The New England Patriots opened the second half of their Divisional Round playoff game against the Houston Texans with 21 unanswered points and went on to win, 41-28, Sunday evening.
Tom Brady added another impressive performance to his postseason résumé by completing 25-of-40 passes for 344 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Two of those touchdown passes went to running back Shane Vereen, who had a breakout performance with 124 total yards and three scores.
The game got off to an ideal start for the Texans when Danieal Manning took the opening kickoff 94 yards the other way to the New England 12-yard line. Houston, however, was unable to get a touchdown and had to settle for three points.
An early injury to Danny Woodhead allowed for Vereen to receive more opportunities than usual, and the second-year back took full advantage of his time in the spotlight, scoring both of New England's first-half touchdowns.
The Patriots looked as if they would take a 17-3 lead into the locker room, but Houston put up 10 points in the final two minutes of the half via a short Arian Foster touchdown run and a Shayne Graham field goal.
Brady wasted no time in pushing his team's lead back to double digits, and at the start of the third quarter, he orchestrated a scoring drive that ended with Stevan Ridley running eight yards into the end zone.
Matt Schaub's attempt to bring his team back went horribly awry when Rob Ninkovich intercepted his pass at the end of the third quarter. Brady quickly led the Pats down the field after the turnover and hit Brandon Lloyd for a touchdown to put his team up 31-13.
Early in the fourth quarter, Vereen continued to pad his stats and made Brady look good with a spectacular catch that all but ended the contest.
DeVier Posey added another clip to the highlight reel with a diving catch, and Foster caught another Schaub pass for a touchdown with a little over five minutes remaining in the contest. Andre Johnson's reception on the two-point conversion made it 38-28, but a late Stephen Gostkowski field goal pushed the game to the final score of 41-28.
Despite a spirited finish from the Texans, New England will move on to play the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game for the second straight year.
ESPN's Mark Schlereth pointed out a disturbing trend for Houston when it failed to score a touchdown after Danieal Manning's long kick return to start the game:
Redzone issues continue for the Texans.— mark schlereth (@markschlereth) January 13, 2013
Not that it's a surprise, but I'm told Rob Gronkowski is out for the rest of the game.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) January 13, 2013
ESPN's Trey Wingo noted that it was not easy to tell which of these teams has an All-Pro running back at halftime. ESPN Stats & Info added that New England was not used to getting such exceptional production out of the backfield:
Arian Foster 35 total yards.. Shane Vereen 81 total yards and 2 TDs. Not a recipe for Houston victory— trey wingo (@wingoz) January 13, 2013
Patriots RB have 2 rushing TD today. In their previous 5 playoff games, Patriots RB had only 1 rushing TD— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 13, 2013
Tom Brady can do everything. Well, as CBS Sports' Mike Freeman pointed out when Brady did his best Fran Tarkenton impression in the third quarter, that may not be true. Dan Le Batard's dad had a, um, different reaction to the same play:
Brady scrambling is not a pretty thing.— mike freeman (@realfreemancbs) January 13, 2013
My father just called Tom Brady a big chicken and then made an assortment of chicken sounds— Dan Le Batard Show (@LeBatardShow) January 13, 2013
Lance Zierlein, a radio host for Houston-based Sports Talk 790, had the perfect term for Matt Schaub's costly third-quarter interception:
Yep. Texans have some Schaublems this half— Lance Zierlein (@LanceZierlein) January 13, 2013
The same play also caused diehard Patriots fan and Grantland founder Bill Simmons to relax a little:
Thank you Matt Schaub! My mood has improved.— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) January 13, 2013
NFL.com's Dan Hanzus noted that the Patriots dominated this game more than the score suggested at times:
This is a blowout trying to pass itself off as a good game.— Dan Hanzus (@DanHanzus) January 13, 2013
CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora reminded fans of the exciting matchup that will take place next week in the AFC Championship Game:
So we'll get a rematch of last year's AFC Championship Game. Ravens at Pats again in the postseason. Ray Lewis vs. Tom Brady one last time— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) January 14, 2013