Tom Brady breaks record as New England Patriots beat Houston Texans in play-offs
By Paul Higham Twitter: @SkySportsPaulH. Last Updated: 14/01/13 2:21am
The New England Patriots returned to the AFC Championship game and a rematch with the Baltimore Ravens after a largely comfortable 41-28 win over the Houston Texans at Foxborough.
Tom Brady became the quarterback with the most play-off wins in NFL history as he smoothly led his team to a 17th post-season victory to eclipse Joe Montana's record, and in truth the result never really looked in doubt.
Brady threw three touchdown passes and 344 yards, 131 of those to Wes Welker, while running back Shane Vereen had a career day with three touchdowns and the league's best offensive unit flexed their muscles.
Shane Vereen scored a hat-trick of touchdowns
Houston played better than in their previously hammering at Foxborough, but Matt Schaub could not keep pace with Brady and only had his success when the game was lost, while the Texans' inability to cope with New England's hurry-up offence cost them time and again.
Houston started the game with Danieal Manning's explosive 94-yard kick-off return setting them up on the 12-yard line, but they could only come away with Shayne Graham's field goal.
J.J Watt sacked Brady and Rob Gronkowski left the game injured, but the Patriots would not be rattled and Vereen ran in from a yard after a typical hurry-up offensive drive that caught the Texans off guard.
Vereen got his second TD in the second quarter from an eight-yard pass from Brady soon after a big 47-yard connection with Welker, and the Patriots' offensive machine was cracking nicely into top gear.
Schaub's struggles meant Foster had to carry the fight, as he took all five snaps as the Texans got their first touchdown of the game - which was a generous call from the officials as Foster tried to punch it in from a yard out.
Houston made it a ten-point burst in the last 75 seconds of the half as Graham booted a career-best 55-yarder to make it 17-13, but any scent they had of a comeback was snuffed out as the Patriots came storming out for the second half.
Brady led an 11-play, 69-yard drive capped by Stevan Ridley's eight-yard run, and in response Schaub could only recover his own fumble before throwing an interception to Rob Ninkovich.
Unsurprisingly, Bill Belichick's ruthless Patriots punished that error as Brady again slipped into his favoured hurry-up offence, with Ridley catching them unprepared for a big run before a quick pass to the left gave Brandon Lloyd a short-range TD.
There was no let-up in the Brady assault in the fourth quarter, as he fired a 33-yard pass that Vereen caught superbly for a running back out wideout to complete his hat-trick of touchdowns.
Devier Posey hauled in an amazing juggling catch as he dived into the end zone to pull a touchdown back for Houston and Foster caught another to close to within ten points, but a Patriots field-goal iced the game at 41-28.
Schaub did finish with 343 yards and two touchdowns, but most of that came towards the end of the game and his one interception was also crucial - Foster led the Texans with 90 yards rushing, 63 yards receiving and two total touchdowns.
Ridley had 82 yards and Vereen 41 to go along with his 83-yard receiving day and three total touchdowns in what was a stellar performance from him.
Aaron Hernandez caught six balls for 85 yards as he covered for the early loss of fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski, who left the game after re-injuring the arm he has surgery on during the season, with initial reports suggesting his season is over.
With New England hosting the flying Baltimore Ravens next weekend in a repeat of last year's AFC title game, the absence of Gronkowski could be a big loss for Brady as he looks to get his team right back to the Super Bowl.