coaches and players insist.
I think its a bunch of garbage, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. The game will have its own elements and it will write its own story.
Texans defensive end J.J. Watt is tired of all the talk about that beating.
Obviously, we didnt play good last time we were up there, he said. I dont think we need to keep rehashing it. I think we just need to play our style of football.
That style depends on Arian Foster running the ball. Do that well and the Texans can maintain possession and keep Tom Brady and the Patriots league-best offense on the sideline.
It worked last Saturday against Cincinnati, a 19-13 Houston win in an AFC wild-card game. The Texans outgained the Bengals 420 yards to 198 and held the ball for 38:49 compared with 21:11 for Cincinnati. Foster ran 32 times and caught eight passes, a total of 40 plays. The Bengals had just 48 plays all game.
The weak link could be quarterback Matt Schaub. His passer rating against the Patriots of 68.8 was his third lowest of the season.
But now that he has gotten past the first postseason game of his career, he expects a much better performance.
We go up with a lot of confidence, Schaub said. If you want to move on, youve got to bring a sense of nastiness and attitude with you to go out and dominate your opponent on every play.
Thats impossible, of course, especially against the Patriots offense.
Brady will get a boost from having tight ends Rob Gronkowski, sidelined for the first game against Houston, and Aaron Hernandez on the field together for only the sixth time this season after both dealt with injuries.
Its all about our execution, Brady said. They were out there a lot together last year and when we executed well it looked good, and when we didnt it looked bad.