- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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What it means: The Patriots (10-3) made a major statement by picking up their most impressive victory of the season on national television. The Texans (11-2) came in with the better record but certainly weren't ready for the big stage on "Monday Night Football." New England ransacked Houston, jumping out to a 28-0 lead early in the second half. New England improved to 23-1 at home in December since 2001. The Patriots hold the No. 2 seed in the AFC and now own the head-to-head tiebreaker over Houston, which remains one game ahead with three weeks remaining.
Brady dominates again: The big question coming into the game was whether Houston quarterback Matt Schaub could match Patriots' future Hall of Famer Tom Brady. The answer was no. Brady was his usual self in an important game. He started on fire, completing 11 of his first 13 passes for 154 yards and three touchdowns as the Patriots took a 21-0 lead. Brady finished with 296 yards and four touchdowns. Meanwhile Schaub, who has never won a playoff game, looked flustered. He started slowly and finished with 232 yards and an interception. Brady added another strong stamp on his case for this year's NFL MVP award.
Defense shows up: New England's defense has been inconsistent, but it appears the unit is turning the corner. It played one of its best games of the season, completely shutting out the Texans for nearly three quarters. Patriots defensive lineman and leader Vince Wilfork set the tone and finished with four tackles and a sack. New England controlled the line of scrimmage and shut down Houston's zone running scheme. The secondary also made plays, including an interception in the end zone by safety Devin McCourty.
Welker shy of 100: Patriots Pro Bowl receiver Wes Welker had a busy game. He replaced the injured Julian Edelman on punt returns and also caught three passes for 52 yards. Welker is five receptions shy of his fifth 100-catch season.
Lloyd and Stallworth sightings: New England starting receiver and free-agent signing Brandon Lloyd hasn't had the huge impact many expected. But Lloyd picked a good time to have a coming-out party. Lloyd caught a team-high seven passes for 89 yards, including a 37-yard touchdown in the first quarter. Lloyd easily ran past Texans No. 1 corner Johnathan Joseph for the score. The Patriots could use more plays like that from Lloyd down the stretch. Recent free-agent pickup Donte' Stallworth also caught a 63-yard touchdown pass from Brady in the third quarter.
What's next: The schedule does not let up for the Patriots. They will host the rugged and talented San Francisco 49ers (9-3-1) on Sunday in another prime-time game. San Francisco is 3-0 against the AFC East and will look to complete the season sweep versus the Patriots.