Patriots 41, Texans 28: Tom Brady threw three touchdown passes and Shane Vereen collected a trio of scores as New England toppled visiting Houston for the second time in five weeks to set up a rematch in the AFC Championship Game.
Brady, who completed 25 of 40 passes for 344 yards, moved past boyhood idol Joe Montana with his NFL-record 17th postseason victory. Wes Welker reeled in eight receptions for 131 yards and Vereen added five for 83 for the second-seeded Patriots (13-4), who will host fourth-seeded Baltimore (12-6) next week.
Vereen gave New England a 7-3 lead late in the first quarter after he entered the end zone untouched on a 1-yard rush over left tackle. After Stephen Gostkowski capped an 11-play drive with a 37-yard field goal, Vereen pushed the advantage to 17-3 by taking advantage of busted coverage on an 8-yard scoring strike.
Houston (13-5) strung together 10 points in a 75-second span late in the second quarter to cut into the deficit, but Stevan Ridley bolted in from 8 yards out on New England's opening drive of the third quarter. Brady connected with Brandon Lloyd on a quick 5-yard strike before sealing the win with a 33-yard touchdown pass to Vereen down the sideline.
Matt Schaub threw for 343 yards with two touchdowns and an interception for the Texans, who lost at New England 42-14 on Dec. 10. Arian Foster rushed for 90 yards and a touchdown and had seven receptions for 63 yards and another score.
GAME NOTEBOOK: Patriots stud TE Rob Gronkowski injured his forearm while diving for a pass early in the first quarter. Gronkowski, who was playing in his second game since breaking his left forearm, did not return to the contest. Reports out of Foxborough indicate he will undergo surgery and be lost for the rest of the season. ... New England posted a 23-20 triumph over Baltimore in last season's AFC title game after Billy Cundiff misfired on a 32-yard field goal attempt in the waning moments.. The Ravens exacted a small measure of revenge with a 31-30 victory over the Patriots on Sept. 23. ... Vereen became the third player in postseason history with two touchdown receptions and a rushing score, joining San Francisco RBs Ricky Watters and Roger Craig.