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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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Five observations from Day 1 of Ravens training camp

Five observations from Day 1 of Ravens training camp

OWINGS MILLS – Here are five observations from Day 1 of Ravens’ training camp:

1. Joe Flacco didn’t look like someone who had not practiced since November.

First of all, there is nothing wrong with Flacco’s arm. Early in drills, he effortlessly floated a long pass to rookie Chris Moore on a ball that traveled at least 55 yards in the air. Secondly, Flacco moved well wearing a brace on his surgically-repaired left knee, moving out of the pocket several times without any sign of favoring the injury. It remains to be seen if Flacco feels discomfort after several days of practice, and of course, he is not taking any hits. But this was a good first step.

“It felt really good to be out there,” Flacco said in quotes provided by the team. “I wasn’t as efficient as I’d like to be, but I felt comfortable. I just need to throw it a little better and complete some more passes.”

2. Veteran tight end Ben Watson didn’t have the greatest practice.

The usually sure-handed Watson dropped two passes early. Maybe Watson was nervous in his first practice with Flacco, or maybe he was adjusting to the pace of Flacco’s throws. But Watson will be looking to bounce back quickly, competing for playing time at tight end with Crockett Gillmore, Dennis Pitta, and Maxx Williams.

3. The starter at inside linebacker could be rookie Kamalei Correa.

While Correa is taking reps both outside and inside, the Ravens are searching for a starter at inside linebacker next to C.J. Mosley. If Correa wins the starting job, it means the Ravens’ top two picks, left tackle Ronnie Stanley and Correa, could be starters from Week 1.

4. Pitta looks like Pitta, running patterns and making catches.

Fans still love Pitta, and he received a huge ovation whenever he made a catch. Pitta’s attempt to come back from his second major hip injury is a feel-good story and people are rooting for him.  However, a major test for Pitta will come Saturday when the Ravens put on pads for the first time.

5. John Urschel could be the starter at left guard, but he is also taking reps at center.

Urschel is the favorite to replace Kelechi Osemele as the starting left guard. However, Urschel’s best position may be center. If anything happens to starting center Jeremy Zuttah, the Ravens could shift Urschel to center and play either Ryan Jensen or rookie Alex Lewis at left guard.

RELATED: STANLEY'S ROOKIE SHOW PERFORMANCE WAS ONE FOR THE AGES

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Ronnie Stanley sings 'Ignition Remix' in chicken suit for his teammates

Ronnie Stanley sings 'Ignition Remix' in chicken suit for his teammates

OWINGS MILLS - When the Ravens drafted left tackle Ronnie Stanley, he never expected to sing in front of teammates wearing a chicken suit.

Welcome to the Ravens, and to the traditional rookie talent contest. Stanley led off this year’s draft class as the first-round pick, and apparently, he was a hit. The chicken suit was courtesy of wide receiver Steve Smith Sr., who purchased it for Stanley.

Where exactly do you find a chicken suit that fits somebody 6-foot-6, 320 pounds? But Smith found one. If you are a smart rookie, you don’t say no to Steve Smith. That left Stanley with no choice but to perform wearing the suit.

Stanley chose the R. Kelly song “Ignition Remix” for his selection.

“I knew it was crowd pleaser,” Stanley said after Thursday’s practice. “I know every word to the song. That was the song I picked, so I was practicing all throughout this break that we had.”

Under the circumstances, Stanley felt he did well.

 “I actually didn’t know about the chicken suit until yesterday,” Stanley said. “I did what I had to do. I knew since I was going first, I had to set the tone. That was the first time I sang in a chicken suit.”

Ravens coach John Harbaugh was impressed.

“He did a great job and we had fun,” Harbaugh said. “It’s nice when your first-round pick, kind of the leader of the rookie class, is able to step up and make a statement about that. I can fit in, so to speak.”

No word on if Stanley plans to go on tour after the season.

RELATED: A FEW RAVENS RUNNING BACKS ARE DINGED UP

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Kenneth Dixon hobbled, Lorenzo Taliaferro placed on PUP list

Kenneth Dixon hobbled, Lorenzo Taliaferro placed on PUP list

OWINGS MILLS -- The Ravens deep running back group grew a little thinner – at least temporarily – on Thursday as rookie Kenneth Dixon left the first training camp practice after tweaking his left knee and Lorenzo Taliaferro was placed on the preseason physically-unable-to-perform list with a lingering foot injury.

Dixon had been very active in the noncontact practice, especially as a pass catcher. But as he caught one pass near the left sideline in an 11-on-11 drill, he was inadvertently bumped out of bounds by linebacker Patrick Onwauasor and fell hard to the ground. Dixon was slow to get up and was ultimately helped off the field by Justin Forsett and a trainer.

Dixon has “a slight thing with the knee,” coach John Harbaugh said after practice. “He should be fine.”

Taliaferro sustained a foot injury last year and had surgery that ultimately ended his season in October.

"Not that there's a big issue with it," Harbaugh said of Taliaferro's foot, "but it's not quite there yet."

Entering his third season, Taliaferro is fighting for a roster spot after missing 16 of 32 games over his first two seasons. Forsett, Buck Allen and Dixon all appear to be locks to make the team, leaving Taliaferro competing for a potential fourth running spot with Terrance West and perhaps Trent Richardson, though he, too, is injured.

Taliaferro joins five other Ravens who had previously been placed on the preseason PUP list – receivers Steve Smith and Breshad Perriman, linebackers Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs, and Richardson.

Players can be activated from the PUP list and return to practice at any time during training camp. If they begin the regular season on the PUP list, they must sit out the first six games.

In addition to Taliaferro’s absence, three players sat out Thursday's practice because they haven’t passed the conditioning test: wide receiver Mike Wallace, cornerback Jerraud Powers and newly signed wide receiver Dobson Collins.

RELATED: FLACCO ISN'T WORRIED ABOUT INJURIES AFFECTING HIS POST NFL LIFE