Texans vs. Patriots: New England's Biggest Winners and Losers from Week 14
The Texans and Patriots do not share a poisonous past. Any connection or rivalry between them is based on merit; they're simply the best at what they do, which is why they'll spend the next few years standing in each other's way.
Houston and New England have become the yardsticks by which all other teams are measured, which is why the eyes of the sporting world belonged to them on Monday Night Football.
But interestingly enough, the game wasn't close at all.
New England won 42-14. Amazingly, that score doesn't even do the demolition justice. In the process, the Patriots elevated their record to 10-3 and took one more step toward controlling their destiny.
Here are New England's biggest winners and losers from Monday Night Football.
Winner: Tom Brady
Tom Brady knew the Texans better than anyone on the Texans knew the Patriots. He was the most prepared player of the game, which is how he managed to dictate the tone of the entire competition.
Brady flawlessly threaded the ball through Houston's top-shelf ball swatters, carving up their complex resistance like strips of schnitzel.
Toward the end of the first quarter, Brady orchestrated a magnificent drive which saw a 14-yard laser to Brandon Lloyd, an 18-yard chunk to Danny Woodhead, a 13-yarder to Aaron Hernandez and a 37-yard touchdown bomb to Lloyd.
Later, as the final seconds of the third quarter ticked away, Brady slid for a first down. He hopped to his feet and let out a passionate, blood-curdling war cry and emphatically motioned for the first down. He was electrifying. The crowd went crazy. That was the point at which Houston truly broke.
Brady finished the game with 296 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions. Rarely has he ever looked more fearless and more in control of his game. Simply amazing.
Give the man his third MVP award.
Loser: Stevan Ridley
New England opened its first drive with a first down from Stevan Ridley. It seemed as if we were in store for another 100-yard display of dominance from this newly-minted 1,000-yard rusher.
But instead, Monday proved to be a mixed bag for Ridley, with his 72 yards and his touchdown heavily eclipsed by his goal-line fumble. That kind of mistake will surely raise the issue of ball security, which has plagued Ridley throughout his career.
This isn't the time of the year when you want to inspire doubt in your coaches, or worse, in yourself.
Expect Ridley to bounce back next week with a huge game.
Winner: Aaron Hernandez
Aaron Hernandez's contributions on Monday night were essential. His contagious enthusiasm, coupled with his perfectly timed catches and his early pair of scores, got the ball rolling and laid the groundwork for New England's blowout.
While Tom Brady was the architect of the demolition, Hernandez was most certainly the man who started the fire.
Early in the first quarter, Hernandez recovered Stevan Ridley's fumble at the goal line, saving New England's drive. On the next play, Hernandez floated out of the backfield for a seemingly effortless catch and a touchdown.
From that point forward, the Patriots never looked back. Hernandez gave them an unbeatable aura and set the tone for an epic victory.
Loser: Danny Woodhead
Danny Woodhead had a quiet game on Monday night, finishing with one rush for four yards, two catches for 34 yards and no touchdowns.
In the fourth quarter, Woodhead had a spectacular 16-yard run in which he displayed his arsenal of clever angles and shake-and-bake moves. But the sensation didn't last, as J.J. Watt poked the ball out of Woodhead's hands and caused a fumble.
New England recovered the ball and managed to capitalize on the mistake, but Woodhead still walked away from this game with some negative traits to improve on.
Winner: Brandon Lloyd
In the first quarter, Brandon Lloyd caught a 37-yard play-action bomb from Tom Brady. It was Lloyd's longest pickup and his most dramatic score of the season.
After that play, Lloyd joyously celebrated with Brady. It was the celebration we were waiting for. Patriots fans everywhere enjoyed the moment.
Lloyd had a very impressive game, finishing with seven catches for 89 yards. Those yards came at very timely instances and left a huge impact on the flow of the game.
Lloyd also made a beautiful heads-up play in the fourth quarter, recovering Danny Woodhead's fumble and diving into the end zone for his second score of the game.
Lloyd showed us a little bit (or a lot) of everything on Monday night, displaying his silky-smooth skill, his speed, his alertness, his attention to detail, his enthusiasm and his hunger to win.
This guy is everything we hoped he'd be, it just took him a while to get here.
Winner & Loser: The Offensive Line
This one can go either way.
On one hand, Tom Brady was only sacked once all evening. That's a powerful testament to this offensive line, which continues to overachieve and play with immense pride.
On the other hand, the offensive line started allowing J.J. Watt to record some quarterback hits on Brady in the second half. For a stretch there, it got physical.
Watt's intrusion ultimately proved to be ineffective, as the contact only made Brady more focused and caused him to start shoving daggers into Houston's heart. After that, the hits stopped.
Brady's end-to-end domination tilts the offensive line's performance toward the winner's column, despite a few missteps regarding Nate Solder's decision-making and Sebastian Vollmer's edge presence.
Overall, a solid effort from the unit.
Winner: Donte' Stallworth
Donte' Stallworth had the play of the game with a dazzling one-handed catch, a full-fledged sprint and a leaping stretch forward to complete a sensational 63-yard touchdown.
Not bad for a guy who just re-signed with the team last week.
Stallworth was brought back to New England to fill the void left by Julian Edelman's absence. Edelman was a fan favorite who was finally showing signs of becoming a prime contributor for the team, so it's only fitting that his injury was a devastating punch to our collective gut.
Stallworth's incredible touchdown doesn't erase the pain of Edelman's absence, but it helps to frame the larger picture of a team in pursuit of a world championship. No matter who's injured or who's healthy, the Patriots can still blow out anybody, even the Houston Texans.
Winning is all that matters.
Winner: New England's Secondary
Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard and Steve Gregory contained Andre Johnson all night with tight coverage and timely tackles. They held Ben Tate to 46 rushing yards. Arian Foster never got going.
Quarterback Matt Schaub threw a red-zone interception to Devin McCourty. He threw zero touchdowns.
This was a sensational collective effort from these defensive backs, who are cultivating a bit of a "misfit persona." Their chemistry is pushing their execution to greater heights.
Losers: Injured Players
Aqib Talib banged up his hip in the first half, causing Alfonzo Dennard to switch the focus of his coverage to Andre Johnson. Later, Dennard suffered a hamstring injury and didn't finish the game.
Fellow defensive back Kyle Arrington ended the game with a bit of a limp, which has undoubtedly set the ball rolling for an entire week of worrying about the core health of New England's secondary.
These are situations to watch out for.
Winners: Vince Wilfork and Kyle Arrington
Vince Wilfork was the defensive player of the game. He plugged up the middle and walled off lanes to prevent Houston's run game from catching fire. He single-handedly moved piles of grown men, collapsing the pocket, swatting passes and collecting a sack in the process.
While Wilfork was busy containing Arian Foster and Matt Schaub, Kyle Arrington was busy being the most energetic defender on the field. He broke up Schaub's third-down pass to Lestar Jean, curtailing Houston's opening drive and swinging some early momentum in New England's favor.
Later, when Houston went for it on fourth down, Arrington broke up the pass. Arrington's stunning stop was followed by a massive display of emotion which electrified the team and the crowd.
Arrington kept his mojo going, making another crisp third-down tackle, continuing to elevate the energy of the stadium as the game unfolded.
Wilfork and Arrington set the tone on Monday night. They were true leaders who deserve a ton of credit.
Well done, fellas.