At 8:29 p.m. EST on Monday, December 12, the Houston Texans were Super Bowl contenders and the best team in the AFC.
By 9:30 p.m. EST on Monday, December 12, the Houston Texans were a team in serious trouble and the second-best team on the field.
For the Texans it was another prime-time meltdown for their vaunted defense, mimicking a 42-24 shellacking by the Green Bay Packers in Week 6. It was also the third time in four games the Texans surrendered at least 30 points.
Brady went to work early and often on the Texans, throwing for touchdowns on each of the first three Patriots possessions.
Matt Schaub was unable to answer the challenge, throwing a costly interception in the end zone and failing on consecutive 4th-and-short plays in the second quarter.
Though the Texans got pressure on Brady throughout the game, he repeatedly burned their depleted secondary with an array of passes. Four different Patriots receivers had at least 50 yards receiving and three different Pats caught touchdowns from Brady.
Houston was forced to abandon the run as the score spiraled out of control. As a result, its huge weakness at wide receiver was exposed. Though Andre Johnson had a big game (eight catches for 95 yards), no other Texan had more than 40 yards receiving.
The limitations of the Texans offense showed up at the worst possible time. On consecutive drives, the Texans penetrated the New England 40, but both ended with incomplete passes to Kevin Walter, who was unable to corral one Schaub offering and couldn't get open fast enough on a second.
By failing to score in the first half, the Texans left the door open for Brady to blow the game open in the second half.
Before the third quarter was done, he had tacked on a 63-yard bomb to Donte' Stallworth to extend the cushion to an insurmountable 28 points.
In all phases of the game, the Texans were exposed as inferior to the defending AFC champions. The Patriots bottled up the Houston run game and neutralized their pass rush.
The loss still leaves the Texans a full game up on the Pats for the top overall seed, and a game and a tiebreak up over the Broncos.
Houston has no time to lick wounds or soothe its smarting confidence. The loss also throws the AFC South title into doubt, at least for a week.
The 9-4 Indianapolis Colts will travel to Houston in Week 15, marking the first of two meetings between the two teams in the final three weeks of the season.
A victory would secure a second consecutive AFC South title for Houston and guarantee it a home playoff game.
Though unlikely, a loss would further erode the reputation of what once looked to be the best team in the AFC and cast their postseason battle plan into temporary disarray.