HOUSTON – Tom Brady got Rob Gronkowski back and it helped the New England Patriots return to the win column and clinch a playoff spot.
Brady threw for 226 yards and two touchdowns and the Patriots snapped a two-game skid with a 27-6 win over the Houston Texans on Sunday night.
The Patriots (11-2) moved ahead of the Denver Broncos and the Cincinnati Bengals in the race for the top AFC playoff seed and can clinch the AFC East with one win, or with one loss or tie by the New York Jets. New England hasn't lost three straight games since 2002.
Brady threw TD passes to Keshawn Martin and Gronkowski in the first half to help New England build a 17-6 lead. Gronkowski had four receptions for 87 yards and a touchdown in his return after missing last week's game with a knee injury.
The Patriots didn't move the ball as well in the second half, but the defense harassed Brian Hoyer into multiple mistakes. Jabaal Sheard had strip sacks on Hoyer twice after halftime. The Patriots recovered the second one early in the fourth, and James White made it 27-6 with a 2-yard run three plays later.
Hoyer was sacked five times and left the game to be evaluated for a concussion with about 9 minutes remaining. The quarterback already missed a game this season after getting a concussion on Nov. 16.
Hoyer was 11 of 22 for 155 yards.
The Texans (6-7) recovered a fumble and forced two punts by the Patriots in the third quarter, but weren't able to take advantage of any of those opportunities and entered the fourth quarter trailing 20-6.
J.J. Watt played despite breaking his left hand in practice on Wednesday. He wore a cast that enclosed his fingers in a club-like ball.
The Texans won two challenges on plays that were called receptions on New England's first drive of the second half, forcing the Patriots to kick a 49-yard field goal to make it 20-6.
Houston was forced to punt on its next possession, but Martin fumbled the return and the Texans recovered on the New England 21. But the Texans couldn't move the ball and turned it over after a failed fourth-down attempt.
The Texans were driving again later in the third when Hoyer fumbled and the Patriots recovered. Houston challenged the call and it was overturned, but he actually fumbled on the next play on a sack by Sheard. The Texans recovered but lost 10 yards on the play and had to punt again.
Gronkowski simply outjumped Quintin Demps to grab a 1-yard touchdown pass just before halftime to extend New England's lead to 17-6.
The Patriots took a 7-0 lead when former Texan Martin got away from rookie Kevin Johnson and was wide open in the end zone for a two-yard touchdown. That score was set up when Brady threw across his body and on the run to Gronkowski for a 45-yard gain earlier in the drive. Gronkowski was open after linebacker Whitney Mercilus fell trying to cover him.
The Texans cut the lead to 7-3 on a 37-yard field goal by Nick Novak in the first quarter.
New England got a 43-yard field goal early in the second quarter to make it 10-3.
Jonathan Grimes had a 37-yard run on Houston's next drive, but the offense stalled soon after that and the team settled for a 45-yard field goal to get within 10-6.
Last year's top overall pick Jadeveon Clowney had two sacks for the first multiple sack game in his career with Houston.
12:08 -- Patriots running back James White runs for a 2-yard touchdown -- Patriots 27, Texans 6
11:52 -- Patriots kicker Stephen Gostowski makes a 49-yard field goal -- Patriots 20, Texans 6
0:14 -- Patriots quarterback Tom Brady throws a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski -- Patriots 17, Texans 6
9:30 -- Texans kicker Nick Novak makes a 45-yard field goal -- Patriots 10, Texans 6
12:18 -- Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski makes a 43-yard field goal -- Patriots 10, Texans 3
2:42 -- Texans kicker Nick Novak make a 37-yard field goal -- Patriots 7, Texans 3
7:28 -- Patriots quarterback Tom Brady passes to receiver Keshawn Martin for a 2-yard touchdown pass (New England kicker Stephen Gostkowski makes PAT) -- Patriots 7, Texans 0