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After the New England Patriots annihilated the Houston Texans 40-7 Sunday, Pats coach Bill Belichick made sure to find Houston Texans defensive end Mario Williams. Belichick does not speak to just any player after a game, which means the "genius" must have a great deal of respect for the No. 1 draft pick.
Most people think the Texans made the wrong choice by selecting Williams over New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush or Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young. Belichick, however, might think otherwise.
"He told me to keep going," said a distraught Mario Williams. "He told me that I am going to be very good down the road if I just keep working. It was a little special with the praise coming from a coach like him."
That might have been one of the few bright spots on a day in which the Texans looked more a like a minor league team than a group ready to play in the NFL. "That was the worst professional performance I have ever been a part of," said Texans defensive end N.D. Kalu. "That was trash."
While some have criticized Williams for his lack of sacks and his inability to get off blockers, his teammates have nothing but respect for him, since Williams is playing on one foot. His other foot has to be wrapped since it is almost broken. Williams was limping around the locker room after the game.
"Many guys would just not play if they had Mario's injury," said Kalu. "He is giving it everything he has and we can only imagine how well he would be playing if he was healthy."
His teammates realize that Williams can still dominate a game with his explosiveness, as he has done on occasion this year. "He has improved tremendously this season," said Texans defensive tackle Anthony Maddox. "Each defense has to change their game plan around for him so you know he is having an impact."
"He is a big physical player who is going to be very good down the road," said Patriots fullback Heath Evans. "We had to account for him all week during practice."
The Patriots were worried about the Texans blitz packages, which explains why they threw a lot of short passes, not giving Williams time to rush Pats QB Tom Brady. The Pats also ran away from Williams and used two offensive lineman to block him at times.
The Pats caught Williams and the Texans defense off guard with the amount of screen passes they threw. One of the best ways to beat a blitz in the NFL is to not give the opposing team time to rush the quarterback. That means throwing the ball soon after it is snapped, something which the Pats did on Sunday.
"There is no question they caught us off guard," said Williams. "That is part of learning in this league. We need to get better at adjusting."
Williams admitted that playing on one foot limited his ability to make tackles down the field. "There are plays when I realize that I could get there if I was healthy," he said. "But I try to not think about it because it can be frustrating."
As for the criticism that has plagued him all season, "I ignore it," he said. "There is no guarantee that if those other players were here we would be playing better."
He is particularly thankful that teammate Anthony Weaver has taken him under his wing. "He has showed me everything on and off the field," said Williams. "I have learned so much."
Rookie defensive players tend to struggle due to the differences between college and the pros. Combine this year's learning experiences with a healthy foot and Williams might start to live up to expectations come next season.
"When we played Tennessee last week," said Kalu, "one of the reasons the loss was so tough was we wanted to win that game for Mario, since everybody is talking about Vince Young and how we made a mistake selecting Williams."
The debate of who made the right decision on draft day in April will take at least another couple of years to be resolved.