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Mistake-free Patriots get healthy with rout of Texans

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) -- Ellis Hobbs needed just 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 win Sunday 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 just 3-3
with 19 turnovers, they committed no turnovers Sunday while forcing
David Carr into four interceptions. They can clinch the AFC East
title next Sunday with a win 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, the Patriots 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 in a row with torn rib
cartilage.

The Patriots didn't miss them. Hobbs replaced Maroney on kickoff
returns and Mike Wright had a sack as Wilfork's replacement.

Maybe coach Bill Belichick's unusually demanding approach to
practice last week paid off. He even reminded his players that 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 win, the other after a 17-13
victory over Chicago on Nov. 26.

"They're called victory Mondays," fullback Heath Evans said.

The Texans were coming off a good performance in a 26-20
overtime loss to surging Tennessee. But they managed just 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 just 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."

Tom 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."

Game notes
The last time the Patriots led by at least 27 points at
halftime was on Dec. 27, 2003 when they were ahead 28-0 in a 31-0
win over 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.

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