Patriots take battle for AFC supremacy
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
To be the true King of the Hill, you've got to figure out a way to bump off the current King, right?
That was the task facing Houston Monday night at Gillette Stadium, as the NFL's "upstart" Texans - considered one of the teams to beat this season - met the defending AFC Champion New England Patriots in Foxboro.
This one, however, never had a chance to live up to the advance billing. The Pats simply overwhelmed Houston 42-14 to improve to 10-3 on the season, taking a giant step toward not just a playoff bye, but maybe toward assuming the role of playoff favorite.
The Patriots fired the first shot in this particular clash of Titans, moving the ball 56 yards in seven plays on their opening drive, capped off by Tom Brady's seven yard scoring pass to Aaron Hernandez...who saved the Patriots from early trouble by recovering a Stevan Ridley fumble at the Texans' seven. As Houston moved the ball to the NE 21, Devin McCourty came up with a big play for the "D," picking off QB Matt Schaub in the end zone to stop the Texans' threat.
Then, the fireworks went off. Quickly moving his offense into striking position, Brady went over the top on the Texans' defense, finding Brandon Lloyd behind everyone for a 37-yard scoring strike. 82 yards in six plays. Just like that...New England goes up 14-0 on the would-be Kings, with 2:20 still to play in the first quarter.
Nope, not done yet. As the second quarter opened, the Texans narrowly escaped another huge gaffe, fumbling a handoff that was recovered by center Chris Myers, but also brought a big 20-yard loss. Taking a cue from his defense once again, Brady dialed up an eight-play, 70 yard march against a now-shell shocked Houston defense. He found Wes Welker for two big receptions before finding Hernandez open again...on a screen play for the final four yards...to make it 21-zip.
With just under five minutes to play, the sometimes-maligned Patriots defense got a little help, as Houston WR Kevin Walter couldn't hold onto a 4th-and-5 pass attempt from Schaub in New England territory...and just three minutes later, another 4th down attempt from Schaub fell incomplete.
Somehow, the old Kings didn't seem quite ready to abdicate the throne just yet.
On the second possession of the third quarter, Brady decided to go over the top again...burning the Houston secondary for 63 yards with a hook-up to newcomer/old-timer Donte Stallworth. 28-0 New England, with 9:49 to play in the period. Clearly, if there's a weakness in an otherwise stout Texan defense, it's in the backfield.
Brady burned them twice Monday night, deep.
Houston finally responded with its first sustained offensive drive against the Pats' defense, putting together a seven play, 88 yard march that ended with a one-yard Arian Foster touchdown run to put the Texans on the board with 6:12 left in the third.
With 14:15 to play in the 4th quarter, it became very apparent which team had the charmed night. On a second down completion to Danny Woodhead from the Texans' 27, Houston's J.J. Watt punched the ball out from behind at the Texans' 11 yard line, only to have the ball bounce forward right into the waiting arms of Brandon Lloyd in the end zone to make it 35-7. So much for the new Kings assuming the throne just yet.
Just to add a little insult to injury, the Patriots turned up the tempo on a beaten Houston defense...and with 7:23 still to play, hammered home another score behind a Ridley 14-yard TD run. At 42-7, perhaps a message was being sent to the Texans...one that certainly didn't need to be deciphered. It was plain to see Monday night.
Despite allowing a garbage-time score on a T.J. Yates one-yard sneak to bring the total to 42-14, the reigning Kings aren't dead. In fact, they may now just be getting ready for another run at the crown.
Post Game Notes
New England has reached at least 10 regular-season wins for 10 consecutive seasons, joining San Francisco (16) as the only teams in NFL history to accomplish the feat...Bill Belichick has coached the Patriots to 10 straight seasons with 10 or more wins, adding to his NFL record streak. Last season, Belichick became the first coach in NFL history with nine straight seasons with at least 10 victories...Brady has now helped lead the Patriots to a 10-win season 10 times in his career to tie Brett Favre for second place all-time, behind Peyton Manning (12)...the Patriots defense held the Texans to just 14 points after Houston entered the game averaging 29.3 points per game, which had been the second highest total in the NFL...with an interception against Houston, the Patriots have forced a turnover in 24 straight games, dating back to 2011 and including the first 13 games of 2012...newly acquired WR Donte’ Stallworth caught a 63-yard touchdown pass from Brady in the third quarter. It is his longest reception since he caught a 69-yard touchdown pass from Brady at Dallas on Oct. 14, 2007. The touchdown was Stallworth’s first in a Patriots uniform since October 21, 2007 at Miami...the Patriots now have an NFL-best 43-5 record in the month of December since the 2001 season...