The Patriots, expecting an easier time of things after their skin-of-the-teeth win over the Broncos last Sunday night, found themselves in a toe-to-toe another slugfest -- against a 2-9 opponent, no less -- Sunday in Houston.

The good news: They had Tom Brady on their side.

Brady directed the 40th fourth-quarter comeback of his career by leading the Pats to 27 second-half points, enabling them to erase a 17-7 halftime deficit and post a 34-31 victory over the Texans at Reliant Stadium. Stephen Gostkowski provided the game-winning points with a pair of 53-yard field goals, the first with 7:12 to play and the second exactly four minutes later, to enable New England to improve its record to 9-3.

Gostkowski may have been the triggerman, but Brady -- 29-of-41, 371 yards, 2 touchdowns -- was the architect. The Patriots scored on their first five possessions of the second half and did exactly what they wanted to do on the sixth: Eat up enough time with the clock winding down to prevent the Texans from having a chance to tie or win the game.

The comeback began on the Pats' first possession of the second half, with Brady driving the team 78 yards in 5 plays (big play: 50-yard completion to Rob Gronkowski, which put the ball on the Houston 13) for the touchdown that cut the Texans' lead to 17-14. James Develin scored it, bulling his way in from a yard out.

The defense -- in one of its few bright moments in the first 23 minutes of the second half -- forced a three-and-out and Brady went back to work. He marched the Pats 73 yards in 7 plays (big play: 25-yard completion to Julian Edelman, which put the ball on the Texans 19) for the touchdown that put New England ahead, 21-17. Shane Vereen scored it, on a nine-yard pass from Brady.

But the storyline everyone thought was unfolding -- Pats take command and pull away -- didn't materialize. Houston had taken advantage of good field position throughout the first half, but now the Texans put together their first decent drive of the day: 81 yards in 10 plays, with quarterback Case Keenum running in from five yards out to put Houston back in front, 24-21.