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RECAP
01/13/2013 11:53 PM EST
Patriots beat Texans 41-28, Ravens up next
NEW ENGLAND 41, HOUSTON 28

By BARRY WILNER
AP Pro Football Writer

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) -- Tom Brady is so good at this playoff
thing he seems to be going for a championship every year.



He gets another chance to lead the Patriots to the Super Bowl
after earning his record 17th postseason victory in New
England's 41-28 victory over Houston Sunday. Brady even outdid
his childhood hero, Joe Montana, and a fourth NFL championship
would equal Montana's haul.



"I love playing, I love competing, I love being a part of this
organization," said Brady, who threw for three touchdowns and
344 yards. "I think I've just been fortunate to play on some
great teams over the years. I never take it for granted."



Next up is Baltimore, which stunned top-seeded Denver in double
overtime Saturday, and lost 23-20 at Gillette Stadium last
January in the last step before the Super Bowl. But the Ravens
beat the Patriots in Week 3 this season at Baltimore.



"I think the two best teams are in the final," Brady said.
"Baltimore certainly deserves to be here and so do we."



Seldom-used Shane Vereen scored three times, twice on pinpoint
throws from Brady, as New England (13-4) beat Houston (13-5) for
the second time in a month.



Brady was missing some key helpers, including tight end Rob
Gronkowski, who broke his left arm and is out for the rest of
the playoffs, a person with knowledge of the injury told The
Associated Press.



However, he got the usual outstanding performance from Wes
Welker, his favorite target the last six years. The AFC's top
receiver with 118 catches this season, Welker looked like he
might reach that total against Houston's befuddled defense. He
caught six in the first half for 120 yards, including a
47-yarder, and wound up with eight for 131.



And the AFC East champion Patriots got more than anyone could
have predicted from third-string running back Vereen, who scored
their first two TDs on a 1-yard run and an 8-yard pass. He
capped his biggest pro performance with an over-the-shoulder
33-yard catch early in the fourth period.



It was Brady's 41st postseason TD pass, behind only Brett Favre
(44) and, you guessed it, Montana (45).



Nice company to be keeping.



"I grew up a 49ers fan," Brady said after throwing for three
touchdowns in the AFC divisional playoff. "Joe Montana and Steve
Young ... those guys are in another class.



"I hope I am around for a few more years," the 35-year-old Brady
added with a smile.



The boost from Vereen offset the loss of not only Gronkowski,
but running back Danny Woodhead (thumb) in the first quarter.



"Shane had a great game, just a huge growing up moment for him,
very special," Brady said. "There were a lot of guys who made a
lot of plays."



New England's defense helped put away the Texans. Rob
Ninkovich's leaping third-quarter interception stopped a drive,
and six plays later, Brady hit Brandon Lloyd for a 6-yard score.



Although the Texans got two fourth-quarter TDs on passes by Matt
Schaub, their season ended with four defeats in their last six
games. That slump cost the AFC South champions the top seed in
the playoffs, forcing a trip to New England after they beat
Cincinnati in the wild-card round.



The Texans couldn't measure up.



"Whenever the season ends, no matter when, it's really hard,"
tight end Owen Daniels said. "The farther along you get, the
harder it is to take. It's one we wanted to win really bad. It's
tough to swallow ... but one team gets to have a smile on their
face at the end of the season, and it's not us this year."



Unlike their 42-14 loss here a month ago, the Texans didn't fold
early. J.J. Watt, their dominating defensive end, bothered
Brady, and when they fell behind 17-3, they had the fortitude to
climb back.



Arian Foster did all the work after Danieal Manning's second big
kickoff return, this one a 35-yarder that had 15 yards tacked on
when kicker Stephen Gostkowski brought down Manning with a
horse-collar tackle. The Pro Bowl runner covered all 47 yards on
a five-play drive and his 1-yard run - he barely squeezed into
the end zone - made it 17-10.



Houston forced a three-and-out, and a short punt gave the Texans
another shot just before halftime. They got close enough for
Shayne Graham to kick a 55-yard field goal as the half ended.



But the Patriots pulled away in the third quarter for coach Bill
Belichick's 17th postseason win, third behind Tom Landry (20)
and Don Shula (19).



Now come the Ravens.



"It's sweet just playing in the AFC championship," defensive
tackle Vince Wilfork. "It's a team that beat us earlier this
year at their house, and a team that's riled up for us."



Needing a quick jolt after being blown out by the Patriots on
Dec. 10, the Texans got it on the opening kickoff from Manning.
He took the ball 6 yards in his end zone and never hesitated in
returning it. He broke free at the Houston 30 and wasn't run
down until reaching the New England 12.



That spark didn't even last one play, though, and Houston wound
up with Graham's 27-yard field goal 63 seconds in.



And when the Texans closed the first half with a 10-point spurt,
they wasted the momentum by allowing a quick touchdown drive to
open the third period. Brady went to the familiar (Welker and
tight end Aaron Hernandez) on that series before second-year
back Stevan Ridley scored on an 8-yard burst.



New England lost Gronkowski and Woodhead almost immediately.
Gronkowski missed five regular-season games with a broken left
forearm, but returned for the finale. Eight Patriots plays on
offense and he was gone again.



So Brady found other targets; he probably could complete passes
to Belichick for big gains.



Vereen was an unlikely star. After gaining 400 yards overall
during the season, he picked up 124 against the Texans. He had
four touchdowns in the regular season.



"I don't come into the game knowing how much anyone is going to
play," Vereen said. "I come into the game ready to go, and if my
number is called, I do my best for the team."



NOTES: Brady is 3-2 in Super Bowls and if he reaches a sixth,
he'll join a club that currently totals one player: defensive
tackle Mike Lodish. ... New England has played in eight AFC
championship games, going 7-1, including 5-1 with Brady and
Belichick. ... Brady threw for 344 yards, and Schaub threw for
343. Schaub's TD passes were 25 yards to DeVier Posey and 1 to
Foster. ... Foster had 90 yards rushing, the first time in four
playoff games he did not reach 100. But his 515 tie for most in
a player's first four playoff games with Denver's Terrell Davis.



---



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