There are a lot of things in the world that are closer than this game was. The distance between New York and L.A. is a good place to start.
Tom Brady showed he really wanted this one as he bumped heads with Brandon Lloyd after the wideout’s first touchdown of the night.
Anyone who said they saw this coming is a liar.
With a chance to move within a game of the AFC-leading Texans, the Patriots hosted them in their biggest game of the year Monday night at Gillette Stadium and this one surely did not disappoint. Each team came into the game with six-game win streaks as well as a number of other streaks on the line in what may have been the matchup of the year to date. Andre Johnson even went as far as labeling it the biggest game in Texans history. It was only the best Monday Night Football matchup in history. No biggie.
While the Texans may not have ever been in such a big regular season game, the Patriots and Tom Brady sure have been. They embarrassed the supposed best all-around team in the AFC by a score of 42-14. It really was never close as the Pats jumped out to a 28-0 lead and didn’t give up a point until midway through the 3rd quarter. A couple of lucky bounces and the Pats were off and running.
New England won the coin toss and, as they typically do, deferred to the 2nd half. An illegal procedure penalty negated Arian Foster‘s first run of the night and on 3rd & 6, Matt Schaub‘s pass was incompete. Houston was forced to kick to Wes Welker, who promptly made a few men miss and returned the ball 31 yards as he filled in for the injured Julian Edelman.
Brady marched his team down the field with the help of a Texans penalty on 3rd & 6 and 19 yards from Stevan Ridley to take the lead with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Hernandez. Hernandez saved the drive on the previous play, recovering a Ridley fumble after he lost it in the pile inside the 5-yard line. The TD catch was Hernandez’ second of the year and first since Opening Day. Welker had a 25-yard reception on 1st down to get the Pats inside the five on a play that eerily resembled his infamous Super Bowl drop from last last year. Brady has thrown a touchdown pass in 45 consecutive games – the longest active streak in the NFL.
Then, with the Texans driving inside the New England 25-yard line, Schaub dropped back and looked for Kevin Walter in the endzone. Devin McCourty cut in front of the pass, however, and picked it off to give the ball back to the home team. It was Schaub’s 10th interception of the year and McCourty’s fourth pick, tying him for the team lead with rookie Tavon Wilson. Brady again wasted no time, driving the Pats 82 yards in 2:41 to take the 14-0 lead on a 37-yard pass to a wide-open Brandon Lloyd. The Houston defense bit on two straight excellent play fakes by Brady on the touchdown pass as well as the previous play. The drive was kept alive with a 14-yard throw to Lloyd on 3rd & 10 and aided by and 18-yard catch by Danny Woodhead.
The 1st quarter ended with a third straight Houston punt following a Schaub fumble on 3rd & 12, forced by Vince Wilfork, that set up 4th & 32 at the 19-yard line of the Texans. For the third straight drive, the Patriots found the endzone as Hernandez caught his second of the night from four yards out to give the Pats a 21-0 lead with 11 minutes left in the half. Brady snapped the ball quickly while the Texans D was standing around and Hernandez, out wide, easily jogged into the endzone. An 11-yard gain by Hernandez on 3rd & 8 and a 26-yard pass interference penalty on Danieal Manning on 3rd & 10 kept the scoring drive alive. It was the first time Hernandez has caught multiple touchdowns in a game since his rookie season.
The ensuing drive was much of the same for the Texans as they went three and out again. Wilfork gave the Texans a taste of their own medicine as he batted down a Schaub pass on 3rd & 4 and forced the Texans’ fourth punt of the night. New England took over, but could’t get anything going again. With the danger of falling in a real hole, the Texans D held on 3rd & 2 as they got some pressure on Brady, hit him hard and forced the first punt of the night for the Patriots.
The Texans had their best opportunity of the half on the resulting drive, but again squandered possession as they failed to convert on 4th & 5 in no man’s land. The Patriots took over at their own 33-yard line following a drop by Walter that would have been good for the 1st down. The drive started at the 11-yard line and a couple of big plays plus a 3rd down conversion weren’t enough to get anything on the board for Houston. The defense held again, however, with the help of an offensive pass interference call on Lloyd that negated a 3rd down conversion and the Texans had a chance to get some much-needed points before the half as they took over with 3:26 remaining. After a 23-yard reception by Foster, however, Aqib Talib broke up a pass on 3rd & 10 and Schaub was incomplete on a second consecutive 4th down play and the Texans turned it over on downs again. One more possession each and it that was it for the 1st half, which was dominated by the Patriots.
While the numbers in most of the stat categories were relatively even at the half, they were quite different in the only column that mattered: the score. A 21-0 lead, that could have been more, set the Patriots up very nicely in the 2nd half as they received the ball to begin the 3rd quarter. New England had won 60 straight home games when leading at half and Houston, the NFL’s second-ranked offense, was shut out in the 1st half for the first time this year. Brady was 13-20 for 165 yards and three TD’s in the half alone.
After three straight three and outs to end the 1st half, Brady and the Patriots looked to come out with the dagger to open the 3rd, but after just one 1st down, the Texans got off the field again as J.J. Watt got in on Brady on 3rd down and forced a pass that was a bit off line. After scoring on their first three possessions, the Pats had punted four straight times and only gained one 1st down in the process. On the next Texans’ drive, Alfonzo Dennard, who played very well on the night, made a tackle on Johnson just before he reached the 1st down marker, however, and the Texans were forced to kick it to Welker once again. On a 3rd & 10, following two straight incompletions and a 1-10 stretch for Brady, he hit newcomer Donte’ Stallworth for a 63-yard touchdown and the 28-0 lead. The drive took all of 1:05 and resulted in Brady’s fourth touchdown throw of the night – his second 4-TD performance of the year and 18th of his career. It was Stallworth’s only catch of the game.
Then, with 6:12 left in the 3rd quarter, the Texans finally got on the board as Foster ran in from a yard out for his 14th rushing touchdown of the year. The 7-play, 88-yard drive in 3:37 cut the New England lead to 21 halfway through the 3rd quarter. A 30-yard pass to back-up tight end/full back James Casey set Houston up inside the New England five and after a penalty on the defense, they converted two plays later. The Texans forced another three-and-out for New England as Brady was sacked for the first time in the game on 3rd & 6. They gave it right back, however, on a three-and-out of their own as Kyle Arrington made a nice play on 3rd down to prevent the 1st down completion.
What happened on the Patriots’ next possession simply just let everyone know it was their night. Woodhead fumbled inside the 20, but not only did it bounce right to Lloyd, he recovered it in the endzone for New England’s fifth and his second touchdown of the night. 35-7 with just over 14 minutes left in the 4th quarter. Lloyd also had a 14-yard reception on the drive and a Brady 6-yard run on 3rd and 5 kept the drive alive.
Houston failed to generate some offense when they got the ball back and Ben Tate, after picking up a 1st down with four straight touches, was stuffed on 3rd & 1 and the ball went back to New England after the Texans’ sixth punt.
Then, the Patriots made everybody forget about the great defense they have in Houston as Brady utilized the hurry-up offense, even up 28, and kept the defenders off guard on their way to their sixth touchdown of the night and the 42-7 lead. Ridley, Lloyd and Shane Vereen were the only ones to touch the ball on the 68-yard drive and Ridley took it in from 14 yards out for his 10th rushing touchdown of the year. Lloyd would finish the night with seven catches for 89 yards and a touchdown.
Little shift in the power rankings this week?
That was all for Schaub as back-up T.J. Yates came in to finish out the night with the team down by a surprising 35 points. Again, the Texans failed to do anything on offense with a -2-yard run and a -4-yard reception included in the drive that ended almost as quickly as it started.
Ryan Mallett replaced Brady on the ensuing drive as # 12′s night ended following four touchdown passes. He is the all-time NFL leader with 14 games of four touchdown passes and no interceptions. Mallett then fell victim to an unlucky break on his only pass attempt as Visanthe Shiancoe let it bounce of his hands and into those of the defender for the Pats’ first and only turnover of the night. Yates would run it in from a yard out to get in the endzone for the first time this season, but the game had long been over and it finished 42-14 in favor of the home team.
The Patriots would wind the clock down and improve to 10-3 with 10 wins in the 10th straight seasons. They control their own destiny now, with the Baltimore loss Sunday to the Redskins, in the hunt for the No. 2 seed in the AFC.
New England improved to 21-0 in the second half of the season since 2010 and won their seventh straight game dating back to Week 7. Brady may have jumped back into the MVP debate as he threw for 296 yards and four touchdowns in the win. Houston lost its first game on the road this season (6-1) and saw its six-game winning streak snapped. The Pats also extended their December winning streak to 13 games, tying the Cowboys for the second-longest such streak of all-time.
Welker finished with just three catches for the first time since Week 1 when he was still in the coach’s doghouse, but did have 52 yards. The ability to recover two of their own fumbles kept the Texans from gaining momentum, both in the 1st and 4th quarters, and could well have been a big factor in the win.
Brady now has 22 starts that have resulted in 40 or more points, which is one away from tying the NFL record (five this year).
The offensive line, which was finally back at full strength, did a very good job of protecting Brady, who was only sacked one time on the night by the formidable Texans pass rush. Dennard and Talib also combined to do a very good job on Johnson, the All-pro receiver, holding him to just 95 yards on 8 catches – pretty quiet for the explosive Johnson. He had gone for 28 catches with 517 yards and a touchdowns in his last three games.
Brady just found a way to do what he needed to do and against Watt and the “Houston SWAT Team.” He didn’t allow any pass deflections the whole game. It just speaks to his preparation that he can work on one tiny thing all week and be able to perfectly execute it in the game. It was as if he was always anticipating the possibility of the tipped pass because on several near misses, he was able to steer the ball just around the hands of Texan defenders. Not even Defensive Player of the Year candidate, Watt could find a way to get his hands on a Brady pass.
The Texans’ 28-point loss was their worst since another 28-point defeat at the hands of the Ravens in Week 10 of 2008 (41-13). Their two losses this year have a common theme – 42 points allowed to each of their opponents. Interesting.
Brady reached 150 wins faster than any other starting quarterback in history and did it with only 44 losses in the process.
Both Talib (hip) and Dennard (hamstring) left the game with injuries and did not return. Dennard was inactive for the first five games of the season because of that hanstring injury.
The 10-3 Patriots take on the NFC West-leading 49ers (9-3-1) next Sunday night while the 10-2 Texans host the 9-4 Colts.
Follow me on Twitter @RealAndyLarmand.