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Last updated: March 17. 2013 2:53AM - 182 Views
By BARRY WILNER, AP Pro Football Writer



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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. ‚?? Tom Brady idolized Joe Montana as a kid in the Bay Area. Now, he‚??s surpassed his hero for postseason wins.


Brady got his 17th, the most for any quarterback, in New England‚??s 41-28 AFC divisional victory over Houston on Sunday. If Brady can lead the Patriots past Baltimore in next weekend‚??s conference title game, then win the Super Bowl, he‚??ll equal the 49ers‚?? Hall of Famer for NFL championships.


Brady has guided the Patriots to five Super Bowls, winning the first three; Montana was 4 for 4 in the big game, playing for Brady‚??s hometown team.


‚??I grew up a 49ers fan,‚?Ě Brady said. ‚??Joe Montana and Steve Young ... those guys are in another class.‚?Ě


Next up is Baltimore, which stunned top-seeded Denver in double overtime Saturday, and lost 23-20 at Gillette Stadium last January in the last step before the Super Bowl. But the Ravens beat the Patriots in Week 3 this season at Baltimore.


‚??I think the two best teams are in the final,‚?Ě Brady said. ‚??Baltimore certainly deserves to be here and so do we.‚?Ě


Seldom-used Shane Vereen scored three times, twice on pinpoint throws from Brady, as New England (13-4) beat Houston (13-5) for the second time in a month.


Brady was missing some key helpers, but got the usual outstanding performance from Wes Welker, his favorite target the last six years. The AFC‚??s top receiver with 118 catches this season, Welker looked like he might reach that total against Houston‚??s befuddled defense. He caught six in the first half for 120 yards, including a 47-yarder, and wound up with eight for 131.


And the AFC East champion Patriots got more than anyone could have predicted from third-string running back Vereen, who scored their first two TDs on a 1-yard run and an 8-yard pass. He capped his biggest pro performance with an over-the-shoulder 33-yard catch early in the fourth period.


It was Brady‚??s 41st postseason TD pass, behind only Brett Favre (44) and, you guessed it, Montana (45).


‚??I hope I am around for a few more years,‚?Ě the 35-year-old Brady said. ‚??I love playing, I love competing ...‚?Ě


The boost from Vereen offset the loss of TE Rob Gronkowski (arm) and RB Danny Woodhead (thumb) in the first quarter.


‚??Shane had a great game, just a huge growing up moment for him, very special,‚?Ě Brady said. ‚??There were a lot of guys who made a lot of plays.‚?Ě


New England‚??s defense helped put away the Texans. Rob Ninkovich‚??s leaping third-quarter interception stopped a drive, and six plays later, Brady hit Brandon Lloyd for a 6-yard score.


Although the Texans got two fourth-quarter TDs on passes by Matt Schaub, their season ended with four defeats in their last six games. That slump cost the AFC South champions the top seed in the playoffs, forcing a trip to New England after they beat Cincinnati in the wild-card round.


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 rally.


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 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.


Vereen was an unlikely star. After gaining 400 yards overall during the season, he picked up 124 against the Texans. He had four touchdowns during the season.


Patriots 41, Texans 28





















Houston310015‚??28
New England7101410‚??41


First Quarter


Hou‚??FG S.Graham 27, 13:57.


NE‚??Vereen 1 run (Gostkowski kick), 1:28.



Second Quarter


NE‚??FG Gostkowski 37, 10:16.


NE‚??Vereen 8 pass from Brady (Gostkowski kick), 3:38.


Hou‚??Foster 1 run (S.Graham kick), 1:15.


Hou‚??FG S.Graham 55, :00.



Third Quarter


NE‚??Ridley 8 run (Gostkowski kick), 11:30.


NE‚??Lloyd 5 pass from Brady (Gostkowski kick), 1:21.



Fourth Quarter


NE‚??Vereen 33 pass from Brady (Gostkowski kick), 13:07.


Hou‚??Posey 25 pass from Schaub (S.Graham kick), 11:35.


Hou‚??Foster 1 pass from Schaub (Johnson pass from Schaub), 5:11.


NE‚??FG Gostkowski 38, 1:14.













































































HouNE
First downs2524
Total Net Yards425457
Rushes-yards23-9124-122
Passing334335
Punt Returns3-171-0
Kickoff Returns5-2303-51
Interceptions Ret.0-01-6
Comp-Att-Int34-51-125-40-0
Sacked-Yards Lost1-91-9
Punts5-36.45-52.8
Fumbles-Lost3-00-0
Penalties-Yards3-205-56
Time of Possession31:2428:36


INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS


RUSHING‚??Houston, Foster 22-90, Schaub 1-1. New England, Ridley 15-82, Vereen 7-41, Woodhead 1-0, Brady 1-(minus 1).


PASSING‚??Houston, Schaub 34-51-1-343. New England, Brady 25-40-0-344.


RECEIVING‚??Houston, Daniels 9-81, Johnson 8-95, Foster 7-63, Posey 3-47, Casey 3-29, Walter 2-15, G.Graham 2-13. New England, Welker 8-131, Hernandez 6-85, Vereen 5-83, Lloyd 5-32, Ridley 1-13.


MISSED FIELD GOALS‚??None.


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