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Take Two-sday: Patriots D holds its ground

Special teams failures had played a big role in the Patriots ultra-rare post-Thanksgiving two-game losing streak.

A Chris Harper muffed punt in Denver gave the Broncos an opening which they galloped through for an eventual overtime win.

And a blocked punt against the Eagles was one of a handful of big plays allowed in the surprising upset of the year in the NFL to date.

So even with the Patriots holding a 20-6 advantage Sunday night in Houston, Keyshawn Martin's muffed punt to give the Texans possession and life at the Patriots 21 could have been a case of nightmarish déjà vu.

Could have been, but thanks to the Patriots defense it was not.

Taking over within 1 yard of its furthest advancement all night, Houston's offense got a quick 7-yard pass from Brian Hoyer to DeAndre Hopkins, though it looked like it could have ended in a fumble thanks to Jamie Collins and Jerod Mayo had the whistle not blown.

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It appeared the Texans might be poised to take full advantage of the turnover and cut it to a one-score game nearing the midpoint of the third quarter.

But that's when the defense for New England said, 'No this time. Not this night."

Houston tried a Wildcat direct snap to Jonathan Grimes that resulted in a 1-yard loss thanks to Alan Branch and Rob Ninkovich, with Branch's penetration and pursuit killing the call.

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That was followed by a Malcolm Butler pass defense, his tight coverage and late swat at the ball knocking away Nate Washington's would-be touchdown.

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With Houston being aggressive and deciding to go for the fourth-and-4 from the 15, New England's defense needed one more play and it got just that from an unfamiliar source. Newcomer Leonard Johnson, with the team less than a week, trailed Texans tight end Ryan Griffin in tight coverage and knocked the ball right at the first-down marker.

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Turnover on downs. An end to the Texans greatest touchdown threat of the day. And ensuring that special teams fumbles and bumbles would not lead to another late-season loss.

A defense that's been better than most expected had one of its best nights on Sunday in Houston. It held the Texans to a mere six first downs, six points on two field goals, just 189 total yards and played a huge role in getting New England back on track.

It did the job best when it was needed the most on the way to a 27-6 victory to ensure there would be no upset on this night.

And that's just the kind of performance that's worthy of a Take Two-sday second-look as the Patriots clinched a playoff spot and as of Monday night's Dolphins loss a record-tying seventh-straight AFC East division title.

This week, the Patriots defensive put the "D" in division title.

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