FOXBORO -- The Texans came into Gillette Stadium as the NFL's second-best offense. They left embarrassed after running into the Patriots defense for four quarters.
With a chance to prove on national television that the strides it had made in recent weeks were not thanks to the unimpressive offenses it had faced of late, New England's 'D' stood firm and thoroughly dominated Houston in a 42-14 win on Monday night.
"I finally feel like we put together four quarters of football," said Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo. "Obviously, we came into this game with a chip on our shoulders, everyone talking about the Houston Texans. And I think our defensive line went out there and played well today Vince Wilfork, Kyle Love, Brandon Deaderick, all those guys, Trevor Scott those guys played very well today and kept us going in the back end."
Mayo went out of his way to laud his defensive line after hearing listening to the deification of Houston defensive lineman JJ Watt for the better part of last week.
In particular, Vince Wilfork's play showed why he needs to be in the conversation when discussing the game's best at that position. He had three tackles, including one for a loss, a strip sack that pushed Houston back 20 yards in the first quarter, and a pass defensed -- one more than his counterpart, Watt, who in two years in the NFL has helped build his reputation on an ability to deflect throws.
"From the first quarter on, he was making plays," Mayo said of Wilfork. "Making tackles, batting balls. He had a little J.J. Watt swat there at one point in the game and it was good for us. He went out there and played from the first snap on and you cant ask for anything more."
Wilfork explained that he cared more about the win than proving to the world how he stacks up against Watt.
"Win," Wilfork said. "Win. That's what it's all about for me. I could care less about stats. The biggest stat to me is Ws. Plain and simple. There's nothing to it. You win, I'm happy. Lose, I'm not happy. I'm happy tonight."
A significant part of what made the Patriots defense so successful on the field Monday was their ability to get off of it. Before Texans backup quarterback TJ Yates took his team's snaps for its final two drives, the Patriots only allowed Houston to convert on a paltry two of 12 third down plays.
"We always talk about improving third down and getting off the field," Mayo said. "Any time we can get the ball in our offenses hands, we feel like theyll go out there and score 40 points like they did today. So it was a good third down conversion rate and something to build on."
The Texans pointed to their struggles on third down as one of the biggest reasons for their primetime letdown.
"They just out-played us," said Texans running back Arian Foster. "We didn't execute when we had chances to. We had a couple thid downs we could have done better executing on. That's part of the game. You want to make those plays and that is the type of plays you make if you want to be a championship team."
"We did not make any plays, and against a team like that you have to make plays on third down," said Texans receiver Andre Johnson, who last week called this the biggest game in Texans franchise history. "We did not make any plays on third down. They scored a lot of points and they converted on their third downs and kept our offense off the field."
The Texans got into New England territory three times in the second half but the Patriots still kept Houston scoreless for the better part of three quarters. On two of those drives, they stopped the Texans on fourth down.
On the third Texans drive into Patriots territory, Devin McCourty intercepted Texans quarterback Matt Schaub in New England's end zone in the first quarter. With the pick -- and without a turnover of their own -- the Patriots are now plus-25 in turnover differential, best in the league in that category.
"I think they're very opportunistic," said Texans coach Gary Kubiak. "I think they do a good job busting some protection schemes and they do a good job of getting their hands on the ball . . . McCourty's interception was a great example of the kinds of plays they make."
Gillette Stadium was a difficult place to play for the Texans on Monday. If the Patriots defense can continue to turn the ball over and have success stopping teams on third down, it won't get any easier for the 49ers, who come to town for a game this upcoming Sunday night.
"To be honest with you, we just take it one game at a time," Mayo said. "But when you go out there and perform the way you do, I think coming to Foxboro is going to be a tough place for any team to win."