The last game on the playoff schedule had the Houston Texans heading up to New England to take on the Patriots. The Texans were coming off a 19-13 win over the Cincinnati Bengals and the Patriots had a first round bye. These teams met in week 14 of the regular season and the Patriots shredded the Texans by a score of 42-14. The Texans won the toss and elected to receive. That was a good idea as return man Danieal Manning fielded the kick six yards deep in the end zone and returned it to the Patriot 12-yard line. From the 12, running back Arian Foster ran up the left side for a modest gain of three yards. On second down, quarterback Matt Schaub threw a pass to fullback James Casey and the ball went right through his hands and fell incomplete. On third down, Schaub looked for wide receiver Andre Johnson and that pass was also incomplete. With such great field position, the Texans had to settle for a field goal attempt from kicker Shayne Graham. His 27-yard attempt was good and the Texans had an early 3-0 lead.
After that possession, the Patriots punted twice and the Texans followed suit. But with 4:29 to go in the first quarter, the Patriots put together a nice drive on the strength of running back Stevan Ridley from their 35. Ridley had two carries for 12 yards and caught a pass for 13 more yards. From the Texan 40, quarterback Tom Brady threw a short pass to running back Shane Vereen and he took it 25 yards down to the Texan 15. Brady then hooked up with tight end Aaron Hernandez for a gain of 14 to set up a first and goal at the one. Vereen took it in from the one for a touchdown. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski made the point after and the Patriots led 7-3 with 1:28 remaining in the first quarter.
The kickoff went nine yards deep in the end zone and the Texans got the ball at the 20. Completions to Johnson and Foster moved the Texans quickly to their 47. But the next three plays gained exactly zero yards and they punted again. The punt was fair caught at the 16 by wide receiver/return man Wes Welker. Speaking of Mr. Welker, on third and eight from the 18, he caught a pass for a gain of 30 yards. Then Vereen ran off left tackle for 22 more and a first down at the Texan 30. Two more carries by Vereen got them another first down at the 16. But, an unsportsmanlike penalty on wide receiver Brandon Lloyd moved them back 15 yards. They managed to get down to the 19, but the drive stalled there. Gostkowski made his 37-yard attempt and the Patriots now led 10-3 with 10:16 to go in the first half.
After another Texan punt, the Patriots started from their 20. A 13-yard pass to Welker on third and 11 kept the drive alive and Brady found Lloyd for seven more yards. A six-yard carry by Ridley and a 47-yard pass to Welker made it first and goal from the eight-yard line. On first down, Brady tossed a pass to his left and Vereen caught it for an eight-yard touchdown. Gostkowski made another extra point and the Patriots went up 17-3 with 3:38 to go in the half.
On the kickoff, Gostkowski was penalized for a horse collar tackle and that set up the Texans at the Patriot 47. Two carries by Foster set up a first and goal from the seven-yard line. Three more carries got them six points as Foster found the end zone from the one-yard line. Graham made the point after and the Texans now trailed 17-10 with 1:15 to go in the half.
The Patriots netted exactly four yards on their next drive and punted. With 24 seconds remaining, the Texans had the ball at their 38 and three timeouts. A nine-yard pass to Casey and an 11-yard pass to Daniels had them in Patriot territory with precious seconds ticking away. From the Patriot 42, Schaub found Daniels for a gain of five and they called their final timeout with two seconds left. Graham came on and his 55-yard field goal was good. That made it 17-13 as the half came to a close.
The Patriots got the ball to start the second half and started their next possession at their 31. Two passes to Welker and two to Hernandez had them rolling into Texan territory. From the 12, Ridley ran for a gain of four yards. Ridley got the call again and this time he crossed the goal line for another Patriot touchdown. Gostkowski made the point after and the Patriots went up 24-13.
The teams punted on their next possessions and the Texans took over at their ten with just under nine minutes to go in the third quarter. A false start penalty pinned them back to their five. Schaub tossed a short pass to Foster who took it up the left side for a gain of 28 yards. A short run by Foster and a loss of nine on a sack made it third and long again. On third and 16, Johnson caught a pass at midfield for another first down. If the Texans wanted to stay in this game, they had to get some points on this drive. Foster ran for seven more yards and Casey caught a pass for five yards and a first down at the Patriot 39. On third and eight from the 37, Schaub had time and threw a pass right down the middle that was caught by Rob Ninkovich at the 31. There’s only one problem with that. Ninkovich is a Patriot. He returned the ball to the 37. Three carries by Ridley, and passes to Hernandez and Lloyd put the ball at the Texan five-yard line. On first down, Brady looked for Lloyd and found him for another touchdown. Gostkowski made the point after and the Patriots now had a very comfortable 31-13 lead.
The Texans found themselves with terrible field position again as they started at their 14-yard line. An eight-yard pass to tight end Garrett Graham and two short runs made it fourth and one from the 23. When you’re down big in a playoff game, desperate times call for desperate measures. They went for it on fourth and the zebras ruled Foster made it. The Patriots challenged the ruling, but it was upheld and the Texans had a first down at the 24. Three plays later, they had another fourth and one from the 33. This time, Schaub threw it deep and it was incomplete. The Patriots will make you pay if you turn the ball over in your own territory. Sure enough, from the 33, Brady took the snap, looked to his left and threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to Lloyd. That was entirely too easy. Gostkowski made the extra point and the Patriots now led 38-13 with 13 minutes to go in the game.
Manning got loose on another kick return and was finally brought down at the Patriot 37. A couple of runs by Foster got them down to the 25 and from the 25, wide receiver DeVier Posey caught a pass on the right side for a touchdown. Initially it was ruled incomplete, but the Texans challenged the ruling and it was overturned for a touchdown. Graham made the point after and the score was now 38-20 with 11:35 left.
The Patriots netted a grand total of minus five yards on their next possession and Mesko blasted a 64-yard punt that was downed at the Texan 21. Completions to Johnson and Daniels and a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on the Patriots gave the Texans a first down at the Patriot 48. A pass to Foster and two more to Daniels made it first and goal at the four. It took four plays to go four yards, but Schaub hit Foster with a one-yard touchdown pass. They decided to go for two and Johnson caught the pass and the two-point conversion was good. That made it 38-28 with 5:11 to go.
The Texans tried an onside kick and it was recovered by Ninkovich. The Patriots stuck to the ground game to kill the clock and Gostkowski ended up making a 38-yard field goal to make the final score 41-28. That win propels the Patriots to yet another AFC title game.
For the Texans, Matt Schaub completed 34 of 51 for 343 yards, two touchdowns and one very bad interception. Owen Daniels led the team in receptions with nine and Andre Johnson had the most receiving yards with 95. Although he didn’t get loose many times, Arian Foster managed to gain 90 yards on 23 carries and a touchdown. He also had seven receptions for 63 yards and a touchdown. The only other player credited with rushing yards was Schaub and he had one yard on one carry. So that gives the Texans a total of 91 yards on 24 carries. Defensively, linebacker Connor Barwin, cornerback Danieal Manning and cornerback Johnathan Joseph tied for the lead in solo tackles with three. Barwin also had one tackle for a loss and two quarterback hits.
For the Patriots, Tom Brady completed 25 of 40 for 344 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Wes Welker led all receivers in receptions with eight and yards with 131. Stevan Ridley had a good game on the ground with 82 yards on 15 carries and a touchdown. All totaled the Patriots ran for 122 yards on 24 carries. Defensively, cornerback Aqib Talib led the team with nine solo tackles.
Up next for the Patriots is a rematch of last year’s AFC title game as the Baltimore Ravens will be coming to town. In the NFC, the 49ers will be heading to Atlanta to play the Falcons. Both games are scheduled for next Sunday and the NFC title game will kickoff at 3 eastern time. The AFC title game will start at 6:30 eastern time. Until then, take it easy.