8:30 PM ET, December 10, 2012
Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, MA
With a two-game lead on the rest of the AFC, the Houston Texans could go a long way toward proving they're the team to beat this week.
The New England Patriots, though, certainly aren't ready to concede the conference they've represented in the Super Bowl five times in the last 11 years.
These powers each bring a six-game winning streak into Monday night's showdown in Foxborough, where Houston will put its unblemished road record on the line against the AFC East champions.
The Texans (11-1) and Patriots (9-3) have met only three times before -- once at New England, where Houston lost 40-7 in 2006 -- but a new rivalry could be about to develop, with the chance of a more important matchup in the upcoming playoffs.
"You've got one of the all-time great leaders in football from a coaching standpoint and a quarterback standpoint," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. "You know you're going to have to raise your level of play and play as good as you can possibly play. That's why we do what we do. It is a big challenge, but I know our football team will be looking forward to it."
In the franchise's first postseason appearance last season, Houston came close to earning a date with the Patriots in the AFC title game, but lost to Baltimore in the divisional round. Now, with Matt Schaub healthy and star defensive end J.J. Watt helping his unit overcome a slew of injuries, the Texans have taken another step forward.
They've shown their mettle with six road wins in as many trips, including games at Denver and Chicago.
With four contests still to play, they already have set a single-season franchise record with 11 victories following last Sunday's 24-10 win at Tennessee. Schaub threw a pair of touchdown passes and Watt had two sacks along with his 14th and 15th passes defensed, giving him more than twice as many as any other defensive lineman.
"He's an incredible player," Brady said. "He does pretty much everything for them."
Belichick joked that the Patriots would use brooms in practice to simulate Watt's long arms. The Texans may need their pass rush to disrupt Brady given the injuries in their secondary, with cornerback Brice McCain out and All-Pro Johnathan Joseph day to day after missing the last two games with a hamstring injury.
Houston has allowed an average of 352.0 passing yards the last three weeks, a troubling trend before facing New England's high-powered attack.
"It's Monday and it's scary so I'm sure it's going to be real scary getting toward the end of the week," Kubiak said at the beginning of the week. "We know we're going to play a great player and one of the top passing games in the business for a long, long time."
The Patriots' offense was relatively quiet last weekend, but the team still beat Miami 23-16 to clinch its ninth division title in 10 years. Brady threw his first interception in six games and the Patriots gained a season-low 321 yards, but their 26th-ranked defense held the Dolphins to 277.
"When (the) offense struggles, it's a chance for us to showcase how special we are on the defensive end," tackle Vince Wilfork said. "Offense is OK to have a bad game here and there. They've done so much for us and one thing we want to do around here is we always want to play as a team."
With New England already adjusting to tight end Rob Gronkowski's absence, wide receiver Julian Edelman was lost for the season last week due to a foot injury. The Patriots re-signed receiver Donte' Stallworth on Tuesday.
The last time the Patriots faced Houston, Welker tore his left ACL and MCL in a 34-27 loss in Week 17 of the 2009 season.
That game meant little to a New England team that had already clinched the East. Monday's contest is very significant if the Patriots hope to secure a first-round bye and perhaps home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
A win would pull them within one game of Houston while also giving them the tiebreaker, while a loss would all but lock up the No. 1 seed for the Texans, who would then have victories over all the other division leaders in the conference.
"This game is hugely important to our season," Brady said. "It's an AFC opponent that's 11-1. ... I think for us as a team, there's not really much more you could ask for than that: to play Monday Night Football in December against one of the best teams in the NFL and see what we're capable of."
The Patriots are 10-1 in their last 11 Monday night contests, with the wins coming by an average of more than 20 points.
More from ESPN.com
Brady leads all players in Pro Bowl fan balloting
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's 342,471 votes lead all players in fan balloting for the 2016 NFL Pro Bowl.
Woodson among 32 sportsmanship nominees
Veterans Charles Woodson, Philip Rivers and Calvin Johnson are among 32 players nominated for the Art Rooney Award that honors sportsmanship in the NFL.
Texans-Patriots: What to watch
After watching film of both teams, Scouts Inc. breaks down key elements of the Week 14 Texans-Patriots matchup.
• Covering up defensive deficiencies: Injuries and inconsistent play have haunted the back end of these defenses, especially versus the pass, so the pressure applied by the guys up front is key. Houston has a lot of injuries in the secondary and is especially thin at corner. If the Patriots can spread the field on offense, the Texans might not have the personnel to keep New England contained. If either QB -- Matt Schaub or Tom Brady -- has time to sit in the pocket, expect a lot of big plays.
Recent Blog Posts
|Avg Points Allowed||20.2||21.1|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||HOU|
|Rush Yds Allowed||HOU|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|New England leads 4-1|
|Jan 3, 2010||HOU 34, NE 27|
|Dec 17, 2006||HOU 7, @NE 40|
|Nov 23, 2003||HOU 20, NE 23|
From Elias: The Texans and Patriots both come in with 6-game win streaks. It's just the 6th time since 1980 (and the first time since Patriots-Colts in 2007) that BOTH teams enter a game on a win streak of 6-or-more games. TEAMS MEETING SINCE 1980 BOTH ON WIN STREAKS OF 6+ GAMES Winner Tonight Texans (6) at Patriots (6) ? 2007 Patriots (8) at Colts (7) Patriots 2004 Steelers (13) at Bills (6) Steelers 2004 Chargers (8) at Colts (7) Colts 1984 Seahawks (6) at Broncos (10) Seahawks 1980 Raiders (6) at Eagles (7) Eagles > Source: Elias Sports Bureau
Tom Brady and the Patriots host the 11-1 Texans tonight. It's the 4th time in his career that Brady will face a team AT HOME with at least 9 wins and no more than 3 losses, and he's won all of the previous 3 such meetings.[+]
Tom Brady vs Opponents With 9-3 Record or Better - At Home in NFL Career
The Patriots have scored 37 red zone touchdowns this season, the most in the NFL. The Texans have only allowed 12 red zone touchdowns this season, the fewest in the league. ================== The Patriots have 66.1% red zone efficiency this season, 3rd best in the NFL. The Texans are allowing just 44.4% red zone efficiency to their opponents this season, 5th best in NFL. ** Red zone efficiency equals TD divided by red zone attempt
This season (entering Week 14), the Texans and Bills are the only teams to be undefeated in games in which they score first (Texans 7-0, Bills 4-0). The Falcons, Bears, and Ravens are all 6-1 when scoring first, the next best win percentage. The New England Patriots at 5-1 this season when scoring first (lost to Ravens 31-30; Patriots scored first on Stephen Gostkowski's 37-yd field goal).
Since 2011, only 3 running backs have rushed for 100+ yards vs the Texans, but all three running backs were unable to reach the endzone in their 100+ rush yd performances. Since 2011, the Texans have not allowed a 100+ yd rusher in any week later than Week 6.[+]
This season, only the Steelers and Seahawks have had more games (9) of allowing 20 or fewer points to their opponents than the Texans (8). The Texans are 8-0 in those games, while the Steelers and Seahawks have been unable to win all the games of that scenario. The Patriots (Texans' opponent on Monday) are 0-1 this season when scoring 20 or fewer points; lost to the Cardinals in Week 2 (20-18).[+]
The Texans have allowed at least three completions more than 20 yards downfield in each of their last three games. The Texans allowed three such completions in three of their previous 27 games (including playoffs).[+]
Texans Defense on Throws More Than 20 Yards Downfield - This Season
J.J. Watt leads the NFL with 15 passes batted or tipped this season, with five of those passes leading to interceptions. Even without Watt's totals, the Texans would still lead the NFL in batted or tipped passes. Tom Brady has had only eight passes batted or tipped this season (20 QBs with more).[+]
Most Passes Batted or Tipped - This Season
The Texans have featured at least two tight ends on 84.1 percent of their plays this season (excluding kneels, spikes and special teams plays). Since the start of 2009, no team has used multiple tight ends at a higher rate, including the 2011 Patriots.[+]
Highest Pct of Plays Using 2+ Tight Ends - Since 2009
Matt Schaub has 10 touchdowns and two interceptions on play-action passes this season. His plus-8 differential is tied for the league lead, and his 10 touchdowns are tied for most with Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. Only Brees (54) and Aaron Rodgers (44) have more play-action touchdowns than Schaub (43) since the start of 2008.
Matt Schaub has looked to stretch the field more with Andre Johnson recently, with the duo combining on a league-best 15 completions more than 10 yards downfield over the last three weeks. Ten of Johnson's 22 targets in that stretch have come on play action (10 of first 30 on play action).[+]
The Patriots defense has allowed 1.3 yards per rush after first contact this season, the second-best rate in the NFL behind the 49ers (1.2). Arian Foster has averaged 1.3 yards per rush after contact this season, tied for second-worst among running backs with 80 rushes.
Since acquiring Aqib Talib, the Patriots have posted the best Total QBR (6.1) when pass rushing five or more defenders. The Patriots have defended 12.5 percent of their passes faced when using such pressure with Talib, compared to 5.7 percent prior to acquiring Talib.[+]
Patriots Defense Sending 5+ Pass Rushers - This Season
Tom Brady has picked up seven first downs on seven rushes needing one yard for the first this season. Brady has the most attempts with a perfect first-down percentage on such plays this season.
Steven Ridley has picked up 30 rushing first downs when contacted prior to the first-down marker this season, second-most in the NFL (Adrian Peterson, 31).
No team has a higher percentage of rushes against defenses with five or more defensive backs this season than the Patriots (73.5 percent). The Texans have allowed 6.0 yards per rush when using such defenses this season, the worst rate in the NFL, but have allowed the second-fewest yards per rush (3.3) with four or fewer defensive backs on field.[+]
Patriots Rushing by No. of DBs on Field - This Season
The Texans have sent five or more pass rushers on a league-high 43.7 percent of dropbacks this season. Although Houston has the most passes defended (40, including interceptions) when sending such pressure, it also allowed the most touchdowns and 30-plus yard passes. Tom Brady has the most attempts without an interception (114) against five or more rushers this season, with a league-best 15 touchdowns.[+]
Passing with 5+ Rushers - This Season
ESPN Stats & Information