The New England Patriots crushed the conference-leading Houston Texans 42-14 in an AFC showdown to re-establish themselves as the Super Bowl favorites on Monday.
Tom Brady tossed three of his four touchdown 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 told reporters. "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," said Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork. "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," said Texans coach Gary Kubiak. "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.
(Writing by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles; editing by Amlan Chakraborty)