On Saturday the galaxy aligned for the AFC Championship game to return to Foxborough for a second straight season after the Baltimore Ravens upset the Denver Broncos, 38-35 in double overtime of the AFC Divisional Round.
All that stood between the Patriots and a return to the AFC Championship game was a Lone Star - the Houston Texans. On Sunday, that star burned out in Foxborough as the Patriots rolled past Houston, 41-28.
Now, for the fifth time in team history, the AFC Championship game will be played in Foxborough. The Patriots are 4-0 all-time in AFC title games at home and 7-1 overall.
"It’s good to be able to play in the AFC Championship Game next week," said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. "I’m really proud of our players; I thought they worked hard all year. Today was a big win for us. The Texans are good football team, they fought hard, they battled us all the way to the end. They have a lot of good football players but fortunately we had a bunch of guys step up today and make the plays we needed to make. It wasn’t perfect and there were certainly a lot of things we can do better but it was a good win. I’m happy for the players. I think they really earned it. They had a good week of practice. I thought they really did a good job preparing for this game. It was good to see us make enough plays here to win. We know Baltimore is tough. We had a great game with them down there earlier in the season. We know that will be a great battle. We’ll enjoy this one for a little while and then get on to the Ravens tomorrow."
Quarterback Tom Brady was dominant, completing 25-of-40 passes for 344 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions enroute to becoming the winningest postseason quarterback in NFL history. Sunday's victory was Brady's 17th in the postseason, passing Joe Montana (16) for the all-time lead. Brady's 17-6 record in the postseason is also the best postseason winning percentage in NFL history.
"I love playing and I love competing," Brady said. "I love being a part of this team and this organization. It’s a lot of mentally tough guys I think I’ve just been fortunate to play on some great teams over the years. I very much appreciate that and I never take that for granted. I'm always going to try to be the best teammate and leader I can possibly be."
As the Texans playoff star dimmed, a new one in New England emerged. Running back Shane Vereen was outstanding after replacing the injured Danny Woodhead early in the first quarter. Vereen carried the ball seven times for 41 yards and a touchdown and added five receptions for 83 yards and two touchdowns, including a 33-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter.
Kick-off for next Sunday's AFC Championship game is set for 6:30 p.m. at Gillette Stadium. Here's a roundup of game notes from the Patriots, 41-28 win over the Houston Texans in Sunday's AFC Divisional Round game, courtesy of the Patriots Media Relations Department.
PATRIOTS ADVANCE TO NINTH AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
With the 41-28 victory over Houston Texans, New England has advanced to its ninth AFC Championship Game where they will face the Baltimore Ravens.
The Patriots have compiled a 7-1 all-time record in AFC Championship Games, including a 4-0 record at home and a 3-0 record at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots’ only AFC Championship loss was in the 2006 playoffs at Indianapolis. It is the third time in team history that the Patriots have advanced to the AFC Championship game in back-to-back seasons, having also done so in 2003-2004 and 2006-2007.
PATRIOTS WILL FACE RAVENS IN AFC CHAMPIONSHIP FOR SECOND CONSECUTIVE SEASON
The Patriots and Ravens will face off in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium for the second consecutive season. It is the fourth time since the NFL-AFL merger that two teams have met in the AFC Championship Game in consecutive seasons. Oakland and Pittsburgh are the only teams to meet in three consecutive AFC Championship Games.
PATRIOTS WIN 20th PLAYOFF GAME OF ROBERT KRAFT’S OWNERSHIP
The Patriots won their 20 playoff game since Robert Kraft purchased the team in 1994. New England’s 20 playoff victories over that span are the most in the NFL (Pittsburgh, 17). New England also leads the league in total victories (225), Super Bowl titles (3), conference championships (7), and division championships (12) since Kraft purchased the team.
PATRIOTS IMPROVE TO 10-6 IN DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF GAMES
With the win over the Texans, the Patriots are now 10-6 all-tome in Divisional Playoff games.
PATRIOTS IMPROVE TO 14-3 AT HOME IN PLAYOFFS
The Patriots now have a 14-3 (.824) all time record in home playoff games. The Patriots’ .824 winning percentage at home in the postseason is the best among teams with at least 10 home playoff games.
PATRIOTS IMPROVE IN ALL-TIME PLAYOFF GAME RESULTS
The Patriots have compiled a 24-16 record in their 40 playoff games and their .600 playoff winning percentage is tied for fourth best in NFL history among teams that have played at least 15 playoff games.
BRADY MOVES UP ON POSTSEASON LISTS
Tom Brady had three touchdowns against Houston, raising his career playoff total to 41 touchdown passes to become just the third NFL quarterback with 40 touchdown passes in the postseason. Brady is third all-time on the postseason touchdown list, behind Joe Montana (45) and Brett Favre (44). Brady ranks fourth on the NFL’s all-time postseason passing yardage list with 5,629 career passing yards after moving past Dan Marino and John Elway in the 2011 postseason. He leads all quarterbacks with 524 postseason completions.
TOM BRADY WINS 17th CAREER POSTSEASON GAME
Tom Brady won his 17th career postseason game to improve to a 17-6 overall postseason record. His 17 career postseason victories are the most in NFL history. His .739 winning percentage in the postseason is the best postseason winning percentage by a starting quarterback (minimum of 15 starts). Brady and Joe Montana are the only NFL players with 15 or more wins. Brady is now 11-2 in home postseason games.
BRADY TIES JOE MONANTA FOR SECOND WITH HIS 23RD POSTSEASON START
Tom Brady made his 23rd start in the postseason and is now tied with Joe Montana (23) for the second most starts by a quarterback in postseason play, behind Brett Favre (24).
BRADY SETS PATRIOTS MARK WITH HIS 23RD POSTSEASON GAME
Tom Brady played in his 23rd postseason game with the Patriots and now leads all Patriots players with the most postseason games played. He entered this week tied with Tedy Bruschi with 22 postseason games played.
BELICHICK MOVES INTO THIRD ON POSTSEASON WINS LIST
With the victory over Houston, Bill Belichick collected his 18 playoff win and broke a tie with Joe Gibbs for third-most among head coaches in NFL history. Belichick is behind only Tom Landry (20) and Don Shula (19) in career postseason wins. With an 18-7 postseason record, Belichick has the third best postseason record by a head coach in NFL history. Belichick trails only Vince Lombardi (9-1, .900) and Tom Flores (8-3, .727).
WELKER IS POSTSEASON RECEIVING MACHINE
With eight receptions against Houston, Wes Welker passed Troy Brown (58) for most postseason receptions in Patriots history. Welker extended his streak of postseason games with at least six catches to eight and raised his career playoff total to 61 receptions in just eight career playoff games. Welker is averaging 7.6 receptions per game in the playoffs. Welker had a playoff career high of 11 receptions in Super Bowl XLII, tied with Deion Branch, Jerry Rice and Dan Ross for a Super Bowl record.
WELKER SETS POSTSEASON CAREER-HIGH
Wes Welker finished the game 131 yards. It is the 16th time a Patriots player has had 100 yards receiving in a postseason game. It is Welker’s second 100-yard postseason game. He had 11 receptions for 103 yards in Super Bowl XLII vs. NY Giants (02-03-08). Welker had 120 yards receiving in the first half. It is the fourth 100-yard half by a Patriots player and the second most ever behind Deion Branch, who had 122 yards receiving on Jan.14, 2006 at Denver in an AFC Divisional Playoff game. .Welker has gained 100 yards receiving in a half nine times in the regular season. (6 in the first half and 3 in the second half). He accomplished the feat one time in 2012 when he had 7 receptions for 102 yards on Oct. 14, 2012 at Seattle in a game where he finished with 10 receptions for 138 yards.
VEREEN TIES TEAM POSTSEASON MARK WITH THREE TOUCHDOWNS
RB Shane Vereen scored three touchdowns against Houston, scoring on a 1-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, an 8-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter and a 33-yard reception in the fourth quarter. His three touchdowns overall ties a team postseason mark. Curtis Martin had three rushing touchdowns vs. Pittsburgh on Jan. 5, 1997 and Rob Gronkowski had three receiving touchdowns vs. Denver on Jan. 14, 2012.
WELKER SETS PATRIOTS RECORD FOR MOST POSTSEASON RECEPTIONS
Wes Welker finished with 8 receptions and became the Patriots all-time leader in postseason receptions, moving past Deion Branch (54) and Troy Brown (58).
ZOLTAN MESKO HAS SECOND AND THIRD LONGEST PUNTS IN PATRIOTS POSTSEASON HISTORY
Zoltan Mesko had two 60+ yard punts in the game, with a 61-yard punt in the first quarter and a 64-yard punt in the fourth quarter, good for the second and third longest punts in Patriots postseason history. The longest punt in the playoffs for the Patriots was a 68 yarder by Tom Yewcic at San Diego (Jan. 5, 1964). Mesko’s longest career punt is a 65 yarder (vs. Baltimore on Oct. 17, 2010 and vs. Miami Dec. 24, 2011).
BRADY GOES OVER 300 YARDS FOR FIFTH TIME IN POSTSEASON
Brady had his 5th career 300-yard game in the postseason after finishing with 343 yards.
BRADY THROWS FOR AT LEAST THREE TOUCHDOWNS IN A POSTSEASON GAME FOR THE FIFTH TIME
Brady threw three touchdown passes in a postseason game for the fifth time in his career.