- Mike Reiss, ESPN New England Patriots reporter
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Rapid reaction from the Patriots’ 41-28 victory over the Texans in the AFC divisional round of the playoffs:
What it means. The Patriots will host the Ravens in the AFC Championship next Sunday at Gillette Stadium (6:30 p.m. ET). This is a rematch of last year’s AFC title game. This season, the Patriots lost to the Ravens 31-30 on Sept. 23. That was a game in which the Patriots led in the fourth quarter before the Ravens came charging back. Replacement officials worked that game and there were some questionable calls.
Gronkowski re-injures arm -- surgery required. Tight end Rob Gronkowski left the game with an arm injury on the Patriots’ seventh offensive snap and did not return, as ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reports that Gronkowski broke his forearm again and will require surgery. Gronkowski will miss the remainder of the playoffs. Gronkowski, who was playing with a large protective white wrap up his previously broken left forearm, ran a route up the right sideline and caught a pass from quarterback Tom Brady out of bounds while falling to the ground. Gronkowski stayed on the sideline and appeared to be in significant pain before retreating to the locker room with medical staffers. The Patriots didn’t alter their offensive approach without Gronkowski, turning to Michael Hoomanawanui and sticking with their two-tight end offense. The Patriots played without Gronkowski for five games at the end of the regular season and were 4-1 in those games.
Woodhead and Jones also injured; don’t return. Running back Danny Woodhead (thumb) and defensive end Chandler Jones (ankle) also left the game and did not return. Woodhead, the change-of-pace back who started as the Patriots attempted to play quickly and seemed to place a premium on pass-protecting skills at the position, left after the first offensive play. He watched the second half from the sidelines. Jones, the starting right end, left late in the second quarter and watched the remainder of the game from the sidelines.
Vereen a surprise contributor. Running back Shane Vereen had a season high for snaps played, as his number was called after Woodhead left the game with injury. The 2011 second-round draft choice out of Cal became just the second Patriots player in franchise history to score a rushing and receiving touchdown in the same playoff game, joining receiver Deion Branch. His speed was a tough matchup for the Texans as he had a big first half (40 yards on 6 carries; 50 yards on 4 receptions). The fresh-legged combination of Vereen and 2011 third-round draft choice Stevan Ridley helped the Patriots strike a nice balance between the run and the pass, as the offensive line and tight ends did a nice job up front.
Fast offense sparks the Patriots. Part of what makes the Patriots’ offense so tough to defend is its ability to step on the gas pedal at any moment and play fast. That was on display once again as there were plays in which the Texans were hardly set when the ball was snapped and the Patriots gained big yardage on the ground. Also, receiver Wes Welker was his typical productive self, totaling 120 yards on six catches in the first half.
No overlooking Wilfork and defense. With captain Vince Wilfork leading the way, the Patriots’ defense played a strong first half to create some early separation as the team opened a 17-3 lead. Limiting running back Arian Foster was one key. With a plan that had cornerback Aqib Talib matching up against receiver Andre Johnson regardless of where Johnson aligned, the Patriots paid extra attention to taking both Foster and Johnson away, putting the game in quarterback Matt Schaub’s hands. Schaub wasn’t up to the task.
Quick hits. Tom Brady becomes the NFL’s all-time winningest postseason quarterback, with 17. He passes his boyhood idol Joe Montana. Wes Welker broke Troy Brown’s franchise record for postseason receptions (58). Brady threw his 40th postseason touchdown pass, moving him into third place all-time. Bill Belichick is now 18-7 in the playoffs as a head coach; only Tom Landry (20) and Don Shula (19) have more.
What's next: AFC Championship versus Ravens next Sunday (6:30 p.m. ET).
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Rapid reaction from the Patriots’ 41-28 victory over the Texans in the AFC divisional round of the playoffs:What it means.