Foxboro, MA (World Wide Gamble) - Having already wrapped up the AFC East the previous week, a big win on Monday has the Patriots' sights set on the top spot in the conference.
Thanks to four touchdown passes from Tom Brady, New England took a 42-14 win over the Houston Texans on Monday night.
New England (10-3), which is now 21-0 in the second half of the season since 2010, has ripped off seven straight wins and is now tied just a game behind Houston (11-2) for the coveted top spot in the AFC.
Brady was 21-for-35 with 296 yards while Aaron Hernandez posted eight catches for 58 yards and two scores. Brandon Lloyd caught a score and also recovered a fumble in the end zone for a score while Donte Stallworth, who re-signed with the team last Monday, had the other touchdown reception.
"It was great out there tonight to take a win like this against a tough team," said Brady. "We were able to use the run to create some distance with the defense and that really opened things up for us."
Stevan Ridley carried the ball 18 times for 72 yards and his touchdown in the fourth quarter put the emphasis on the rout as New England eclipsed the 40- point mark for the fifth time this season, including the third time in the past four weeks.
"We got good contributions from everybody tonight," said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who moved past Dan Reeves for seventh place all-time in wins with his 202nd of his coaching career. "We made some key third downs, got some pressure on their quarterback and had guys step up in all three areas of the game. We got good play from everybody tonight."
Houston, meanwhile, saw a six-game winning streak snapped and while the team has already locked up a playoff spot, it is still fighting for the top spot in the AFC South.
Sitting two games ahead of Indianapolis, the Texans will welcome the Colts to Houston next Sunday. After hosting Minnesota, Houston will play in Indianapolis for the final game of the regular season.
Matt Schaub was just 19-for-32 with 232 yards and an interception while Arian Foster had 15 carries for 46 yards and a score in the loss, Houston's first road loss of the season.
After forcing a punt from Houston on its opening possession, Brady and the Patriots went to work.
Three straight runs from Ridley moved the ball 22 yards, but a pass on 3rd- and-6 fell incomplete. Fortunately for the Patriots, a defensive holding call gave the team a first down. The next play saw Brady and Wes Welker get together for 25 yards down to the Houston 4-yard line. Two plays later, a short pass out to the left was caught by Hernandez and taken in for a 7-0 lead with 9:27 left in the opening quarter.
Schaub drove his team down the field on the Texans' following touch and got the ball to the New England 21, but he was picked off in the end zone by Devin McCourty, who took the ball back to his 18-yard line.
Brady completed passes of 14, 18, and 13 yards to get it to the Houston 37. On a play action fake, Brady went deep and found Lloyd wide open in stride for a 14-0 lead with 2:49 to play in the first.
Houston again had a short possession and punted on the last play of the quarter, giving New England the ball back at its own 30.
After converting a third down, the team faced another 3rd-and-10 and while the pass was incomplete, Houston was whistled for a pass interference call that gave the Patriots 26 yards. Catches of 15 and 12 yards by Welker got the ball down to the 4-yard line and Hernandez took it from there as he was uncovered at the left side for the easy score and a 21-0 lead with 11:01 left in the half.
Houston then went three-and-out, but finally stopped Brady and quickly forced a punt, getting the ball back at its own 11.
A 25-yard catch by Andre Johnson on the first play gave the team some room and they wound up getting down to the New England 33. Facing a 4th-and-5, though, the team went for it and Kevin Walter dropped a pass to give the Patriots the ball back.
Each team then had two more touches, but were unable to score before the end of the half.
"We didn't make any plays offensively to get us back in the football game," Texans head coach Gary Kubiak said. "We got beat pretty darn good."
The second half started with each team punting once, but Brady used the long ball to extend the Patriots' lead on their second possession. Facing a 3rd- and-10 at his own 37, Brady went deep down the middle for Stallworth, who made the catch near the 30 and was just able to get over the goal line for a 28-0 lead with 9:49 to play in the third.
Houston finally put together a scoring drive on its next touch as a seven- play, 88-yard march was capped on a 1-yard run inside the left tackle by Foster with 6:12 to play.
New England, though, put the game away early in the fourth quarter. With the ball at the Houston 27, Brady got a short pass to Danny Woodhead, who made a couple of moves to get the ball down to the 11 but then had it punched out. The ball went right into the end zone and Lloyd fell on it for a 35-7 lead just under a minute into the fourth.
Ridley's 14-yard touchdown run on New England's next possession made it a 42-7 game, while T.J. Yates scored from a yard out for Houston at the two-minute warning to cap the scoring.
It's the 10th straight season the Patriots have posted at least 10 wins ... Welker has a reception in 107 consecutive games. He had three catches for 52 yards in the game ... It was the 18th game Brady had four touchdowns passes. He passed Johnny Unitas for fourth place all-time. Also, it was his 14th time having four TD passes and no interceptions in a game as he leads that category ... Before the game, the Patriots activated running back Brandon Bolden. He had been suspended for four games back in early November for violating the NFL's policy on performance enhancing substances ... New England has won three of the four games against Houston ... New England hosts San Francisco next Sunday ... Johnson posted eight catches for 95 yards ... Brady has 45 straight games with a touchdown pass, third longest all-time and the longest active streak.