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 receiver Breshad Perriman hopes for better health for ailing father and himself

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Ravens receiver Breshad Perriman hopes for better health for ailing father and himself

As Ravens wide receiver Breshad Perriman looks forward to a healthier season, he is also dealing with his father’s health concerns.

Brett Perriman, who suffered a stroke May 3, has been transferred from a Miami area hospital to Atlanta for rehabilitation, according to The Miami Herald. The 50-year-old Perriman played for the Saints, Lions, Chiefs, and Dolphins during his 10-year NFL career.

On his Twitter account, Breshad Perriman offered encouragement for his father.

Perriman talked about his father’s health issues briefly following the Ravens’ first OTA session. This has been a difficult offseason for Perriman, who was very close to former Ravens cornerback Tray Walker, who died in a dirt bike accident in March.

“It’s been crazy,” Perriman said. “I’ve been through a lot this offseason, but it’s just making me stronger again and just learning to keep faith and pray a lot more. It’s been rough. It still is rough from time to time, but I’m steady getting through it, pushing through it and keeping faith.”

Perriman missed his entire rookie season with a knee injury, but looked 100 percent at OTA’s running pass routes.

“I don’t even think about it (knee injury) anymore,” Perriman said. “I feel great.

“Not being able to play, that was a hard thing … I feel much stronger. I feel like I went through a lot last year and it made me a better player and a better person.”

Perriman will continue to hope that better times are ahead, both for himself and for his father.

Secretary of Defense gives thumbs-up for Reynolds to pursue NFL

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Secretary of Defense gives thumbs-up for Reynolds to pursue NFL

Ravens wide receiver Keenan Reynolds can officially defer his military service to play in the NFL, secretary of defense Ashton Carter said Friday. Carter made the announcement during his graduation speech at the Naval Academy.

Two weeks ago, Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, strongly recommended that Reynolds be allowed to pursue his NFL career. Now Reynolds has the official go-ahead.

“It is a blessing to hear the news from Defense Secretary Carter,” Reynolds said in a statement released by the Ravens. “I am truly excited to proudly serve my country while having the ability to fulfill my dream of playing for the best organization in the NFL.

“I would like to thank the Navy for allowing me to represent them while taking advantage of this unique opportunity. I would also like to thank (Ravens owner) Mr. (Steve) Bisciotti and the Ravens organization for believing in me and giving me this chance.”

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a statement, “This is good news, and congratulations on to Keenan on his graduation today.”

The Ravens selected Reynolds in the sixth round of the draft, and are intrigued by his potential as a returner and receiver after a stellar career at Navy as a quarterback. Reynolds finished his Navy career as the FBS all-time leader in touchdowns (88).

Reynolds has sought advice on making the transition from quarterback to receiver-returner from CSN’s Brian Mitchell, who was a Pro Bowl returner with the Redskins, and from Hines Ward, a Pro Bowl receiver with the Steelers. The next challenge for Reynolds is to win a spot on the Ravens’ 53-man roster, and many people will be rooting for him.

Can Ravens WR Michael Campanaro stay healthy enough to secure roster spot?

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Can Ravens WR Michael Campanaro stay healthy enough to secure roster spot?

OWINGS MILLS – Third-year wide receiver Michael Campanaro will have a difficult time making the Ravens in 2016 if he does not stay healthy. He is not off to a good start. A calf injury forced Campanaro to miss the first week of OTA’s, and his return date remained uncertain.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh expressed empathy for Campanaro following Thursday’s practice.

“He tweaked his calf a couple of weeks ago and he’s working hard,” Harbaugh said. “I’ve just never seen a guy work as hard as this guy has worked in the last year and a half. There will be a time he will get past this stuff. This stuff will stop happening and hopefully it’s training camp, and that’s what we’re hoping for him. The guy works tremendously hard and he was in phenomenal shape, and we’re still expecting really good things from him.”

Campanaro’s season ended last year after just four games due to a herniated disc. As a rookie in 2014, Campanaro was plagued by hamstring injuries that did not clear up until late in the season.

When Campanaro has been healthy, he has produced as a slot receiver. During the Ravens’ 35-31 playoff loss to the Patriots that ended his rookie season, Campanaro had four catches for 39 yards, and looked unfazed by postseason pressure.

However, Campanaro’s injuries have kept him from building momentum as a player. Meanwhile, the Ravens have added Mike Wallace and rookies Chris Moore and Keenan Reynolds to a wide receiver group that also includes Steve Smith Sr., Kamar Aiken, Breshad Perriman, Jeremy Butler, Kaelin Clay, and Chris Matthews.

Campanaro could help the Ravens as a returner, but so can Reynolds and Clay. The Ravens have been waiting for Campanaro to show he can remain healthy. If that does not happen during training camp, it might be too late.