Pats beat Texans 41-28, return to AFC title game

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Pats beat Texans 41-28, return to AFC title game

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Tom Brady made history. Now it's his coach's turn.

The Patriots' quarterback added to a string of postseason success that stretches back more than a decade, earning his 17th playoff win to break a tie with his boyhood idol, Joe Montana, for most by a quarterback.

After New England's 41-28 victory over the Houston Texans on Sunday night, Bill Belichick needs two more playoff wins to match Tom Landry's NFL high of 20. If Belichick gets there this season he'd also tie Chuck Noll for most Super Bowl championships by a coach with four.

First, the Baltimore Ravens stand in the way next Sunday in a rematch of last year's AFC title game.

``Right now our focus is just (being) happy to win this game and get on to Baltimore,'' Belichick said. ``We can reflect back on some other years some other time.''

Sunday was Brady's day to reach a milestone. His first postseason win came in the 2001 season, which ended with his first Super Bowl title. Now he's guiding the NFL's most productive offense into his sixth AFC championship game in his 13 seasons.

``He's our leader and we all follow him,'' said Belichick, the team's real leader. ``We all respect him and he led the team today, along with a lot of other guys. But he certainly did his job, as he's done many times before.''

It won't take Belichick long to put Sunday's victory out of his mind, impressive as it was. Brady also is ready to move on to the next challenge.

``I think the two best teams are in the finals,'' he said. ``Baltimore certainly deserves to be here and so do we, so it's fitting.''

The Texans (13-5) certainly don't after losing four of their last six games, starting with a 42-14 rout by the Patriots (13-4) on Dec. 10 on the same field where their season ended.

``There's no good landing in this business unless you're playing a few weeks from now,'' Houston coach Gary Kubiak said. ``Other than that, the landing's a crash.''

Brady threw for three scores and 344 yards and seldom-used running back Shane Vereen, seeing more action because Danny Woodhead hurt his thumb on the Patriots' first offensive play, had three touchdowns. Wes Welker had eight catches for a career postseason-high 131 yards and the defense held Arian Foster to 90 yards rushing, his first sub-100-yard playoff game in the four he's had.

The Patriots also overcame the loss of tight end Rob Gronkowski, who broke the left arm he originally broke on Nov. 18 in a 59-24 win over the Indianapolis Colts and needs season-ending surgery, a person with knowledge of the injury told The Associated Press.

``It's a bummer to lose anybody,'' Brady said, ``but someone of Rob's importance or Danny's importance, we need guys to step in and fill the void, whether it's this game or any game after.''

Gronkowski missed the first game against the Texans, one of five he sat out after his first injury, and it didn't matter.

The Texans were more competitive on Sunday and trailed only 17-13 at halftime as Foster scored on a 1-yard run and Shayne Graham kicked a 55-yard field goal in the last 1:11 before intermission.

But the Patriots scored on two of their first three series in the third quarter on Stevan Ridley's 8-yard run and Brady's 5-yard pass to Brandon Lloyd that made it 31-13.

``We came out in the second half and didn't perform,'' NFL sacks leader J.J. Watt said. ``Losing. I can't stand it. I can't stand any aspect of it. The taste in your mouth is terrible.''

Lloyd scored just six plays after Rob Ninkovich ended a Houston threat with an interception that gave New England the ball at its 37-yard line.

The Patriots needed just one play after taking over on downs early in the fourth quarter, scoring on an outstanding over-the-shoulder catch by Vereen for a 33-yard touchdown and a 38-13 advantage.

The third-string back finished with 124 total yards - 83 on five receptions and 41 on seven carries.

``I don't come into the game knowing how much anyone is going to play,'' Vereen said. ``I come into the game ready to go.''

The Texans were.

On the very first play, Danieal Manning returned the kickoff 94 yards before being hauled down by Devin McCourty at the Patriots 12. But all the Texans could get out of that was a 27-yard field goal by Shayne Graham.

``That was a huge play by Devin to really end up saving (four) points,'' Belichick said.

The Patriots punted on their first two series then took the lead for good on Vereen's 1-yard run following Brady's consecutive completions of 13 yards to Ridley, 25 to Vereen and 14 to Aaron Hernandez.

The Texans offense got going again in the fourth quarter, but it was too late. Matt Schaub's touchdown passes of 25 yards to DeVier Posey and 1 yard to Foster in the last 12 minutes just made the margin of defeat closer.

``It's difficult to sit here (with) the realization that our season is over,'' Schaub said.

The Patriots' season continues against a team it beat in last year's AFC title game 23-20, but lost to in Week 3 this season 31-30 after leading 30-21 with less than 5 minutes left.

The Ravens advanced with a 38-35 double-overtime win in Denver and will be on the road again, trying to keep Belichick from tying Don Shula with 19 postseason victories. A win would be the 18th for Brady and Belichick together since the Patriots drafted the quarterback in 2000. It also would put him two up on Montana.

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

``I love playing, I love competing, I love being a part of this organization,'' he said. ``I think I've just been fortunate to play on some great teams over the years. I never take it for granted.''

NOTES: The Patriots are 14-3 at home in the playoffs, but just 3-2 in their last five games. ... The Texans were eliminated in their second playoff game for the second straight year after going their first nine seasons without a postseason appearance. ... Schaub threw for 343 yards, one less than Brady. ... Defensive backs Aqib Talib and Steve Gregory led the Patriots with 10 tackles each.

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Ravens take chance on Navy QB Reynolds after position change

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Ravens take chance on Navy QB Reynolds after position change

After his memorable career at Navy, Keenan Reynolds fulfilled another dream Saturday when the Ravens drafted him in the sixth round (No. 182 overall).

Reynolds has been told by Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome that he will compete for a roster spot as a wide receiver – punt returner, after playing quarterback at Navy. When he received the phone call from Newsome, Reynolds described it has one of the most emotional moments of his life. 

“Relief, excitement,” Reynolds said during a conference call. “I was upset (watching the draft). I know I can play with these guys. To see my name, to see my phone ring…It’s a dream come true. All I ever wanted to do was play on Sundays.”

It remains to be seen if Reynolds’ Navy obligations will interfere with his dream of an NFL career. Reynolds said he had already talked with some Navy officials, and hoped a resolution could be reached.

“I think being in the DMV area is going to help my cause, but again that’s a call that’s up to the Navy,” Reynolds said. “It’s up to the secretary of the Navy and the Navy. But right now I’m just trying to bask in what the now is, and I’m just blessed to be picked up, and I’m ready to get started.”

Asked when he would get an answer from the Navy, Reynolds said, “It will be soon. It will probably happen within the next few days. 

Reynolds believes he can make a quick transition to wide receiver. 

“I’ve been running routes like crazy, trying to get quicker in and out of my routes, I’ve been catching punts – everything that they want me to do. To get to work with Steve Smith Sr. and learn from him, try to get better from him? It’s going to be an awesome ride.”

CSN analyst Brian Mitchell, a former returner with the Redskins, has been working with Reynolds on his punt return technique. 

“He kind of gave me some extra drills,” Reynolds said. “He brings an innovative style, also perspective from somebody who has returned punts. I’m just extremely excited.”

Michigan defensive tackle goes from playing for one Harbaugh to another

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Michigan defensive tackle goes from playing for one Harbaugh to another

Ravens fourth-round pick Willie Henry is going from one coach Harbaugh to another. After playing defensive tackle for Michigan’s Jim Harbuagh, Henry will play for John Harbaugh, after the Ravens selected him with the 132nd overall selection.

Clearly, the Ravens received inside information on Henry, and were impressed enough to take him. During a conference call, Henry was asked about playing for another coach named Harbaugh.

“It’s going to be great,” Henry said. “Two great coaches who know what they’re talking about and have great schemes…I can’t wait to go play for another coach Harbaugh. Right now, I’m just ecstatic.”

The Ravens are fairly well stocked at defensive tackle, starting with Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan. However, the Ravens like rotating tackles to keep them fresh, and Henry will be given an opportunity to play his way into the rotation. Henry was particularly strong against the run at Michigan, and he also brought consistent pressure up the middle on opposing quarterbacks.

Ravens take RB with record 5th pick in fourth round of NFL Draft

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Ravens take RB with record 5th pick in fourth round of NFL Draft

The Ravens hope they got a fourth-round steal in running back Kenneth Dixon of Louisiana Tech, who ran for a school record 4,480 yards and 72 touchdowns during his college career at Louisiana Tech. By taking Dixon, the Ravens became the first team in NFL history to make five fourth-round picks.

Not only was Dixon a prolific runner, he averaged 10.4 yards per pass reception. At 5-foot-10, 215 pounds, Dixon also showed plenty of elusiveness avoiding tackles in tight spaces, or in the open field. He will join a crowded running back group with the Ravens that includes Justin Forsett, Buck Allen, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Terrance West, and Trent Richardson. Clearly, carries will be hard-earned next season.

Some scouts thought Dixon would be gone by the third round, and when he was still available at pick No. 134, the Ravens thought the time was right to get him. Even if Forsett remains the Ravens’ starter, they want to make sure he remains fresh all season. Running back is one of the easier positions to make the transition from college to the NFL. Dixon will be given a chance to show that he should earn some touches.