FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The best record in the AFC will mean little to the Houston Texans if they can't beat the defending conference champions.
The Texans lost for just the second time this season on Monday night when the New England Patriots coasted to a 42-14 win in a matchup of the two top teams in the AFC. Tom Brady threw for four touchdowns as the Patriots (10-3) opened a 28-0 lead and ended Houston's (11-2) six-game winning streak.
"That's what it takes to get to where they've been for a long time," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "That's why they're where they're at: They've been making those plays. We've been making them a lot but we didn't tonight."
Matt Schaub completed 19 of 32 passes for 232 yards and was pulled in the fourth quarter with the game out of reach. He also threw an interception in the end zone when the Texans were only down by a touchdown; six plays later, the Patriots had gone 82 yards to make it 14-0.
New England started its next possession with a 31-yard punt return and marched the rest of the way in seven plays.
"We got our tails kicked," Kubiak said. "When you've got an opportunity to make a big play, you can't miss it against a team of this magnitude. We turned around and it was 21-0 pretty quick."
The Patriots reached the Super Bowl last year for the fifth time in 11 seasons, and they have already clinched this year's AFC East title. With their seventh straight victory, they and moved one game behind the Texans for the conference's top seed.
"It's a Monday night game," Brady said. "We have played in a lot of big games in December."
A matchup of the top two scoring teams in the league was a mismatch from the outset. It took New England only one possession to start its scoring barrage as the Patriots surpassed their average of 35.8 points per game.
"It needs to come together now, this is the perfect time for it," added Brady, who became a father for the third time last Wednesday when his wife, Gisele, gave birth to his first daughter, Vivian Lake.
"She is doing very well," Brady said. "It's been a great week, a great way to end it."
Wes Welker's 31-yard punt return and 25-yard reception – the 107th straight game he's had a catch – led to Aaron Hernandez's 7-yard score. That gave Brady 45 consecutive games with a TD pass, third longest in NFL history.
It also set the tone.
Houston, which had won six straight, threatened on its next series, only to have Schaub force a ball into double coverage in the Patriots' end zone. Devin McCourty picked it off and returned it 19 yards, setting up more pinpoint throws by Brady, who finished 21 of 35.
He couldn't miss if he tried, his receivers were so uncovered: Brandon Lloyd for 14 yards, Danny Woodhead for 18, Hernandez for 13, then Lloyd for the 37-yard TD to make it 14-0. Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips could only shake his head in disgust at his players' inability to challenge the Patriots.
It got worse. At the end of a 70-yard drive helped by a 26-yard interference call on Danieal Manning, no Texans were lined up to Brady's left in front of Hernandez. A quick snap, a quicker pass and the tight end waltzed into the end zone.
New England was headed for its 20th successive home win in December, and its 21st straight victory in the second half of the schedule.
"These guys feel really good about the way they played tonight and they should," coach Bill Belichick said.
Houston was headed back home wondering not only how it could measure up to a perennial championship contender in the future, but if it could hold off surging Indianapolis in the AFC South. The Texans have a two-game lead but face the Colts (9-4) on Sunday in Houston, then again in the season finale at Indianapolis.
Although the Texans have clinched at least a wild-card berth, they haven't had a truly convincing win since October. This was a convincing defeat, however – although they got on the scoreboard in the third quarter with an 88-yard drive capped by Arian Foster's 1-yard run.
By then the Patriots had their fourth TD, a gorgeous 63-yard throw to Donte' Stallworth, who was re-signed last week to replace the injured Julian Edelman. It gave Brady his 18th game with at least four TD passes, moving ahead of Hall of Famer John Unitas for fourth all time.
Brady nearly had a fifth as Woodhead broke free on a screen pass early in the fourth period. Texans standout defensive end J.J. Watt, who was pretty much invisible otherwise, forced a fumble, but the ball soared 11 yards into the end zone, where Lloyd fell on it for a 35-7 lead.
Stevan Ridley made it 42-7 with a 14-yard run. The Texans have allowed 42 points in both losses, the other coming against Green Bay on Oct. 14.
Texans backup quarterback T.J. Yates scored on a 1-yard run with 2:00 remaining to close the scoring.