FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The much-hyped "Monday Night Football" matchup between the 11-1 Texans and the 9-3 Patriots was a dud.
New England re-established itself as the team to beat in the AFC, clobbering Houston 42-14 for its 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. They now would lose the tiebreaker if the Patriots make up another game.
Tom Brady, fresh off the birth of his third child, threw four touchdown passes (his 45th consecutive 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.
New England's 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 was scored when Danny Woodhead fumbled at the Houston 10 after a 16-yard completion. 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.
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.
It was 28-0 when Houston running back Arian Foster scored from a yard out with 6:12 left in the third quarter.
Brady 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. He scrambled 6 yards for a first down on the final play of the third quarter and got up pumping his fist for the crowd.
Counterpart 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.
New England's Wes Welker, taking over on punt returns for Julian Edelman, gone for the year with a broken foot, went 31 yards with the first punt of the game. The Patriots then went 56 yards in seven plays to score.
Brady hit Welker with a 25-yard pass down to the Houston 4-yard line (Welker's 107th straight game with a catch), and New England then got a bit of luck. Ridley fumbled, and Houston's Kareem Jackson failed to pick up the loose ball. Hernandez did, and he caught a 7-yard touchdown pass on the next play.
Schaub then took his team down the field, with a 24-yard pass to Lestar Jean getting the ball to the New England 23. On second-and-8 from the 21, Schaub was picked off in the end zone by Devin McCourty, now playing a safety spot.
It took Brady six plays to take his team to another score. After an incompletion and a no-gain rush, Brady hit Lloyd for 14, Woodhead for 18, Hernandez for 13 and a wide-open Lloyd for the score.
A 26-yard pass interference call against Danieal Manning led to Hernandez catching a 4-yard touchdown pass from Brady with 11:01 left in the half.
The Texas got into New England territory twice in the second quarter but failed on fourth down on both scoring attempts, turning the ball over on downs.
NOTES: All-day rain had stopped and the temperature was 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. Corner Johnathan Joseph, who missed the previous two games with hamstring and groin injuries, returned. ... New England honored former offensive lineman Matt Light at halftime. He joined the captains for the coin toss. ... The Patriots came in with a 42-5 December record since 2001, easily the best 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 also was in attendance, wearing a Welker jersey.