Originally posted on Patriots Extra  |  Last updated 12/11/12
The New England Patriots entered Monday night as 5.5-point favorites against the AFC's top team, the Houston Texans.  Within 13 minutes, Tom Brady had already thrown two touchdown passes, including a beautiful 37-yard strike to Brandon Lloyd on play action, to put the Pats up 14-0.  By halftime, New England was up 21-0.  Although the offense struggled for most of the third quarter, the offensive onslaught picked back up in the fourth, as New England piled on another two TDs for good measure.  However, as efficient as the offense was, it was New England's defense that stole the show Monday night.  Facing two of the league's most explosive players in Arian Foster and Andre Johnson, Jerod Mayo and Co. held the Texans' offense to just 100 rushing yards and 14 points.  With their seventh straight win, there's no question the Patriots are the No. 1 team in the league.  Let's take a look at this week's risers and fallers.    Risers 1. Tom Brady, QB: In the biggest game of the season, New England's best player put on a vintage performance. Though Brady was sacked just once, he definitely felt some heat from J.J. Watt and Co., but came through with 296 passing yards and four touchdowns. The MVP candidate constantly found open holes in the Texans' defense, utilizing weapons like Brandon Lloyd and Aaron Hernandez at will.  2. Aaron Hernandez, TE: No Gronk? No matter. New England's other tight end more than picked up the slack for his missing mate, racking up eight catches for 58 yards and a pair of scores in the 42-14 blowout. The third-year Florida product proved too quick for Houston's heavier linebackers and too strong for their defensive backs. A healthy Hernandez makes all the difference for New England.  3. Brandon Lloyd, WR: Fans and analysts have been frustrated with Lloyd's lack of big plays in his first year as a Patriot, but the veteran wideout made good on his promise for a big performance against Houston. Lloyd displayed his trademark hands, route-running ability and speed in his best game as a Patriot, totaling seven catches for 89 yards and a score. He also scooped up a Danny Woodhead fumble in the end zone for another score.  4. Vince Wilfork, DT: Few defensive tackles have as big of an impact in a game as Big Vince. The 325-pound manbeast ate up Houston's interior offensive line all night, racking up four tackles and a sack. His strength, quickness and tenacity make him a near impossible one-on-one matchup, and Houston's inability to block Wilfork was the main reason the Patriots limited Arian Foster to a mere 46 rushing yards.  5. Jerod Mayo and Dont'a Hightower, LBs: The dynasty teams of '01, '03 and '04 were built on the linebackers, and it appears things have come full circle. Mayo, the 10th overall pick in 2008, has grown into a force in New England's 4-3 defense. The former Tennessee Volunteer has finally made more impact plays in his new role as weakside linebacker. Paired with Hightower, who recorded six tackles (2.0 for loss) and two quarterback hits, New England has two tremendous outside linebackers to complement run-stuffer Brandon Spikes.  6. Secondary: Whether it was Kyle Arrington, Devin McCourty, Steve Gregory or Alfonzo Dennard, New England's much-maligned secondary finally put together a complete performance. All four players made impact plays and helped limit Houston to just 223 passing yards. Arrington and Dennard got physical with Andre Johnson, limiting him to a quiet eight catches for just 95 yards. McCourty recorded his fourth pick of the season early in the game, and Gregory's steady tackling was clutch.    Fallers 1. Sebastian Vollmer, RT: After a dominant start to the season, Vollmer's play has fallen off the past two weeks. The 6'8" giant has struggled with speed rushers and certainly didn't have a stellar performance last night. Although the Pats held J.J. Watt without a sack, pass defended or tackle for loss, it's tough to say Vollmer dominated the All-Pro candidate.  2. Wes Welker, WR: It's getting harder and harder to say that drops are rare for Wes. Sure, he makes some tough catches in the clutch, but New England's top receiver dropped or missed at least five catchable balls Monday night. The Patriots need him to be more consistent in catching the football.
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