FOXBORO, Mass. – **Few NFL teams have been as dominant over the past decade as the New England Patriots, who have collected three Super Bowl titles since 2001.
On Sunday, the Texans discovered firsthand why the Patriots have developed such a reputation after New England jumped out to a 27-0 halftime lead en route to a commanding 40-7 victory at Gillette Stadium.
"I am extremely disappointed," head coach Gary Kubiak said following the Texans' 10th loss of the season. "We were out-coached, out-played. We got our (tails) kicked in every phase of the game. There are no excuses. That's on me. We definitely weren't ready to do our jobs."
In the finale of one of the most unforgiving eight-game stretches in franchise history – the team has played six road games since Oct. 29 – the Texans totaled four giveaways and allowed four sacks on offense, while allowing a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown on special teams.
Forced to defend a short field many times, the Texans' defense rose to the challenge in allowing only three touchdowns and forcing the Patriots to kick four field goals. New England and Houston finished with 105 net rushing yards apiece.
The difference was in the turnovers. Quarterback David Carr threw four interceptions, while the closest the Patriots got to a giveaway was a tipped pass that fell through the hands of cornerback Demarcus Faggins in the second quarter.
"The defense was playing great, and we were trying to run the ball a little bit," Carr said. "And then once (New England) got up two or three scores, I just got out of my game plan. I just started trying to make plays that weren't there, and, honestly, that we're not capable of making yet. I was just trying to do too much."
The Patriots began the game with the ball, but punted from their 45-yard line after quarterback Tom Brady's third down pass bounced off the hands of former Texans wide receiver Jabar Gaffney.
The Texans' offense began its first possession on the 33-yard line following cornerback Dexter Wynn's 14-yard punt return. Running back Ron Dayne gained nine yards on the first three plays from scrimmage, leading to a punt situation. Safety Jason Simmons was stopped for no gain on the Texans' first fake punt of the season, giving New England possession at the Houston 42.
"I give Jason the freedom (to run there), if he gets the look he wants," Kubiak said. "It was about half a yard and he'd done it all year. We called it off a couple times. They had (Larry) Izzo in there. We felt good that we could get a half a yard, but it didn't work out that way. It looked like Izzo made a hell of a play. That's not Jason's fault. He did what we coached him to do, it just didn't work out.
"We should have gotten the first down the play before. We never should have been in that situation. We tried to be aggressive, tried to do some things to create some momentum. Against a team like that, it backfires and it started going the wrong way."
The Patriots put together a seven-play, 42-yard scoring drive behind 22 rushing yards on two carries from running back Corey Dillon. Faulk dove over the goal line for an 11-yard touchdown to help put the Patriots ahead 7-0 with 8:06 left in the first quarter.
On the first snap of the ensuing series, Carr's pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage by defensive tackle Richard Seymour, who picked up the interception on the deflection at the Houston 24. Four plays later, rookie Stephen Gostkowski booted a 36-yard field goal to stretch the Patriots' lead to 10-0.
Rookie wideout David Anderson got the offense going with a 27-yard reception on his first career catch to begin the next series. Four plays later, Carr's pass intended for wide receiver Eric Moulds was tipped by linebacker Tedy Bruschi and intercepted by safety James Sanders, who returned the pick 21 yards to the Houston 44.
New England's lead grew to 17-0 after Brady found Faulk open on a screen pass for a 43-yard touchdown with 3:40 remaining in the first quarter.
The Patriots began their sixth series of the game near the start of the second quarter at the Houston 31 after long snapper Bryan Pittman was penalized 15 yards for unnecessary roughness on the punt return. After Brady's third down pass intended for wide receiver Troy Brown fell incomplete, Gostkowski kicked a 32-yard field goal to make the score 20-0.
Carr was sacked for a 13-yard loss on the first play of the next drive. Three plays later, Chad Stanley punted for the third time of the game, and Faulk returned it 11 yards to the Houston 34.
Defensive end Jason Babin collected his team-leading, and career-high, fifth sack of the season when he brought down Brady for a four-yard loss on first down. A false start penalty on tackle Logan Mankins led to the Patriots' third punt with 6:53 remaining before halftime.
New England capitalized off another Houston punt later in the second quarter, when Brady found Gaffney for a six-yard touchdown pass to stretch the lead to 27-0 following Gostkowski's extra point. A 36-yard pass interference penalty on cornerback Dunta Robinson moved the Patriots into Texans' territory to set up the scoring pass.
Starting off the third quarter, the Texans' offense marched into New England territory behind 41 total yards from Dayne, who rushed for a one-yard touchdown to cap the 10-play, 70-yard drive. Dayne finished with a game-high 94 rushing yards, and has 276 yards rushing in the last three games, giving him the best three-game stretch of his career.
"Ronnie's been doing some good stuff," Kubiak said. "He plays hard. He's a load to bring down. He's got a couple runs I think he can run better. I think we should be on the field that first drive, and I told him that. But he has done some good things."
New England responded to Dayne's score with cornerback Ellis Hobbs' 93-yard touchdown return to make the score 34-7 with 9:37 left in the third quarter.
Hobbs made another play on the ball with 3:05 left in the third quarter when he intercepted Carr's pass intended for wide receiver Andre Johnson at the Houston 38 and returned it nine yards. Gostkowski nailed a 31-yarder for his third field goal of the game to reward the takeaway and give the Patriots a 37-7 lead.
On the second play of the next possession, Carr's pass to tight end Owen Daniels was picked off by cornerback Asante Samuel, who scampered 33 yards before stepping out of bounds at the five-yard line. It was the Patriots' fourth interception of the game, and it set up another field goal by Gostkowski, who converted a 21-yard try to give the Patriots a 40-7 advantage with 12:03 left in the contest.
Kubiak was as frustrated as he's ever been following the lopsided defeat.
"There's some pride in that locker room," Kubiak said. "I've said it before, I'll say it again. There are good guys in that locker room that are fighting like hell. They're extremely disappointed. They're going to fight. They'll get ready to play."