FOXBORO -- Tom Brady threw a pair of touchdown passes to Aaron Hernandez and hit Brandon Lloyd and Donte' Stallworth for long TD strikes as the Patriots blew out the Texans, 42-14, in the much-anticipated Monday night showdown at a balmy Gillette Stadium. The Patriots are now 10-3 and keep the inside track for the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs. They are also now just one game behind the 11-2 Texans for the top seed in the AFC, with wins now over Houston and Denver.
It was Brady's 18th career game of at least four touchdown passes, tying Johnny Unitas for fourth-most in NFL history. Brady finished 21-of-35 for 296 yards and four touchdowns. Arian Foster was held to 46 yards on just 15 carries. Lloyd had a big game, catching five passes on seven targets, including a 37-yard TD pass from Brady and recovered a fumble in the end zone for another touchdown as the Patriots won their seventh straight game in convincing fashion.
Wanting to prove a point, the Patriots came out on fire, scoring touchdowns the first three times they had the ball.
After forcing the Texans to punt on the game's first possession, Brady marched the Patriots 56 yards in just seven plays, capped by a Brady 7-yard swing pass to Hernandez in the left flat for an easy touchdown. Just a play earlier, Hernandez made a game-changing save, as he recovered Stevan Ridley's fumble on a run up the middle at the Houston 4. The TD pass extended Brady's streak of TD passes to 45 games, the longest active streak in the NFL.
With the Texans driving for answering score, Matt Schaub threw an ill-advised pass intended for Kevin Walter in the end zone. Devin McCourty read the play perfectly and picked off the pass at the goal line. Starting at the New England 18, Brady took advantage of the momentum and drove the team 82 yards. The drive ended on a play-action fake to the right from the Houston 37, as Brady hit a wide-open Brandon Lloyd in stride at the 10 for Lloyd's fourth touchdown of the season.
After another Houston punt, Brady opened the second quarter by driving the Patriots 70 yards in eight plays, ending on a quick 4-yard pass to Hernandez for a 21-0 lead. The key play on the drive was a 26-yard pass interference call against Danieal Manning on Wes Welker.
The Texans finally showed some life by forcing three punts on New England's next three possessions but couldn't capitalize as two of their drives ended on incomplete passes on fourth down in New England territory. Brady finished the first half 13-of-19 for 165 yards and three TDs for a quarterback rating of 134.9. The only bit of bad news in the first half was a hip injury suffered by Aqib Talib on a pass breakup late in the second quarter. He returned to the Patriots sideline early in the third quarter.
After punting for a fourth straight game to open the third quarter, Brady hit Donte' Stallworth for a 63-yard bomb and Stallworth won a footrace to the end zone for his first TD in a Patriots uniform since 2007, putting the Patriots up, 28-0. Stallworth was signed this week after a season-ending foot injury to Julian Edelman.
The Texans finally responded with an 88-yard drive in seven plays, capped by a 1-yard TD run by Arian Foster but the game was long decided. Symbolic of the night the Patriots had, Brady completed a swing pass to Danny Woodhead, who ran down to the Houston 11. J.J. Watt was trailing the play from behind and punched it out. The ball flew in the air and Lloyd caught it in the end zone for a 35-7 lead with 14:15 left in the game. The Patriots final score of the night came on a 14-yard run up the middle by Ridley, who ran essentially untouched into the end zone.
The Patriots, who last week clinched the AFC East, now have just five days to get ready for their second big December primetime test, the San Francisco 49ers Sunday night at Gillette Stadium. For complete coverage from the team of Chris Price and Mike Petraglia at Gillette Stadium, visit the Patriots page at weei.com/patriots  and the blog It Is What It Is .