In a shootout, Patriots down the Texans, 34-31

HOUSTON – The Texans gave the Patriots a much bigger challenge in this December meeting than they did a year ago, but New England was able to pull out its first road win since September with a 34-31 vicvtory at Reliant Stadium.

A 53-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal with 3:15 to play gave the Patriots the go-ahead points, but they needed another second-half comeback to gain their ninth win of the season.

It was the second 53-yard, fourth-quarter conversion for Gostkowski — the first one tied the score at 31-31 with 7:16 left.

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The win snapped a three-game road losing streak for the Patriots and extended Houston’s skid to 10 games.

New England found itself in now-familiar territory at halftime, trailing 17-7. It was the third straight game, and fourth of the last five, the Patriots have been down at the break.

But as has also become part of the narrative, they came out of the locker room and got into the end zone in just five plays that went 78 yards.

Danny Amendola, targeted just once in the first half, started things with a 16-yard reception, then the Patriots followed a 1-yard Shane Vereen loss with a 50-yard catch and run by Rob Gronkowski.

It appeared Vereen got inside the pylon on the ensuing short pass play, but he was ruled down at the 1, for a 12-yard catch-and-run.

Former Brown Bear James Develin, who got his first career carry earlier in the game, got his second on first down, and had one of the hardest-fought touchdown runs this season: stopped at the middle of the line, Develin kept his feet moving and kept moving to his left until he finally got over the goal line for his first touchdown.

Houston went three-and-out in response, with Joe Vellano stopping Ben Tate (102 yards on 22 carries) on third and 1 to force a punt.

The Patriots took the lead for the first time a few minutes later, helped by back-to-back big pass plays: the first a 17-yard catch from Amendola, who bobbled the ball but was able to maintain possession; the second was a beautiful 25-yard sideline pass to Edelman that Brady dropped directly into his waiting hands, putting New England inside the red zone.

Vereen got the honors on the touchdown; left wide open on the left side of the field, he essentially walked into the end zone for his first TD of the season.

But the Texans weren’t ready to give in, reclaiming the lead on their first third-quarter touchdown since Week 2. Andre Johnson and Tate got the ball on seven of the 10 plays, but on third and 1 from the 5, quarterback Case Keenum’s bootleg fooled the defense, and he scored.

The teams traded points, with Gostkowski tying things up at 31-31 with 7:21 to play.

New England’s defense forced a three and out from the Texans, who got a solid game from Keenum (15 of 30 passing for 272 yards), making his sixth career start. On third and 10, Chandler Jones burst through the middle of the line and was quickly in Keenum’s face; he threw the ball away, Shane Lechler punted, and New England got the ball at its 33.

When a third-and-short pass attempt to Gronkowski was batted away by cornerback Brandon Harris, Gostkowski came on to kick the eventual game-winning points.