FOXBOROUGH, Mass. Just another game for the New England Patriots. Just a wire-to-wire domination of the team with the NFL’s best record.
So when their 42-14 Monday night rout of the Houston Texans was complete, there were few big smiles and no loud music in the Patriots locker room.
They’ve been here before – many times.
“We’ve played in a countless number of big games,” said guard Logan Mankins, a veteran of two of the Patriots five Super Bowls in the past 11 seasons. “We know what it takes to prepare for one and not over-hype the game.”
Not exactly the way some Texans viewed it coming in – “the biggest game in the history of this franchise,” wide receiver Andre Johnson had said.
Houston certainly didn’t play like it, falling behind 21-0 early in the second quarter on three touchdown passes by Tom Brady. It was 28-0 on his fourth scoring toss just over five minutes into the third quarter and, with a strong showing by an improving Patriots defense, the Texans had little hope of coming back.
“If we do what we want,” safety Devin McCourty said, “we can’t predict the score but we know we can dominate games.”
Starting with Brady.
He threw four touchdown passes for the 18th time, passing Johnny Unitas and moving into fourth place all time. In the Patriots seven-game winning streak – four by a margin of at least 28 points – he’s thrown for 19 touchdowns and just one interception.
But Monday night’s performance was his first as a father of three, capping off a stretch in which his wife, supermodel Gisele Bundchen, gave birth to Vivian Lake on Wednesday.
“She is doing very well,” Brady said. “It’s been a great week, a great way to end it.”
The Patriots (10-3) tied the AFC West-leading Denver Broncos for the second best record in the conference and already have clinched the AFC East title. The Texans (11-2) still hold the top spot in the conference, and have locked up at least a wild-card berth, but two of their remaining three games are against Indianapolis, which trails them by two games in the AFC South.
“We know how important this game was to us,” Johnson said after the Texans six-game winning streak ended. “We have to respond next week” against the Colts.
Wes Welker had only three catches and remains five short of becoming the first player with five 100-reception seasons. But his 31-yard punt return and 25-yard catch – the 107th straight game he’s had at least one – led to the first of Aaron Hernandez’s two touchdowns, a 7-yard score that gave Brady 45 consecutive games with a scoring pass, the third longest streak in NFL history.
Houston came right back, marching to the Patriots 21-yard line. But Matt Schaub forced the ball into double coverage on the next play and McCourty intercepted in the end zone.
It was the farthest the Texans would get until their second series of the third quarter that ended with Arian Foster’s 1-yard scoring run that did little to shift the momentum.
“We just got outplayed in all aspects of the game,” Foster said. “It’s hard to come back from a deficit when you are playing a team of that caliber.”
By the time he had scored, the Patriots had built a 28-0 lead on the 7-yard pass to Hernandez, a 37-yarder to Brandon Lloyd, a 4-yarder to Hernandez and a 63-yarder to Donte’ Stallworth, who had been cut in training camp but re-signed last week after wide receiver Julian Edelman was injured.
“That particular play is something we had worked on, even in the spring,” Stallworth said.
That helped New England to its 20th successive home win in December dating to a loss in 2002 to the New York Jets.
“It is always good to play in Foxborough in December,” linebacker Jerod Mayo said. “When you go out and perform the way you do, I think Foxborough is going to be a tough place for anyone to come and play.”
It certainly was for Houston, no longer the only team to be unbeaten on the road, falling to 6-1.
Brady nearly had a fifth touchdown pass when Danny Woodhead broke free on a screen pass early in the fourth quarter. Defensive end J.J. Watt, who was pretty much invisible otherwise, forced a fumble, but the ball soared 11 yards into the end zone, where Lloyd fell on it for a 35-7 lead.
Stevan Ridley made it 42-7 with a 14-yard run. Texans backup quarterback T.J. Yates scored on a 1-yard run with 2:00 remaining to close the scoring.
“We got our tails kicked,” Houston coach Gary Kubiak said. “I’ve got to get their chins up and get ready to go play again.”