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Monday, December 10, 2012

Well I Guess We Know Who The Best Team In The AFC Is After Monday Night

It's no wonder that we (Patriots fans) are all honks and lunatics that are despised by the rest of the country. Really though, how are you supposed to act when one team spoils us so many times in one magical decade? What was billed as the AFC game of the year turned out to be no contest as New England (10-3, 5-1 home) blew the doors off Houston (11-2, 6-1 away) 42-14 at Gillette Stadium in Monday Night Football.

This wasn't your garden variety Patriots beating since the Texans are the top team in the AFC and they had been unbeaten on road this season. Somehow the team that called this "the biggest game in their franchise's history" didn't manage to show up for it. New England won their seventh straight game overall and their 20th consecutive home game in December. Thanks to global warming, Houston didn't even get treated to proper weather since it was 59 degrees at kickoff.

Tom Brady (21 of 35, 296 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INT), Brandon Lloyd (7 catches, 89 yards, 2 TDs) and Stevan Ridley (18 carries, 72 yards, TD) were collectively much better than Matt Schaub (19 of 32, 232 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT), Andre Johnson (8 catches, 95 yards) and Arian Foster (15 carries, 46 yards, TD; 4 catches, 39 yards). As we all know, football is a team game and while those numbers were great for New England, what was even more impressive was their fast start and excellent defensive effort.

Vince Wilfork (4 tackles, 3 solo, sack, tackle for loss, pass defensed) and Jerod Mayo (7 tackles, 6 solo, tackle for loss, 2 quarterback hits) were the best defensive players on the field which is saying something since Houston defensive end J.J. Watt (4 tackles, 2 solo, 3 quarterback hits) will likely by the NFL Defensive Player of the Year this season. Houston had no answers for those two or Dont'a Hightower (6 tackles, 5 solo, 2 tackles for loss, 2 quarterback hits), Devon McCourty (5 tackles, 5 solo, tackle for loss, pass defensed, interception) and Rob Ninkovich (5 tackles, 2 solo, .5 sack, 1 quarterback hit) for that matter.

The final outcome was never really in question as the Pats jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, 21-0 advantage in the second quarter and the Texans didn't get on the board until the third quarter when Foster's 1-yard run cut it to 28-7. Ridley fumbled near the goalline on New England's first drive but Aaron Hernandez (8 catches, 58 yards) recovered it and caught a 7-yard touchdown on the next play. Fortune later shone on the Patriots in the fourth quarter when Danny Woodhead fumbled (after Watt punched the ball out) following a nice catch and run but it went to the end zone, right to Lloyd.

Lloyd caught a 37-yard touchdown on a beautiful play action fake by Brady. That made it 14-0 and Hernandez added a 4-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter. One of the more ironic parts is that after that score, the Texans defense actually held the Patriots in check for a while. They punted four times in a row (including three 3-and-outs to start) but all was forgiven when Brady hit Donte' Stallworth for 63-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter.

That was Stallworth's first grab of the season and most impressively, it was caught one-handed while the cornerback was all over him in coverage. Ridley's 14-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter made it 42-7 before Texans backup quarterback T.J. Yates had a 1-yard touchdown run in garbage time.

Houston still has the inside track on the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs but this game had to give New England so much confidence. They destroyed what had been (record wise) the best team in the NFL and made the road to home-field and at least a No. 2 seed very possible. If the Patriots win out and the Texans slip up once more, bingo they are No. 1.

The Niners (9-3-1, 1st NFC West) come to Gillette Stadium on Sunday night (8:20 p.m., NBC) for another primetime matchup with one of the NFL's top teams. After a short week and given that this wasn't even competitive, the law of averages would tell you that game will be much closer. Then again, after tonight's beating, it's impossible to predict how well the Patriots can play/how poorly a legitimate contender performs. The other main point for New England against San Francisco is that the Niners represent the last good team that they will see until January. The Pats could beat the Jaguars and Dolphins in their sleep so they might as well empty the tank (within reason) this week.

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