Tom Brady threw four touchdown passes as the New England Patriots turned their much-hyped game against the Houston Texans into a mismatch, leading 28-7 after the third quarter on Monday night.
The Texans (11-1) entered with the NFL's best record. The Patriots (9-3) had the AFC's third-best mark.
But New England, with plenty of big-game experience with five Super Bowl appearances and three championships in the past 11 seasons, confused and dominated the Texans, who reached the playoffs last season for the first time since joining the NFL in 2002.
Taking advantage of disorganization and poor coverage by the Texans, Brady threw scoring passes on his first three possessions — 7 yards to Aaron Hernandez, 37 yards to Brandon Lloyd and 4 yards to Hernandez, for a 21-0 lead 4 minutes into the second quarter.
The Texans tried to whittle the deficit at halftime by going for it twice on fourth down in the second quarter. They fell short both times with 4:44 and 1:52 left in the half.
Then, on the Patriots' second series of the third quarter, Brady connected on a 63-yard touchdown pass to Donte' Stallworth, who was signed last week after wide receiver Julian Edelman was placed on injured reserve. It gave Brady his 18th game with at least four touchdown passes, moving ahead of Johnny Unitas into fourth place in NFL history
The Texans finally scored on a 1-yard run by Arian Foster with 6:12 left in the third quarter.
Brady finished the third quarter with 18 completions in 31 attempts for 269 yards and threw a scoring pass for the 45th straight game, the third-longest streak of all-time. Schaub was 19 for 32 for 232 yards.
Hernandez and Houston's Andre Johnson both had eight catches.
Both teams have clinched playoff spots and were on six-game winning streaks. They are the highest-scoring teams in the NFL with the Patriots averaging 35.8 points per game and the Texans 29.3.
The Patriots have clinched the AFC East, while the Texans have locked up a playoff berth in the AFC South but have two games left with the Indianapolis Colts (9-4), who are second in the division.
Houston entered as the NFL's only unbeaten team on the road at 6-0. But the Patriots haven't lost at home in December since 2002.
The Texans hurt themselves with an illegal formation penalty that wiped out Foster's 11-yard run on the first offensive play of the game, a defensive holding penalty against Brandon Harris that gave the Patriots a first down at the Houston 29 and an interception by Devin McCourty on Schaub's pass into the end zone.
The Patriots scored on their first possession after a 31-yard punt return by Wes Welker, replacing Julian Edelman, set them up at their 44-yard line for their first series.
Stevan Ridley ran for 18 yards on the first three plays for a first down at the Houston 38. After an incompletion, Harris was called for defensive holding on third-and-6, giving the Patriots a first down. Brady then completed a 25-yard pass to Welker, his 107th consecutive game with a reception.
And two plays later, Brady found Hernandez for his 7-yard scoring pass on the left side.
Schaub then led the Texans to a second-and-8 at the Patriots 21. But when he tried to throw down the middle into double coverage, McCourty picked the ball off and returned it 19 yards, another takeaway by the team that leads the NFL in turnover differential.
That gave Brady the ball at his 18 and he covered the next 82 yards in just 2 minutes, 41 seconds. After an incompletion and a run for no yards by Ridley, Brady completed four consecutive passes. On the last one, Lloyd sprinted away from cornerback Johnathan Joseph, who returned after missing two games with a hamstring injury, and was wide open as he caught the touchdown pass cutting from the right side to the left.
On his second touchdown catch, Hernandez took advantage of a mixup in the Houston secondary and was open on the left side of the end zone, capping an eight-play, 70-yard drive.
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