NFL playoffs: Patriots down Texans, face Ravens next

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The Texans couldn’t measure up.

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.

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).

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.

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.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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