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Vereen's 2 TDs lead Pats to 31-13 lead after third

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Vereen's 2 TDs lead Pats to 31-13 lead after third

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Tom Brady threw two touchdown passes, Shane Vereen scored twice and the New England Patriots overcame a 94-yard return by Danieal Manning on the opening kickoff to take a 31-13 lead over the Houston Texans after three quarters of their AFC divisional playoff game Sunday.

Shayne Graham kicked a 55-yard field goal on the final play of the first half after a short punt by Zoltan Mesko gave the Texans the ball at their 38-yard line. That cut the lead to 17-13.

But the Patriots (12-4) scored on two of their three series in the third quarter on an 8-yard run by Stevan Ridley and a 5-yard pass from Brady to Brandon Lloyd.

The Patriots got little help from running back Danny Woodhead and tight end Rob Gronkowski, who left with injuries.

Woodhead hurt his thumb after carrying the ball on the Patriots' first offensive play and Gronkowski went to the locker room with an arm injury midway through the period. Gronkowski was playing his second game since breaking his left forearm

After the Patriots took a 24-13 lead with Ridley's touchdown, both teams punted before the Texans (13-4) started a drive at their 10-yard line. They moved to the New England 37 with the help of a 22-yard completion from Matt Schaub to Andre Johnson. But five plays later, Rob Ninkovich jumped and intercepted a pass over the middle intended for James Casey.

That gave the Patriots the ball at their 37 and they needed just six plays to score on Lloyd's touchdown in the first playoff game of his 10-year career.

Vereen had scored on a 1-yard run with 1:28 left in the first quarter after Graham opened the scoring with a 27-yard field goal.

Stephen Gostkowski gave the Patriots a 10-3 lead with a 31-yard field goal on the first series of the second quarter. They went ahead 17-3 as Tom Brady threw to a wide-open Vereen, who easily ran into the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown reception.

But the Texans made it 17-10 with 1:15 left in the half on a 1-yard run by Arian Foster, who gained all 47 yards on the drive on five rushes. Manning had set them up with another big kickoff return. He ran 35 yards before being horse-collared by Gostkowski, who was called for a 15-yard penalty.

Manning's first kickoff return set up Graham's opening field goal just 1:03 into the game.

That early score was in stark contrast to Houston's first game against New England, a 42-14 loss in which the Texans trailed 21-0 at halftime.

The Patriots punted on their first two possessions before taking charge.

After a poor punt by Donnie Jones gave them the ball at their 35, Ridley rushed 14 yards on the first play, then lost 2 on the next. Brady then connected on three straight passes: 13 yards to Ridley, 25 to Vereen and 14 to Aaron Hernandez.

Vereen ran in from the 1-yard line on the next play.

After Gostkowski's field goal, Jones punted again for Houston and New England started at its 20. With a second-and-3 at the Patriots 39, Brady hit Wes Welker for a 47-yard completion down the left sideline. It was Welker's 59th postseason catch, a New England club record, and he had 131 yards receiving on eight catches after three quarters.

On the next play, Vereen drifted out to the left with no Texan nearby and scored 3:38 before intermission.

The Patriots had early troubles on offense, punting on their first two possessions. Brady was sacked once, with NFL sacks leader J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed sharing credit for it.

In the first meeting with the Texans, Brady threw three touchdown passes on the Patriots' first three possessions.

The winner of Sunday's game will host the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC championship game next Sunday.

New England's victory over Houston in Foxborough on Dec. 10 began the Texans' stretch of three losses in their last four regular-season games that cost them a playoff bye and home-field advantage.

But Houston beat the Cincinnati Bengals 19-13 in a wild-card game to advance to Sunday's rematch, the first playoff meeting between the Texans and Patriots.

AFC East champion New England had a first-round bye and is the top remaining AFC seed after the No. 1 Denver Broncos lost to the No. 4 Ravens 38-35 in double overtime on Saturday.

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Ravens tight end suspended a year or more for violating substance abuse policy

Ravens tight end suspended a year or more for violating substance abuse policy

The NFL announced today that tight end Darren Waller of the Baltimore Ravens would be suspended for a year or longer for his second violation of the substance abuse policy.

Waller was a 2015 sixth-round pick out of Georgia Tech who served a four-game suspension to start the 2016 season for a substance abuse violation. After returning from his suspension last year, he posted 10 catches for 85 yards and two touchdowns in a limited role.

After his 2016 violation, he was quoted as saying [via Ravens.com]:

“There were other personal issues, and [marijuana] was the one thing I always turned to,” Waller said. “It was just about finding more positive outlets for me to do, like talking to people about it and things like that. I’m definitely at a better place with that now.”

Unfortunately for the Ravens, he will miss the 2017 season and potentially longer after the latest violation. It leaves the Ravens down two tight ends from last year after Dennis Pitta was released earlier this month after re-injuring his hip.

MORE RAVENS: Zach Orr considering coming out of retirement

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Former Raven Zach Orr considering NFL comeback after postive health prognosis

Former Raven Zach Orr considering NFL comeback after postive health prognosis

In January of 2017, former Ravens linebacker Zach Orr took the podium at the team's training facility alongside head coach John Harbaugh, GM Ozzie Newsome and defensive coordinator Dean Pees, to announce he would be retiring from football at the age of 24.

Why? Orr suffered a shoulder injury during their week 16 game against longtime rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, which shed light into a condition he's had since birth.

He had a routine MRI, but the Ravens training staff suggested a full body CAT scan as well. The CAT scan reveled Orr had a congenital back/spine condition where one of the upper vertebra isn't totally formed causing there to be an opening. Less than 1 percent of people are born with such a condition and he wasn't aware of it until he suffered this injury.

Doctors told Orr he was at risk of paralysis or even death if he played with such a condition. He also would have never been able to pass an NFL physical, ultimately forcing him to retire.

During his press conference, Orr said this,

"If there's some miracle way where I can play the game, I promise I'd be the first one to grab my cleats again, start back training and try to find a way to get back out there," Orr said.

Well, fast forward to today and it seems that miracle may have happened.

NFL Network reporter Mike Garafolo told Good Morning Football that after getting a second opinion from doctors, and receiving positive news, Orr is considering a return to the NFL.

"I had my mind made up. I was like man, the doctors told me I was done. This is a serious issue. So I'm going to leave it alone. But I just kept hearing that from multiple people and some were telling me to just go check out and seek out some more opinions and things like that and come to find out my condition, it is rare – .01 percent of the people have what I have – but there's no actual evidence or facts that I'm at a higher risk than any other player. And it's actually been documented that a college player who had the exact same thing that I have that returned to play with no problems."

The doctors' real concerns would be if someone with Orr's spinal condition played with a herniated disk. He did suffer from herniated disks last season, but that injury has since diminished. 

MORE RAVENS: 2017 PRESEASON SCHEDULE

If Orr does decide to get back into the NFL, getting signed could be pretty easy. 

When he announced his retirement, he never filed for retirement papers and the Ravens never placed him on their reserve/retired list because they never thought he would play again.

Because of this, Orr is considered an unrestricted free agent and can sign with a team right away. 

Orr had his best season in 2016, where he lead the Ravens in tackles with 133. It's been reported that eight teams have reached out to the linebacker since his announcement and that he will be meeting with the Lions on Thursday.