Tom Brady stunned the mistake-prone Houston Texans with touchdown passes on his first three possessions and the New England Patriots led the team with the NFL's best record 21-0 at halftime on Monday night.
Taking advantage of disorganization and poor coverage by the Texans, Brady hit Aaron Hernandez with a 7-yard scoring pass, Brandon Lloyd with a 37-yarder and Hernandez again with a 4-yard toss 4 minutes into the second quarter.
The misery continued for the Texans when they went for it on fourth-and-5 at the Patriots 33, but Matt Schaub's incompletion gave New England the ball with 4:44 left in the half. The Patriots stopped the Texans on fourth down again 1:52 before intermission.
For the first 30 minutes, the much-hyped matchup between the Texans (11-1) and the Patriots (9-3) was a mismatch.
Brady finished the half 13 for 19 for 165 yards and threw a scoring pass for the 45th straight game, the third-longest streak of all-time. Schaub was 12 for 23 for 159 yards
The Texans entered as the NFL's only unbeaten team on the road at 6-0. The Patriots haven't lost at home in December since 2002.
The Texans hurt themselves with an illegal formation penalty that wiped out Arian 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 the injured 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.
The game matched a team with five Super Bowl appearances and three championships in the past 11 seasons against one that reached the playoffs last season for the first time since it began play in 2002.
There are plenty of similarities between the teams.
Both are on six-game winning streaks and 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.
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