Patriots beat Texans to advance to AFC Championship Game
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FOXBORO, Mass. -- Move over, Joe.
The player whose name has been synonymous with postseason victories and clutch performances for the last several decades now is only the second-winningest quarterback in NFL playoff history. Tom Brady now stands atop that list, with his 17th postseason win Sunday, 41-28, over the Texans, to surpass his boyhood idol, Joe Montana.
And the record-breaker came in very Brady-like fashion. An efficient 25 completions on 40 passes for 344 yards and three touchdowns. A passer rating of 115.0. The engineering of five touchdown drives. And, of course, no turnovers.
"We started winning these playoff games the first year he really had a chance to participate in them," Bill Belichick said of the quarterback with whom he has shared the record-setting ride for 11 years. "He's our leader and we all follow him and respect him. There's no quarterback I'd rather have than Tom Brady."
Brady did not take much time to revel in his new status, mostly because he's focused on other lists. He still trails Montana and Terry Bradshaw for most Super Bowl victories -- they have four each, he has three -- and is tied with John Elway for the most Super Bowl appearances by a quarterback (five). He'd like to move up in the coming weeks.
To do that, he'll first have to beat the Ravens in Sunday's AFC Championship Game. It is a rematch of last year's thriller, which ended with the Ravens missing a potential tying field-goal attempt and the Patriots advancing to face the Giants in Super Bowl XLVI.
"I hope I'm around for a few more years," Brady said. "I know this was an important win for our team, and that's always the number one goal for me."
Shane Vereen scored three of the Patriots' touchdowns -- two on passes from Brady -- even though he was not expecting to play much. After starting running back Danny Woodhead suffered a thumb injury on the first offensive play and did not return, Vereen had to step in.
"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."
His best was a 33-yard over-the-shoulder touchdown catch on a perfectly placed ball from Brady that gave New England a 38-13 lead. It came on the snap after the Patriots stopped the Texans on a fourth-down attempt.
This one wasn't as lopsided as the Patriots' 42-14 rout of the Texans here in Week 14, but the Pats took the lead for good late in the first quarter and the Texans were within one score for only the first 3:30 of the second half, and never with the ball. Not even two fourth-quarter touchdowns by the Texans could make it a game.
The closest the Texans came was at the half, when they took advantage of some indecision by the Patriots to score 10 points in the final 1:15 to get to 17-13. But the Pats drove 69 yards in seven plays to go up 24-13 to open the second half. Brady hit Aaron Hernandez for a 40-yard pass and run, and Stevan Ridley ran it in from the 8.
The Texans were driving later in the third quarter and had reached the Patriots' 36 when Matt Schaub's pass over the middle was intercepted by Rob Ninkovich. The Pats turned it into a touchdown, Brady's 5-yard pass to Brandon Lloyd for a 31-13 lead.
Despite the win and his new title as the king of postseason quarterbacks, Brady was rather subdued afterward. Business as usual for him and the Patriots, no doubt, but there also was some weariness to deal with.
"I'm tired, man," Brady said. "There was a lot of emotional energy spent. It's a big buildup to the week and we had four days of practice and you're up and you're down. I'm tired. I'm ready to go home."
But just for the night. He and the Patriots are never eager to pack it up in the playoffs.