4:30 PM ET, January 13, 2013
Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, MA
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Tom Brady is so good at this playoff thing he seems to be playing 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 on Sunday. Brady even outdid his childhood hero, Joe Montana, and a fourth NFL championship would equal Montana's haul.
More Texans-Patriots Coverage
With another Super Bowl in sight, Tom Brady and the Patriots simply pushed the Texans aside in the divisional round Sunday, writes Jackie MacMullan. Story
The Patriots have shown they can adjust to life without star tight end Rob Gronkowski, as they did against the Texans on Sunday, writes Mike Reiss. Story
The gap between Tom Brady and the other remaining quarterbacks in the playoffs makes the Patriots clear-cut Super Bowl favorites, writes James Walker. Blog
A second loss to the Patriots crystallized a simple fact about the Texans: They're not in the same class as New England, writes Paul Kuharsky. Blog
"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, but 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.
Vereen became the third player in postseason history to have two receiving touchdowns and one rushing score in the same game, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Vereen joins Roger Craig (1984, San Francisco 49ers) and Ricky Watters (1994, 49ers), both of whom did it in the Super Bowl.
The throw to Vereen 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.
More Ravens-Patriots Coverage
With the Ravens set to visit the Patriots for the AFC Championship Game next Sunday, Jeffri Chadiha examines how the matchup may play out. Story
After an impressive win against the Texans, Matt Williamson explains why the Patriots will beat the Ravens next Sunday and advance to a second straight Super Bowl. Story
Sources told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter that Gronkowski broke his arm again Sunday and will miss the remainder of the playoffs. Pro Football Talk earlier reported that the tight end will need season-ending surgery.
"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."
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 champion the top seed in the playoffs, forcing a trip to New England after it 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.
Move Over, Joe
Tom Brady grew up idolizing Joe Montana. Now, the Patriots QB has bragging rights over his childhood hero. Brady on Sunday won his 17th postseason game, most in NFL history and one more than Montana.
Top postseason QBs
|Player||W-L||S. Bowl Wins|
|-- ESPN Stats & Information|
• Stats & Info: Pats make Texans pay
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.
SN: AFC Championship Game
For the second straight year, the Patriots and Ravens meet with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. Which team is headed to New Orleans? Cast your vote!
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."
Information from ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter and The Associated Press was used in this report.
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. ... Posey left the game late with an injury. The Houston Chronicle reported that he tore his Achilles tendon. ... 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.
Team Stat Comparison
Passing 1st downs
Rushing 1st downs
1st downs from penalties
3rd down efficiency
4th down efficiency
|Yards per play||5.7||7.0|
Yards per pass
Yards per rush
|Red Zone (Made-Att)||0-0||0-0|
|Defensive / Special Teams TDs||0||0|
|FG||14:00||Shayne Graham 27 Yard Field Goal is Good|
Drive info: 4 plays, 3 yds, 1:03
|TD||1:31||Shane Vereen 1 Yard Run (Stephen Gostkowski Kick is Good)|
Drive info: 6 plays, 65 yds, 3:01
|FG||10:20||Stephen Gostkowski 37 Yard Field Goal is Good|
Drive info: 11 plays, 65 yds, 3:51
|TD||3:43||Shane Vereen 8 Yard Pass From Tom Brady (Stephen Gostkowski Kick is Good)|
Drive info: 7 plays, 80 yds, 2:56
|TD||1:20||Arian Foster 1 Yard Run (Shayne Graham Kick is Good)|
Drive info: 5 plays, 47 yds, 2:23
|FG||0:02||Shayne Graham 55 Yard Field Goal is Good|
Drive info: 5 plays, 25 yds, 0:24
|TD||11:34||Stevan Ridley 8 Yard Run (Stephen Gostkowski Kick is Good)|
Drive info: 7 plays, 69 yds, 3:30
|TD||1:25||Brandon Lloyd 5 Yard Pass From Tom Brady (Stephen Gostkowski Kick is Good)|
Drive info: 6 plays, 63 yds, 2:53
|TD||13:13||Shane Vereen 33 Yard Pass From Tom Brady (Stephen Gostkowski Kick is Good)|
Drive info: 1 plays, 33 yds, 0:00
|TD||11:42||Devier Posey 25 Yard Pass From Matt Schaub (Shayne Graham Kick is Good)|
Drive info: 5 plays, 37 yds, 1:32
|TD||5:15||Arian Foster 1 Yard Pass From Matt Schaub (Matt Schaub Pass to Andre Johnson For Two-Point Conversion is Go)|
Drive info: 11 plays, 79 yds, 4:47
|FG||1:18||Stephen Gostkowski 38 Yard Field Goal is Good|
Drive info: 9 plays, 27 yds, 3:57
Houston burst out of the gate this season, winning 11 of its 1st 12 games. It was all downhill from there though - the Texans dropped 4 of their final 6 contests and their stingy defense turned porous, allowing nearly 10 more points per game.[+]
It's Not How You Start... - Texans This Season
For the seventh time in the Belichick-Brady era, the Patriots are in the AFC Championship game where they've been extraordinarily successful there, even before 2000. Among teams with five conference championship appearances, only the Giants have a better record with the Super Bowl on the line.[+]
Best Record in AFC/NFC Championship - NFL History (Min. 5 games)
Tom Brady completed 12-of-19 passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns against five or more pass rushers, while facing such pressure on 46 percent of his dropbacks. The Texans did not adjust their pressure against Brady after getting burned when sending frequent extra pressure against him in Week 14. Brady has now thrown 22 touchdowns in 170 attempts against five or more pass rushers this season (including playoffs), with no interceptions. --Brady connected on three passing plays for 30-plus yards against the Texans' pressure Sunday. The Texans had allowed a league-worst 18 passing plays of at least 30 yards when sending five or more pass rushers during the regular season.[+]
Tom Brady Passing Against 5+ Rushers, This Season vs Texans
Patriots' running backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen combined for 219 yards from scrimmage (48 percent of the Patriots offense) and four touchdowns, while showcasing an inside running game the Patriots haven't had in recent postseason appearances. 113 of their 123 rushing yards came inside the tackles for more than 6 yards per rush, the highest totals by Patriots backs in any of their previous five postseason games. --The Patriots' running backs averaged just under 100 rushing yards per game inside the tackles during the regular season, and had seven games of at least 100 yards on such runs, tied for third most in the league.[+]
Patriots RB Rushing Inside the Tackles, Last 4 Postseasons
The Patriots lined up running back Shane Vereen out wide Sunday, specifically taking advantage of linebacker Barrett Ruud on a 33-yard touchdown pass down the left sideline in the fourth quarter. Vereen collected 58 receiving yards on two receptions and a touchdown when split out wide, only the third touchdown this season and the most receiving yards in a game for a running back lined up wide over the last three seasons (including playoffs).
Even though Rob Gronkowski left the game with 8:10 left in the first quarter, Tom Brady was still very effective with two or more tight ends on the field. Brady threw for a season-high 244 yards and tied a season-high with three touchdowns with two or more tight ends after Gronkowski's injury. The Patriots used multiple tight end sets on 56-of-65 plays (86.2 percent), their second-highest percentage of the season.
Matt Schaub was 7-of-12 for 71 yards and an interception on third down Sunday, converting only three of the attempts for first downs. In the Week 14 matchup against the Patriots, Schaub converted only one of his seven third down pass attempts for a first down.[+]
Matt Schaub 3rd-Down Passing, This Season (Including Playoffs)
The Patriots used their up-tempo offense effectively, especially in the red zone, scoring four touchdowns in five possessions (not counting possession with kneel down). During the regular season, they scored a touchdown on 70 percent of their red zone possessions, the highest rate in the NFL.
Bill Belichick reaches his 7th conference championship game, tied for the 2nd-most all-time among head coaches.[+]
Most Appearances in AFC/NFC Championship By Head Coach
ESPN Stats & Information