1:00 PM ET, December 1, 2013
Reliant Stadium, Houston, TX
The Patriots try to build on last weekend's remarkable victory Sunday when they visit the Texans, who are mired in their longest losing streak in franchise history.
After falling behind 24-0, New England (8-3) stormed back to beat Denver 34-31 in overtime last Sunday. Tom Brady threw for 344 yards and three touchdowns and Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 31-yard field goal with 1:56 left in OT after the Patriots recovered a live ball on a botched punt at the Broncos' 13-yard line.
"One thing we've shown is that, mentally, we have some toughness. We've been in some bad situations," coach Bill Belichick said. "We've been able to hang in there even when it hasn't always looked great. But, really, I would say that the season for us is kind of starting now.
"The teams that play well in November, December and January, those are the teams that are standing in the end."
New England, which has won 27 of 29 in December, increased its lead in the AFC East to three games after New York and Miami both lost last week. While the Patriots are closing in on a fifth consecutive division title, the Texans (2-9) have taken a big step back after two straight South crowns.
Houston, which went a franchise-best 12-4 last season before eventually falling 41-28 at New England in the divisional playoffs Jan. 13, is tied with Jacksonville in last place. The Texans have averaged just 15.3 points in losing nine straight.
"It's been tough. It's been frustrating," said six-time Pro Bowler Andre Johnson, whose 1,002 receiving yards rank fourth in the NFL. "If I had to bet my life I wouldn't think we would be in this position."
Despite Houston's woes, New England isn't expecting anything to come easy.
"They have a lot of the same guys they had last year," said Brady, who is 4-1 lifetime against the Texans, including playoffs. "We're not even concerned about the record. You look at what they can do defensively and the kind of playmakers they have. ... They have probably the best front we've faced all season.
"We have a big challenge. I don't think we've really performed to our level of what we need to. We're still building and trying to figure out what kind of team we're going to be. This will be a good week to see if we can finally put together 60 good minutes."
Houston came up short in losing 13-6 to Jacksonville. Rookie Case Keenum, who was benched the previous week against Oakland, recorded a passer rating of 54.7 after going 18 of 34 for 169 yards and an interception.
"We've got to find a way to eliminate some of the mistakes and some of the things that are happening to him," said coach Gary Kubiak, who plans to stick with Keenum for the time being. "I think those will happen as he continues to play. You just, you want to find a young man some success."
The ground game has also struggled, averaging 81.0 yards over the last three weeks. Ben Tate, who will continue to start in place of the injured Arian Foster, carried the ball seven times for one yard against the Jaguars. Backup Dennis Johnson had 74 yards on 13 attempts.
Tate could find more running room against a Patriots defense gashed for a season-worst 280 rushing yards last week. New England is allowing 139.7 per game to rank 31st in the NFL.
"I don't know if he ever got into a rhythm with what he's doing," Kubiak said of Tate, who has been playing with broken ribs. "We know what he's going through. He's not practicing during the week, he's just playing on Sundays. So I know that's tough ... but I think Ben will bounce back."
Patriots running back Stevan Ridley could be in for a reduced role after fumbling in three straight games. He and LeGarrette Blount, who also lost a fumble in the first quarter against Denver, were benched for the remainder of the night.
Houston will also need to be wary of Rob Gronkowski, who has scored in three straight games. Gronkowski leads all tight ends with 433 receiving yards -- 80 more than the closest pursuer -- since debuting in Week 7.
"Know your plan and be prepared," reigning defensive player of the year J.J. Watt said when asked how to stop New England. "You have to know exactly what you're supposed to do and how you're supposed to execute it."
The Texans, allowing an NFL-low 290.4 yards per game, also rank first in passing defense with 171.8. They could make things difficult on Brady, who has one touchdown and three interceptions during the Patriots' three-game road losing streak.
New England hasn't dropped four straight away from home since 2000.
More from ESPN.com
Pats' Gronkowski not 100 percent -- but close
New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has been cleared by doctors to play, but he's not quite ready to let it rip.
Johnson accounted for at start of Texans camp
Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson reported to Houston's training facility ahead of the start of camp after spending the offseason away from the team.
Yates: Gronk can give Pats top offense
With a healthy Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots can challenge the Broncos for the NFL's best offense. Field Yates explains how.
Belichick: Gronkowski cleared by doctors
New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has been cleared to play by doctors and will not be placed on the active/physically unable to perform list to open training camp, coach Bill Belichick said Wednesday.
Recent Blog Posts
|Avg Points Allowed||21.8||26.9|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||NE|
|Rush Yds Allowed||NE|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|New England leads 5-1|
|Jan 13, 2013||NE 41, HOU 28|
|Dec 10, 2012||NE 42, HOU 14|
|Jan 3, 2010||NE 27, @HOU 34|
|Dec 17, 2006||NE 40, HOU 7|
|Nov 23, 2003||NE 23, @HOU 20|
Last season, the Texans were 11-1 through Week 13, tied with the Falcons for the best record in the league, meaning the Texans held the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs through 12 games. This season, the Texans are 2-10 and are currently projected to have the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
The Texans lost their 3rd game this season after leading by double digits, all at home. In each game, the Texans' win probability was greater than 85% at halftime. According to Elias, the last team to lose more games at home when leading by double-digits in a season was the 1980 Buccaneers (4).[+]
Texans Home Losses When Leading by Double Digits This Season
The Texans' blitz gave Tom Brady problems in the first half. Houston held Brady to 2-of-7 passing for 22 yards, an interception and a sack sending at least five rushers before halftime. But Brady was 7-of-9 for 137 yards and a touchdown without a sack in the second half against the Texans' blitz, which Wade Phillips dialed up almost twice as often as in the first two quarters.[+]
Tom Brady Passing vs 5+ Rushers, Sunday
Tom Brady posted a Total QBR over 90 for the second time this season on Sunday, and has thrown more touchdown passes in his last four games than in his first eight games combined.[+]
Tom Brady This Season
From Elias: The Patriots recorded their 1st win in team history against a team that entered the game on a 9+ game losing streak (includes streaks that span seasons). Entering today, the Patriots were 0-4 in those games.
Brady's interception was his first pick against at least five rushers since Week 14 of 2011. He had thrown 31 straight touchdowns between interceptions. It was also the fourth interception of the season targeting Rob Gronkowski, at least twice as many as Brady had thrown to any other target. Gronkowski missed the first six weeks of the season. Brady beat the Texans' blitz last year in both games he faced Houston. Brady was 25-of-38 for 356 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions in Week 14 and the Divisional Round Playoff combined when Houston sent at least five rushers. Brady's average throw against Houston's blitz was 15.0 yards downfield in the first half and 8.5 yards downfield in the second half.
Ben Tate's 20-yard touchdown run was the first rush TD of at least 20 yards New England allowed since Week 15 of 2011. The Patriots and the Broncos entered Sunday as the only two teams to not surrender a 20+ yard rush TD since the start of 2012.
At halftime, Tom Brady is 2-for-7 for 22 yards with an interception and a sack. Brady's interception was his first INT against at least 5 rushers since Week 14 of 2011 (31 TDs between picks against blitz). In two meetings last year (Week 14 + Divisional Round), Brady was 25-for-38 (65.8 comp pct) for 356 yards, 5 TD, 0 Int and one sack.
The Patriots have overcome a double-digit halftime deficit in 2 straight games thanks to Tom Brady. After the 2nd half in those games, or 4 quarters plus OT, Brady has completed 75 percent of his passes with over 500 passing yards and 4 touchdowns.[+]
Tom Brady Last 2 Games in 2nd Half/OT
Texans have never led a halftime in any of their 5 previous games against the Patriots (incl. playoffs). HOU was tied with NE at half of their only win in their all-time series (Week 17, 2009 - tied 13-13 at half, Texans won 34-27).
From Elias: The Patriots clinch their 13th straight winning seasons[+]
Most Consecutive Winning Seasons Since Merger
ESPN Stats & Information