The New England Patriots crushed the conference-leading Houston Texans 42-14 in an American Football Conference (AFC) showdown to re-establish themselves as the Super Bowl favorites on Monday.
Tom Brady tossed three of his four touchdown (TD) passes in the first half, where the home Patriots grabbed a 21-0 lead by halftime, and the New England defense flexed their muscle to deliver a seventh straight victory.
“Hopefully we can use this as something to build on and try to move forward,” Brady said. “I thought defensively we played well, we ran the ball and made big plays in the passing game when we needed to.”
The Patriots (10-3), who won last season’s AFC title, moved within a game of Houston for the conference lead. The Texans (11-2) had their six-game winning streak snapped and were humbled as they tried to snatch the reign away from New England.
The Patriots set the tone by scoring touchdowns on their first three drives, with Aaron Hernandez catching a pair of TD passes, while Brandon Lloyd hauled in a 37-yard score.
Running back Arian Foster, who was held to just 46 yards rushing, had a one-yard score to make it 28-7 in the third, but Houston would get no closer.
Brady finished with 296 yards passing and led two more New England TDs in the fourth, where the Texans scored in the final couple minutes to lighten the blowout.
It was a comprehensive triumph for the Patriots, who showed they can excel in all aspects. Running back Stevan Ridley even got in on the action with 72 yards and a touchdown, his sixth straight game with a score.
“We have a lot of things we can do because of the talent we have and what guys bring to the table,” Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork said. “The coaches do a good job of seeing that and using it.”
Matt Schaub threw for 232 yards for the Texans, but was mostly ineffective playing from behind the entire night.
“We got our tails kicked,” Texans coach Gary 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.”
Houston had their lead in the AFC South trimmed to two games over Indianapolis as they host the Colts on Sunday and try to rebuild their status as true contenders.
Meanwhile, AFC North division-leading Baltimore Ravens fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron following two consecutive defeats, the NFL team said on Monday.
In an unusual move for a 9-4 team poised to clinch their division title, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said he elevated quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell to offensive coordinator and relieved Cameron of his duties.
“It’s not about fair or unfair, right or wrong,” Harbaugh said in a statement. “My responsibility is to the whole team and what’s best for them right now. We need a change. Our plan and our goals are to win games, win our division and get to the playoffs.”
Despite losing their last two games, a 31-28 overtime loss to the Washington Redskins on Sunday that followed a 23-20 defeat by the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Ravens hold a two-game lead in the AFC North with three games left to play.
The Ravens rank 18th out of 32 teams in overall offense and ninth in points scored.
Caldwell, who formerly was head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, has never served as an offensive coordinator or called the plays, tasks he will now take over, according to Harbaugh.
“My charge — our responsibility as a coaching staff — is to maximize the opportunities for our team to win, and we can still reach all of our goals for this season,” Harbaugh said. “What’s important now is to find ways to get better, win the AFC North and advance to the playoffs.”
Baltimore, holding a two-game lead over the Steelers and Bengals, host the Denver Broncos (10-3) next week, followed by the New York Giants (8-5) before closing the regular season at Cincinnati (7-6) on Dec. 30.
Cameron, who was in his fifth season with the Ravens, has often come under criticism for the lack of consistency of the offense and for play-calling that seemed to frustrate quarterback Joe Flacco and all-purpose running back Ray Rice.
Harbaugh said making the late-season move was difficult for him to do on personal terms.
“There is a very human side to this,” he said. “Cam is my friend, he taught me a lot about coaching and he is an outstanding coach. Personally, this is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do as a coach.”