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JACKIE MACMULLAN

Enjoying a bit of thrash talk

FOXBOROUGH -- You are a fool if you prepare for any National Football League game expecting to thrash your opponent. The Patriots are far too sophisticated to err in that manner.

But that didn't prevent New England from being hell-bent on winning, and winning big, yesterday against the Texans.

"We feel like we squandered an opportunity last week [against Miami]," said linebacker Rosevelt Colvin. "Guys wanted to come in here with extra, extra, extra focus. We needed to make a statement. Sometimes just winning isn't enough."

Feel free to call the 40-7 shellacking the Patriots laid on Houston anything you like, but the facts are these: since December 2004 the Texans are 6-25. Their beleaguered quarterback, David Carr, was again an unmitigated disaster. In most cases, NFL teams are usually far too competitive and proud to allow any game to be over by halftime, even when the score is 27-0.

Yesterday, this game truly was over at the intermission. Quite honestly, you could have made case for calling it a day with 3:31 left in the first quarter, after Tom Brady tossed a short pass to Kevin Faulk, who galloped 43 yards into the end zone to make it 17-0.

Anyone who has played sports has experienced this kind of game. When I was growing up and my school was in a bit of a funk, the answer to our prayers was Nipmuc. At that time, and we're talking close to 30 years ago, they were the cure for whatever ailed us. Occasionally, we'd be beating them by so much on the basketball court they'd stop crediting our baskets to keep the score from spiraling out of control.

(A note to the fair people at Nipmuc: I've been informed your sports programs have improved dramatically since I was a kid, so please hold the indignant e-mails and take this in stride. I'm merely illustrating a point.)

Yesterday, the Houston Texans were New England's Nipmuc, and that was welcome news.

Concerned about the kickoffs with Laurence Maroney sidelined? No worries. Fill-in Ellis Hobbs returned a kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown, the first of his career, and the first all season for the Patriots. Skittish about the lack of protection Brady was given in recent weeks? Rest easy. The Franchise only hit the dirt once yesterday.

Turnovers were not an issue, because New England had none. Slim offensive production was a moot point, because the defense left the Patriots in optimal position all afternoon. They didn't need to pile up gaudy numbers.

Blowouts like these are uncommon in the NFL, which strives for, above all, parity. But there's no denying what a good old-fashioned whuppin' does for the psyche of a football team.

You never forget who your Nipmuc is. It is an afternoon that promises prosperity, good will, and stats. Lots of stats.

"When I was growing up, it was Manual [Ind.] High School," said Colvin, without hesitation. "They were our 'get back on track' game. We always gave it to them. We always came out of there feeling pretty good about ourselves."

"Lynbrook [Calif.]," offered Tully Banta-Cain. "They were the 'pad your stats' team. We'd put 50 points up against them. I'd finish the day rushing for 200 yards and have three sacks."

"Definitely Mira Loma [Calif.]," said Tedy Bruschi. "We were beating them so badly one time that when I was walking off the field next to their two head coaches at halftime, I heard them say, 'Let's use a running clock in the second half.' I was disappointed. That meant less chances to rack up the sacks."

You know you are dominating when Matt Cassel assumes the quarterback duties with 8:41 left in the game and Brady is not injured even a little bit, and then Vinny Testaverde replaces Cassel with two minutes to go, and Cassel's not hurt either. It is a day of blowout bliss when Maroney, Vince Wilfork, and Benjamin Watson are inactive, and no one really even misses them.

You have to wonder how these woeful Texans were able to beat Jacksonville twice, not to mention the Miami Dolphins, the team that thumped New England, 21-0, last week.

"I don't want to rub anything in the faces of the Texans," said defensive back Artrell Hawkins, "but we were zeroed in on this one. We needed some of our hard work to pay off. It was such a nice relief for us to have one like this. That's the most complete game we've played in a long time."

Hawkins played his high school ball at Bishop McCort in Johnstown, Pa. He was a running back, and the game he circled on his schedule every year was Johnstown Tech.

"They were a vocational school," he said. "Every time they came up on the schedule I'd say, 'Wow, my stats are going to be ridiculous today.' I think I had six touchdowns and almost 300 yards rushing against them once. You almost felt bad for them, at times, because they had no shot at winning."

Fullback Heath Evans can relate. He grew up in Palm Beach, Fla., and went to The King's Academy, where his team served as everyone's Nipmuc.

"We only had 17 guys on the team," he said. "We were trying to pull guys out of the band and the choir to play with us. I used to say to guys, 'If you play, I'll take you out to dinner.' We were the team that could stay with you up until halftime, but after that, it was all downhill."

Obviously NFL games are not amateur pursuits. Each day jobs are won and lost based on the teams' results. (In fact, you have to wonder if this will serve as the death knell for Carr in Texas). Even though New England improved to 10-4 with its win, it still didn't clinch the division crown because the Jets beat Minnesota to keep pace.

There are no Nipmucs the rest of the way. There's Jacksonville and Tennessee on the road and playoff opponents waiting in the wings.

Who knows where Houston is headed? It may re-invent itself as an up-and-coming team next season. Lord knows the Patriots were everyone's favorite opponent during the early and dark days of their history.

But that changed years ago. Like Nipmuc, New England is no longer a pushover. The Patriots are, however, a veteran team that has struggled all season to refine its identity.

"That's true," Evans said. "And that's why we were desperate for a team win. This one is a real confidence-builder."

The Nipmucs usually are.

Jackie MacMullan is a Globe columnist. Her e-mail address is macmullan@globe.com.

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