FOXBORO - In 2010, the Patriots lost their first game against the New York Jets by a 28-14 score in the New Jersey Meadowlands, then rebounded in the regular-season rematch at Gillette Stadium, winning 45-3.
Those Patriots finished the regular season 14-2 and earned a first-round bye in the playoffs, and their opponents in the divisional round were those same Jets. It almost seemed like a slam dunk for the Patriots - until the final score on the scoreboard read, "Jets 28, Patriots 21."
Could the same thing happen again? Now that the Patriots know that they have a rematch with the Houston Texans in the offing for Sunday's divisional-round playoff game at Gillette Stadium (4:30 p.m.; Ch. 4, 12), is there any danger that they could suffer the same fate and have the Texans (whom they defeated 42-14 a few weeks ago) derail their progress toward another Super Bowl appearance?
Patriots' coach Bill Belichick wouldn't make any predictions about the outcome of Sunday's game, but he said there was a lesson to be remembered from the 2010 disappointment.
"There's certainly a lesson there that the game we play now certainly doesn't have much to do with the game before," Belichick said via conference call Sunday. "We've talked about that many, many times here. It's an example to point out how little relevance the previous game with the same team really does have."
Belichick said he and his staff are "full speed ahead" on the Texans, and were able to get in a little bit of work on their game-planning during the week of "self-evaluation" that followed their regular-season finale.
"I don't know what the exact time on it would be, but we're definitely ahead," Belichick said. "We spent a significant amount of time on them last week. It was the first game, and we would know by Saturday night whether they were the next opponent or not, so we wouldn't need to look past that if they won.
"When you play a team twice in the same season, the games are totally different and they never go the same way," he said. "We will certainly able to look at some of the matchups individually, and guys that have faced one another in the game, but as far as plays and calls and those things matching up, I'm sure they'll have some new wrinkles and I'm sure we'll have some too."
Belichick said he saw some Cincinnati-specific wrinkles in the Texans' game plan for the Bengals Saturday in their 19-13 wild-card triumph.
"It wasn't revolutionary," he said, "but they geared more to their coverage of (A.J.) Green and things like that, formation, Cincinnati stuff. We have to be ready for all the things that they do. The percentages, what they'll try to feature against us. We just need a week of preparation and take from the Cincinnati game what we can. There are some good examples of what we can learn from that game, but ultimately, our matchups are different from theirs.
"It was certainly a good game to watch," he added. "It was the most recent one and there were a lot of people in the game that weren't in there the last time we played then."
One such example was Texans' tight end Garrett Graham, who didn't play in the Dec. 10 game but caught three passes for 29 yards against the Bengals. Graham's presence could enable the Texans to use formations with three tight ends on Sunday, which they couldn't do in the first meeting of the teams.
Belichick also was aware that the Texans seemed to want defensive end J.J. Watt in more one-on-one matchups against the Bengals. He had five tackles and one sack in the game.
"He's a great player," Belichick said. "He's made more big plays than probably anybody has defensively this year in the league. Watt's a big focal point, no question, on that defense. But you can't ignore the other guys either. They're all part of the problem."
Belichick said the Texans do a good job of disguising from where Watt will begin his rushes at the passer.
"Depending on what front they're in they use certain line rules, they look pretty consistent," he said. "They run games so where he lines up isn't necessarily where he's going to end up after the ball is snapped which is also pretty consistent with what they've done all year."