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Patriots trample Texans, tighten race for AFC's top seed

The SportsXchange

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The much-hyped Monday night matchup between the Houston Texans and the New England Patriots was a dud.

New England made sure of that.

The Patriots re-established themselves as the team to beat in the AFC by clobbering Houston 42-14 for their seventh straight win.

The Texans, who had won six straight and came in 6-0 on the road, had a chance to clinch home field throughout the playoffs, but they laid a huge, nationally televised egg. Houston (11-2) now would lose the tiebreaker if New England (10-3) makes up another game.

The Patriots scored on their first three possessions and cruised home on an almost-balmy New England night.

"Obviously, we came into this game with a chip on our shoulders," said New England linebacker Jerod Mayo, who had a team-leading seven tackles. "Everyone was talking about the Houston Texans. ... We always talk about ignoring the noise (surrounding other teams), but you hear it. You hear it walking down the street.

"It was a little bit of a motivational factor for me at least, and I'm sure the rest of the guys felt the same way."

Tom Brady, fresh off the birth of his third child, threw four touchdown passes, his 45th straight game with at least one. Brady fired three TD tosses in the game's first 19 minutes, two of them to tight end Aaron Hernandez.

Brady's home Monday night appearances have produced 18 touchdown passes and one interception. It was his 18th game with at least four scoring throws, moving him past Johnny Unitas into fourth place on the all-time list.

He finished 21-for-35 for 296 yards, eight of the completions to Hernandez, seven to Lloyd, who had his best game as a Patriot. Brady was sacked just once by the vaunted Houston pass rush, as the Patriots handled Houston star J.J. Watt.

The normally pocket-confined Brady even scrambled 6 yards for a first down on the final play of the third quarter, then got up pumping his fist for the crowd.

"I had to show them I could still do it a little bit," he said of the run. "I was pretty fired up at that point ... at least there's a little bit of a threat there. I'm not like RG3 out there or anything, but ..."

Asked about his baby daughter and his family, Brady said, "They're very excited. It's been a great week, and that was a great way to end it."

The Patriots have averaged 41 points per game during their winning streak. Not bad for a team that was 3-3 after six games.

Brandon Lloyd caught a 37-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, and Brady hit the recently re-signed Donte' Stallworth with a 63-yard bomb and run in the third quarter.

To show what a New England night it was, the fifth touchdown came when Danny Woodhead fumbled at the Houston 10 after a 16-yard completion, and Lloyd recovered in the end zone.

Patriots running back Stevan Ridley (72 yards on 18 carries) scored on a 14-yard run that made it 42-7.

It was 28-0 when Houston running back Arian Foster scored from a yard out with 6:12 left in the third quarter.

Texans quarterback Matt Schaub went 19-for-32 for 232 yards and an interception before leaving with 7:32 left in the game. Backup T.J. Yates scored on a 1-yard run with two minutes left.

"That was just a total butt-kicking," Texans offensive tackle Duane Brown said. "The plays were out there to make. We just didn't make them."

The win was the Patriots 13th straight in the month of December. New England is 5-0 in the second half of the season while bidding for its third straight 8-0 finish.

Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork starred in the first half, when he had a sack that forced a fumble (recovered by Houston) and also batted down a pass. Asked after the game if his unit can be a championship defense, Wilfork said, "Absolutely."

The only potential negatives for New England were injuries suffered by defensive backs Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard.

NOTES: Wes Welker, who caught a pass for the 107th consecutive game, replaced the injured Julian Edelman (out for the year) as the Patriots' punt returner. Welker had a 31-yarder on the first punt of the game. ... All-day rain stopped, and it was at 59 degrees at the start of the game. ... The teams' combined 20-4 record coming in equaled the best Week 13 matchup in the history of "Monday Night Football." ... Both teams were missing a tight end, Houston's Garrett Graham out with a concussion suffered last week and New England's Rob Gronkowski sidelined for a third game due to a broken arm. .... The Patriots activated running back Brandon Bolden, who had missed the previous six games, two with an injury and four because of a league-issued drug suspension. He played late in the game, getting two carries for 11 yards. ... The Texans were short in the secondary with cornerback Alan Ball declared inactive. ... The Patriots, who had been having third-down problems on defense, have limited the past three opponents to a combined 10-for-37. ... New England honored former offensive lineman Matt Light at halftime. He also joined the captains for the coin toss. ... The Patriots are 43-5 in December since 2001, easily tops in the league. The Eagles are second best at 35-13. ... Seen before the game: Pats coach Bill Belichick chatting with Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers and actor Mark Wahlberg. Celtics guard Rajon Rondo, wearing a Welker jersey, was spotted at halftime. ... Belichick has 10 straight 10-win seasons, adding to his league record. ... The Patriots host the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night, while Houston plays host to the Indianapolis Colts earlier in the day. ... Ridley became the 13th Patriot with 10 rushing touchdowns in a season.
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