FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (Dec. 17, 2006) -- Ellis Hobbs needed 12 seconds on his kickoff return to leave behind his pursuers and memories of the Patriots' worst loss of the season.
That's how long it took him to run 93 yards for a touchdown on the play after the Houston Texans' only touchdown. New England went on to a 40-7 victory one week after a 21-0 loss at Miami.
"It was the antithesis of last week," said Tom Brady, who threw two touchdown passes. "There was really enthusiasm right from the start."
The Patriots (10-4) led 27-0 at halftime, their biggest margin at intermission in 59 games, but Ron Dayne scored on a 1-yard run on the Texans' first series of the third quarter.
"You want to respond," Hobbs said. "You don't want (their) offense to get momentum, feel like they can do something. That's a big downer for them, a big morale lifter for us."
The Texans (4-10) had hoped their best drive of the game could get them back in it. But Hobbs followed a block he hoped Willie Andrews would make -- attributing it to "telekinesis" between the two.
"I guess he just read my mind and got over there and hit him," said Hobbs, whose interception later in the third quarter led to the third of Stephen Gostkowski's four field goals in four attempts.
"We came out in the third quarter and finally executed," Houston coach Gary Kubiak said, "but then Hobbs had the kick return, and it went right back to where it started."
After a six-week stretch in which the Patriots were 3-3 with 19 turnovers, they committed no turnovers against the Texans while forcing David Carr into four interceptions. They can clinch the AFC East title Dec. 24 with a victory at Jacksonville.
In the first half, Kevin Faulk scored on an 11-yard run and a 43-yard play on a screen pass, and Brady threw another touchdown pass, covering 6 yards to Jabar Gaffney. The defense had four sacks and three interceptions and held the Texans to 76 yards in the first two quarters.
"It was one of the worst professional performances I've ever been part of," Houston defensive tackle Anthony Maddox said. "We played like trash."
Benjamin Watson, New England's top pass catcher, missed the game with a knee injury, and nose tackle Vince Wilfork sat out with an ankle injury. Safety Rodney Harrison, recovering from a broken shoulder blade, missed his sixth game, and running back Lawrence Maroney was sidelined for his second successive game with torn rib cartilage.
The Patriots didn't miss them. Hobbs replaced Maroney on kickoff returns and Mike Wright had a sack while replacing Wilfork.
Maybe coach Bill Belichick's unusually demanding approach to practice last week paid off. He even reminded his players the Patriots were the only team that hadn't scored on defense or special teams.
"At least we won't have to listen to that this week," Brady said.
Not on Monday, anyway. Belichick gave his players the day off for the second time because of a victory, the other after a 17-13 victory against Chicago on Nov. 26.
The Texans were coming off a good performance in a 26-20 overtime loss to surging Tennessee. But they managed only one touchdown one play before Hobbs scored.
That "took the wind out of us," Houston cornerback Dexter McCleon said.
The Patriots led 17-0 after one quarter on Faulk's touchdowns and Gostkowski's 36-yard field goal. Gostkowski added a 32-yarder and Brady threw a 6-yard scoring pass to Gaffney 1:11 before intermission.
"I let myself get out of the game plan," Carr said. "We were so far behind, I started to try and make plays that weren't there."
The Patriots committed only two penalties after having 23 the previous three weeks.
"Our main goal," Hobbs said, was that "we would not cost us the game. They would have to beat us today and any time we could get to situations where we have to make them beat us, it's very hard to beat us."
Brady was replaced by Matt Cassel midway through the fourth quarter and Vinny Testaverde went in for Cassel later. Brady threw for only 109 yards after being held to 78 a week earlier. This week, though, he didn't need any more.
"There's no way in the world they were going to play that way" again, Houston safety Jason Simmons said. "Tom Brady wouldn't let them."
The last time the Patriots led by at least 27 points at halftime was on Dec. 27, 2003 when they were ahead 28-0 en route to a 31-0 victory against Buffalo.
On Houston's scoring drive, Carr went 4-for-4 and Dayne ran six times for 34 yards.
Asante Samuel's NFL-leading eighth interception led to Gostkowski's 21-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.
Each team rushed for 105 yards.
The Associated Press News Service
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