FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots got a surprise performance from backup running back Shane Vereen, who totalled three touchdowns, en route to a 41-28 win over the Houston Texans Sunday to advance to the AFC championship against the Baltimore Ravens.
The Patriots will host the AFC championship 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 20.
Vereen tallied 124 total yards, including 83 receiving yards on five catches while filling in for the injured Danny Woodhead. Woodhead got hurt in the first quarter on the Patriots' first offensive series. He went on to catch two touchdowns and run for another as the team's no-huddle running back.
Tom Brady was solid, earning his 17th playoff victory. He now has the most wins ever for a quarterback in the postseason, breaking a tie with Joe Montana. He finished 25 of 40 for 344 yards and three touchdowns.
Brady's favorite target was Wes Welker, who finished with eight catches for 131 yards. Welker now has the most postseason receptions (61) in Patriots franchise history.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was back for his second game after missing six weeks with a broken forearm, suffered the same injury in the first quarter of Sunday's game trying to haul in a deep pass from Brady. He's out for the rest of the playoffs.
Texans quarterback Matt Schaub finished with 343 yards on 34 of 51 passing. He had two touchdowns and an interception.
The Texans were 4 of 15 on third down.
Texans running back Arian Foster had 90 yards rushing on 22 carries and a touchdown.
1:14 4th quarter: Patriots 41, Texans 28 -- Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 38-yard field goal as the Patriots took up a sufficient amount of time to hold off a Texans rally.
5:11 4th quarter: Patriots 38, Texans 28 -- Matt Schaub threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Arian Foster and then a 2-point conversion pass to Andre Johnson as the Texans closed the gap to 10 points.
9:58 4th quarter: Patriots 38, Texans 20 -- Aaron Hernandez was flagged for offensive pass interference and the Patriots' series subsequently went nowhere.
11:35 4th quarter: Patriots 38, Texans 20 -- It turns out Houston receiver DeVier Posey did come down with an amazing catch. Matt Schaub hit Posey for a 25-yard touchdown pass that he bobbled near the sideline of the end zone, but after review the incomplete call on the field was overturned.
It was a fast drive for the Texans, going 1:32 in five plays and 37 yards.
Posey beat Alfonzo Dennard in coverage.
13:07 4th quarter: Patriots 38, Texans 13 -- On the Patriots very first play after getting the ball back at the Texans' 33-yard line, Tom Brady threw a deep touchdown pass to Shane Vereen down the sideline. Vereen made a great catch.
The backup running back now has three touchdowns on the day.
13:13 4th quarter: Patriots 31, Texans 13 -- Matt Schaub was looking for receiver DeVier Posey on fourth and 1 down the field, but he missed him by a mile. The Texans turned it over on downs at their own 33-yard line.
1:21 3d quarter: Patriots 31, Texans 13 -- Stevan Ridley busted off a 23-yard run down the Texans' 5-yard line. The Patriots moved fast, lining up before the Texans were ready as Tom Brady hit Brandon Lloyd for a quick 5-yard touchdown pass in a one-on-one situation. It was a 6-play, 63-yard drive.
4:14 3d quarter: Patriots 24, Texans 13 -- Rob Ninkovich intercepted a Matt Schaub pass. Ninkovich had dropped back from the line into a zone, catching Schaub off guard.
It was Ninkovich's first postseason interception.
8:57 3d quarter: Patriots 24, Texans 13 -- Two straight incomplete passes and the Patriots were forced to punt after going three-and-out.
9:47 3d quarter: Patriots 24, Texans 13 -- The Texans got away with one. What appeared to be a fumble by Owen Daniels was overturned after referee Terry Corrente ruled that Daniels was down on forward progress before the ball came out. On the next play, a third down, Matt Schaub threw it away as the Texans were forced to punt.
11:30 3d quarter: Patriots 24, Texans 13 -- Texans safety Glover Quinn fell down trying to cover Aaron Hernandez, allowing for the speedy tight end to get loose in the open field for a 40-yard reception.
Two plays later, Stevan Ridley ran in an 8-yard touchdown as the Patriots pushed their lead to 11 points. It was a 7-play, 69-yard drive in 3:30.
15:00 3d quarter: Patriots 17, Texans 13 -- The second half is about to get underway. Here's some stats from the first half:
Tom Brady - 14-24, 210 yards, 1 TD, 101.0 QB rating
Shane Vereen - 6 carries, 40 yards, 1 TD, 3 receptions, 45 receiving yards, 1 receiving TD
Stevan Ridley - 5 carries, 19 yards
Wes Welker - 6 receptions, 120 yards
Aaron Hernandez - 3 receptions, 25 yards
Matt Schaub - 14-23, 146 yards, 79.3 QB rating
Arian Foster - 11 carries, 57 yards, 1 TD, 2 receptions, 25 receiving yards
Andre Johnson - 4 receptions, 54 yards
Owen Daniels - 4 receptions, 31 yards
The Texans were 1 for 6 on third down in the first half, continuing a trend from the first game.
End of first half: Patriots 17, Texans 13 -- Texans kicker Shayne Graham nailed a 55-yard field goal as time expired in the first half.
Matt Schaub connected with tight end Owen Daniels on three passes for 25 yards in just 24 seconds to get Graham into field goal range.
The Texans are keeping the game close.
0:31 2d quarter: Patriots 17, Texans 10 -- The Patriots went three-and-out after Tom Brady's arm was hit during his throwing motion by Texans LB Connor Barwin.
1:15 2d quarter: Patriots 17, Texans 10 -- Texans running back Arian Foster broke off two runs of 21 and 19 yards before punching in a 1-yard touchdown up the gut of the Patriots' defense. The play went under review and was upheld.
Foster now has 57 yards on 11 carries.
3:38 2d quarter: Patriots 17, Texans 3 -- Tom Brady threw a 47-yard bomb to Wes Welker down the sideline -- marking a postseason record for Welker with the Patriots for receptions. One play later, Brady hit an open Shane Vereen in the flat for an 8-yard touchdown.
It was a 7-play, 80-yard drive in only 2:56. Welker now has 59 career postseason receptions for a franchise record and has six catches for 120 yards, a personal best in the playoffs.
6:42 2d quarter: Patriots 10, Texans 3 -- We saw a couple of good plays from Steve Gregory in the open field. He broke up a pass to Texans tight end Owen Daniels and he wrapped up backup tight end Garrett Graham on a third down throw from Matt Schaub well before the first down marker.
The Texans were forced to punt again.
10:16 2d quarter: Patriots 10, Texans 3 -- We're getting a strong dose of Shane Vereen. He's now rushed for 36 yards and caught two passes for 37 more. But a questionable call on Brandon Lloyd for unsportsmanlike conduct (throwing the ball at an official) ruined the rythym of the Patriots' drive. They settled for a 37-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski. The drive was 11 plays, 65 yards in 3:51.
14:14 2d quarter: Patriots 7, Texans 3 -- The Patriots forced another Texans punt, helped in part by great coverage in the secondary. Vince Wilfork is again dominating up front and Chandler Jones has been able to get pressure, flushing Matt Schaub from the pocket on third down. It's definitely not Schaub's preference to throw on the run. He's just not that good at it.
End of 1st quarter: Patriots 7, Texans 3 -- First quarter comes to a close and the Patriots have suffered a couple of injuries, including tight end Rob Gronkowski and running back Danny Woodhead.
Gronkowski appeared to favor his arm and returned to the locker room with the medical staff. Woodhead suffered a thumb injury. Both of them are questionable to return.
1:28 1st quarter: Patriots 7, Texans 3 -- Shane Vereen caught a pass from Tom Brady and raced down the sideline for a 25-yard reception. He followed up two plays later with a 1-yard touchdown as the Patriots took the lead.
It was a 6-play, 65-yard drive that spanned 3:01.
Stevan Ridley broke off a 14-yard run on the drive.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski officially has an arm injury and his return is questionable.
4:29 1st quarter: Texans 3, Patriots 0 -- Patriots defensive backs are making some plays now. Aqib Talib broke up a pass to Texans WR Andre Johnson and Devin McCourty tracked down Arian Foster before he found some open field on a cutback run.
The Patriots forced another punt.
4:52 1st quarter: Texans 3, Patriots 0 -- Rob Gronkowski has gone to the locker room with the medical staff. It appears his left arm was injured.
6:01 1st quarter: Texans 3, Patriots 0 -- Wes Welker dropped a third down pass as the Texans forced another Patriots punt to start the game.
Welker took a big hit after catching an 11-yard pass on third down earlier in the seven-play series. Texans defensive end J.J. Watt shared a sack with teammate Brooks Reed on Tom Brady.
Danny Woodhead has a thumb injury, which is why Shane Vereen has been in the game. Woodhead's return is questionable.
9:43 1st quarter: Texans 3, Patriots 0 -- Texans quarterback Matt Schaub went 4 of 5 on the last drive, but his third down pass to tight end Owen Daniels was well short of a first down.
Vince Wilfork is already making impact plays. He stuffed Arian Foster for a 1-yard loss on the series. Patriots take over at their 12 after a good punt by the Texans' Donnie Jones.
12:48 1st quarter: Texans 3, Patriots 0 -- The Texans held the Patriots to a three-and-out on their first defensive series. They stuffed Danny Woodhead, who left the game with what looked like a left hand injury, and then cornerback Johnathan Joseph was able to blanket Brandon Lloyd on a 3d-and-2 pass from Tom Brady.
13:57 1st quarter: Texans 3, Patriots 0 -- Danieal Manning returned the opening kickoff 94 yards but the Patriots held the Texans to a 27-yard field goal by Shayne Graham.
Fullback James Casey dropped a touchdown pass in the end zone from Matt Schaub and and Schaub threw over Andre Johnson's head.
15:00 1st quarter: Patriots 0, Texans 0 -- The Texans won the coin toss and elected to receive. We'll see if this strategy pays off in their favor.
Obviously if they don't score right away, it could hurt them going up against the league's No. 1 offense.
Pregame: It's 51 degrees in Foxborough as the Patriots get ready to take on the Houston Texans in the AFC divisional round of the playoffs.
We've got two relatively healthy squads -- all starters are active -- and a lot of hype that is finally coming to a close.
We'll have the coin toss shortly and then kickoff. Stay right here for series-by-series updates throughout the game and for postgame notes and analysis afterward. I hope this one is as enjoyable to watch as the past three games we've seen this weekend.