FOXBOROUGH — The New England Patriots found a way to turn Arian Foster from punishing runner into powerless bystander.
All they did was charge to a 28-0 lead, make the Houston Texans throw and keep the ball away from one of the most dangerous rushers in the NFL.
A month ago, the Patriots scored touchdowns on their first three possessions and routed the Texans 42-14, as Foster gained just 46 yards on 15 carries.
Vince Wilfork, though, figures on a tougher challenge in Sunday’s rematch on the same field in a divisional playoff game.
“I expect to see the best,” the Patriots defensive tackle said yesterday.
Something, perhaps, like Foster’s brilliant performance in Saturday’s 19-13 wild-card win over the Cincinnati Bengals — 140 yards on a season-high 32 carries, to go with eight catches for 34 yards and the game’s only offensive touchdown.
That made him the first NFL player to rush for at least 100 yards in each of his first three playoff games.
“Last week, you saw why this guy is one of the top offensive players in the game, not just a back, but a top offensive player in the game,” a rested Wilfork said after the team’s bye week. “The things that he can do with the ball in his hands, in the pass game and running it ... and he’s a great blocker when they ask him to block. I mean he’s a special player and we understand that.”
If he gets a chance to show it. He didn’t on Dec. 10 at Gillette Stadium.
Foster rushed 12 times for 44 yards in the first half, which ended with the Patriots leading, 21-0. He had just three carries for two yards after that — and none after he scored on a 1-yard run with 6:12 left in the third quarter — as the Texans tried to preserve time by throwing the ball.