Every time the Patriots win a game at Gillette Stadium, a recording of The Who singing, "Meet the new boss Same as the old boss" echoes across the field as soon as the final gun sounds.
Never was it more apt than on Monday night.
The Texans arrived in Foxboro eager to live up to their NFL-best 11-1 record, and anxious to prove -- to themselves, to a national television audience, and especially to the Patriots -- that it's time for a changing of the guard atop the AFC, a conference the Pats have dominated for more than a decade. Indeed, wide receiver Andre Johnson proclaimed last week that this would be "the biggest game in franchise history".
Instead, the old bosses . . .
Scored the first three times they touched the ball,
Put together their best defensive effort of the year, keeping the Texans off the scoreboard until midway through the third quarter, and
Held Houston to a combined 4-for-16 on third- and fourth-down opportunities, all of which helped them . . .
Coast to a 42-14 victory that -- to swipe a thought from a Yankee fan about the 1978 A.L. East race -- looked like the first time a second-place team ever eliminated a first-place team from the AFC postseason hunt.
"It's a very convincing win against a good football team," said Wes Welker. "And we're excited about it."
Especially since -- for all their one-game-at-a-time talk during the week -- the Patriots came into this one as fired up as the Texans.
"We came into this game with a chip on our shoulder," said linebacker Jerod Mayo. "Everyone came into this game talking about the Houston Texans . . . We always talk about ignoring the noise, but we heard it. We heard about it walking down the street. It was a little bit of a motivational factor, for me at least, and I'm sure for the other guys . . . as well."
The Texans still hold the No. 1 seed in the playoff standings; they're 11-2 and the Patriots are 10-3. (New England holds the tie-breaker edge on Denver, which is also 10-3, for the No. 2 spot by virtue of its October victory over the Broncos.) If the Pats run the table, however, they'll take over the top seed -- and earn home-field advantage throughout the playoffs -- should Houston lose one of its remaining three games.
But even if they stay at No. 2, the Patriots made a statement Monday night.
"They feel good about the way they played tonight, and they should," said coach Bill Belichick. "They did a good job."
It started early.
After Arian Foster gained 15 yards on the Texans' first official play from scrimmage (a penalty wiped out a 12-yard run by Foster on the first actual play), the Pats' defense stiffened and forced a punt. A 31-yard return by Welker put the ball on the New England 44, and Tom Brady had them in the end zone seven plays later, capping the drive with a seven-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Hernandez.
Houston's only real chance to make a game of it came on the next drive, as the Texans moved from their 20 to the Pats' 21. But Matt Schaub missed a wide-open Foster in the flat and instead tried to hit Kevin Walter down the seam in the end zone. Devin McCourty intercepted the pass and returned it to the 18; Brady then engineered a 6-play, 82-yard drive that ended with a 37-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Lloyd and a 14-0 lead.
"That was a big play by Devin," said Belichick.
The New England defense forced another punt on Houston's next possession, and that set the stage for an 8-play, 70-yard march, with Brady firing his second TD pass of the night to Hernandez -- this one of four yards -- to make it 21-0.
New England wouldn't score on its next four possessions, but the defense kept the Texans pointless, as well. The horse officially left the barn when Brady and the newly returned Donte Stallworth hooked up on a 63-yard touchdown pass with 9:49 remaining in the third quarter for a 28-0 lead.
From there, the teams traded touchdowns -- a one-yard run by Foster to break the shutout; a Lloyd recovery of a Danny Woodhead fumble in the end zone; a 14-yard run by Stevan Ridley, and a one-yard run by Houston backup quarterback T.J. Yates -- for the 42-14 final.
"I finally feel like we put together four quarters of football," said Mayo.
It was a schooling for the young Texans, and at least one of them -- defensive end Antonio Smith -- says he learned his lesson.
"Now we know what we're dealing with," he said.
What they're dealing with, on this night at least, was the new boss. Same as the old boss.