HOUSTON -- New England coach Bill Belichick downplayed the return of Rob Gronkowski on Sunday night since he'd only been out for one game.
"He's a huge influence on what we do offensively," Brady said. "He really toughed it out so I'm proud of him. He had a big touchdown catch. He's obviously a big part of what we do so it was great to have him out there. ... Football is always trust and anticipation and there's nobody that I trust more than Gronk."
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.
"It's always good to make a play, get a touchdown," Gronkowski said. "The icing on the cake is that win."
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.
"I thought we had a lot of guys step up," Belichick said. "That's what we need. Everybody needs to contribute."
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. Coach Bill O'Brien said he didn't have more details on Hoyer's injury, but that it looked like he had a concussion.
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. Houston remains tied for first place in the AFC South with the Colts, who the Texans face next week.
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.
"It poses some problems, but it wasn't that bad," Watt said. "There were times where it was painful, but that's football, you know? People play with pain all the time."
"You can't start slow against a team like that at all or the results are going to be what happened tonight," Houston receiver DeAndre Hopkins said.
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.
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.
Copyright 2015 by The Associated Press