FOXBOROUGH -- There's nothing better than going on national TV and showing the whole world why you're the best at what you do.
Here's some takeaways from the Patriots' 42-14 win over the Houston Texans.
1) The Patriots defense deserves a ton of credit -- It starts up front with Vince Wilfork, who played like a man possessed. He wanted to destroy the Texans, perhaps inspired by the relentless hype around Houston defensive end J.J. Watt. His penetration led to key stops in the backfield by his own hand and others, and he recorded a strip-sack, a tackle for a loss, and a pass defensed. Add in safety Devin McCourty, playing at his converted position, picking off Matt Schaub and Jerod Mayo (7 tackles) flying around the backfield, and what once was a unit marked by its ineptitude and scarred by ridicule, should have praise heaped upon it for such an outstanding performance. The defense's play showed that it was worthy of the same respect and adoration the team's offense receives, particularly given the opponent it just manhandled. The fifth-ranked Texans offense went 4 for 14 on third down and 0 for 2 on fourth. If that's not a top-notch, stand-up defense, I don't know what is.
2) Injuries or a change of pace? -- For the first time, two healthy and active Patriots who were mainstays of the team's starting lineup found themselves doing spot duty. Chandler Jones and Kyle Love were backups behind Trevor Scott (0.5 sack) and Brandon Deaderick (5 tackles, 1 tackle for loss). Whether it was a change of pace or because the two are battling some sort of ailment, it provided a lesson for this observer. Scott performed well, holding the edge while providing pressure, a sign that the team is relatively deep among its ends. But Deaderick found himself blocked out of plays at defensive tackle, allowing holes for Arian Foster to run through easily in the first and second quarter. Kyle Love's playing time rose significantly afterward. Outside of Wilfork and Love, the Patriots are pretty thin at tackle, which would explain why Jermaine Cunningham would often line up over guards before he was suspended for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing drugs policy. This bears watching going forward, but no reason to ring alarm bells.
3) Brandon Lloyd stepped up when it counted -- He didn't produce many yards after the catch, but his impact goes much further than the stat sheet implies. Lloyd provided the outside-the-numbers threat he's become known for, and took it up a notch. He caught passes over the middle, drew a pass interference call, and stretched the field in a way that made the Texans respect the entire field of play. He finished with seven catches for 89 yards and two touchdowns, one on a fumble recovery. It was an impractical and improbable way to score such a touchdown, but it fit right in with his up-and-down season. This marks a high point for Lloyd, and it couldn't come at a bigger moment.
4) Donte' Stallworth's return a fantastic one -- He was a free agent signee in the summer, cut before training camp, and sat on a couch for 13 weeks of the season before being brought back to replace the injured Julian Edelman. On limited snaps, he managed to break free and get loose twice in the Texans secondary. Tom Brady looked for him early in the third quarter on a 3d-and-8, but the two couldn't connect. That was about all the practice throws it would take though. One series later, Brady went right back to Stallworth on a 3d-and-10 and hooked up on a deep pass over the middle of the field. Stallworth caught the ball over cornerback Brandon Harris, made a move, and then started racing before dragging safety Quintin Demps the final five yards to the end zone. It was a phenomenal play for a guy who couldn't get a job after two workouts during the year with the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins. I guess the Bills and Dolphins have a better idea of what they passed up now.
5) Small bites -- Stevan Ridley has 10 touchdowns. I think it's safe to say he earned them the hard way. … Brady's four-touchdown performance passed Johnny Unitas on the list of most four-touchdown pass games. He has 18 four-touchdown games, tied with Drew Brees. … The Patriots piled up 28 first downs against the Texans. They have 361 on the season. With three games to go, the Patriots are poised to break the NFL record of 416. … Bill Belichick improved to 45-7 in December as head coach of the Patriots.