The AFC East champion New England Patriots scored touchdowns on each of the first three possessions and made a strong statement to the rest of the teams in the AFC playoff race as they blew out the AFC South-leading Houston Texans 42-14 at Gillette Stadium on Monday night.
New England opened the scoring when Tom Brady hit Aaron Hernandez for a 7-yard touchdown to cap off an eight-play drive that began at their own 44-yard line following a 31-yard punt return by Wes Welker. For Brady, it was his 45th consecutive game with a touchdown pass, the third-longest streak in NFL history.
In response to the opening score, the Texans would drive down to the Patriots' 21-yard line before a Matt Schaub deep ball down the middle towards Kevin Walter was intercepted in the end zone by defensive back Devin McCourty. Brady would make the Texans pay for the turnover, hitting Brandon Lloyd for 14 yards on a third-and-12 before connecting with Danny Woodhead for 18 yards and Hernandez for 13 yards on consecutive plays to get the Patriots to the Texans' 37-yard line. Brady would use a brilliant play-action fake to hook up with Lloyd for a 37-yard touchdown to extend the Patriots' lead to 14-0 with just under three minutes to play in the first quarter. The Patriots went up 21-0 on their next possession early in the second quarter after Brady had a quick screen to Hernandez, who was split wide to the left and the Texans were late in putting a defender over him.
Houston's defense would put the clamps on the Patriots' offense, forcing a trio of three-and-outs to close out the first half, but the Texans were unable to capitalize, twice turning the ball over on downs on drives that crossed inside the Patriots' 40-yard line.
The two teams would trade punts to start the second half, but Brady would hit the newly re-signed Donte Stallworth for a 63-yard touchdown pass to increase the Patriots' lead to 28-0 with 10 minutes to play in the third quarter. The Texans would chip into the lead when Arian Foster scored from 1-yard out with just over six minutes to play in the third quarter, but the score would be too little, too late as the New England would benefit from fumble luck on their next drive.
On a second-and-10 play from the Texans' 27-yard line, Brady dumped the ball off to Woodhead on a screen pass. Texans defensive end J.J. Watt would punch the ball from Woodhead's arm, with the ball sailing into the end zone before Lloyd pounced on the loose ball for a touchdown that put the Patriots up 35-7. Later in the fourth quarter, running back Stevan Ridley would add a 14-yard touchdown run and the Texans would add another touchdown of their own when backup quarterback T.J. Yates, who had replaced Schaub midway through the fourth quarter, scored on a 1-yard touchdown run.
Brady completed 21 of 35 passes for 296 yards and four touchdowns with Lloyd and Hernandez combining for 15 receptions for 147 yards and three scores. Ridley added 72 yards on the ground and his touchdown was his 10th of the season and extended his consecutive games with at least one touchdown to six. Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork led an impressive defensive effort that harassed Schaub throughout the night and limited Foster, one of the most dynamic runners in the game, to 46 yards on 15 carries.
"We knew coming into this game it was going to be tough," Wilfork said of facing the high-powered Texans offense on ESPN's postgame show "We know how explosive they was on offense. We know the type of running and skill positions that they had, so we knew what they was capable of doing. Our main thing was make sure we contain them and not give up many big plays and let's play that and execute well. I think for the most part we did that."
At 10-3, the Patriots have moved into the No. 2 spot in the AFC playoff picture via their head-to-head tiebreaker over the Denver Broncos. The Patriots host the San Francisco 49ers next Sunday night. For the Texans, Monday night was not only their worst loss of the season, it was their first loss on the road and first loss to an AFC opponent during the 2012 season. The Texans still have not clinched the AFC South, but hold a two-game lead over the Indianapolis Colts, who they will play in two of the next three weeks to close out the regular season.