Just getting the win wasn’t enough.
Tom Brady threw four touchdown passes and the New England defense shut down the prolific weapons of the Texans as the Patriots dominated Houston 42-14.
Brady found tight end Aaron Hernandez on two short scoring passes, then long strikes to Brandon Lloyd and newly signed Dante Stallworth. Lloyd had a breakout game of sorts, catching 7 balls for 89 yards, including the 37 yard strike for a touchdown.
Lloyd also covered a Danny Woodhead fumble in the end zone for his second score of the evening and Stevan Ridley ripped off a 14 yard run right up the gut of the Texans’ defense to finish the scoring for New England, now 10-3.
Both teams came in with chips on their shoulders.
The Texans were feeling unappreciated despite having the best record in the NFL, having to listen to talk about how they were fading – and they embarrassed themselves on national TV. The Patriots defense probably felt just as under appreciated, but took that chip off their shoulder and beat the Texans senseless with it.
The Texans had no continuity on offense as New England’s run defense held star running back Arian Foster in check while Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard limited Andre Johnson’s effectiveness with superb man coverage. The Patriots pass rush harassed Houston quarterback Matt Schaub all night, sacking him twice and hitting him hard when he did get passes off.
Houston’s fearsome pass rush delivered just as many shots on Brady, who still stood tall in the pocket and shredded the Texan’s secondary, hitting on 21 of 35 passes for 298 yards and the four scores. Brady had one carry, an improvised six yard scramble that gained the Patriots a first down.
He rose from the turf and emphatically signaled first down. It also signaled the end of the night for the Texans.
Schaub went 19 for 32 for 232 yards, but didn’t come close to throwing for a touchdown. When he did get into the red zone, Safety Devin McCourty stepped in front of his reciever and picked him off.
He got little help from his running game, as Foster was held to 46 yards on 15 carries. Johnson did catch eight balls for 95 yards, but other than a 25 yard catch and run, he was held to 70 transparent and ultimately meaningless yards.
New England’s running game accounted for 130 yards, 72 by Stevan Ridley, and the efficiency of the running game established early in the game allowed Brady to run several stretch play action pass plays, that were effective to the point that Brady never was touched while having all day to find his recievers from the flat, including Lloyd on his touchdown catch.
The Patriots’ offensive line seemed overmatched at times, but held the Texans’ likely Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt without a sack and to only two tackles, though Brady was hit hard several times by Watt after releasing the ball.
Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo were regular occupants in the Texans’ backfield, Mayo hitting Schaub repeatedly on blitzes and Wilfork taking over the line, penetrating at will and even causing a Schaub fumble.
Houston, 11-2, still controls it’s own destiny for the top seed in the conference, but with #2 seed New England and number three Denver hot on their heels and the Indianapolis Colts waiting to play them twice in the final 3 weeks of the season, their grip on the top seed seems very tenuous. New England doesn’t have an easy road either, having to turn around and play the 49ers next Sunday on a short week.
Both teams came in needing to make a statement. The Patriots made a legitimate claim to being the best team in the NFL. After the beating they took from New England, the only statement the Texans could make was a description of the tank that ran them over.