FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Shane Vereen scored on a 1-yard run and the New England Patriots overcame a 94-yard return by Danieal Manning on the opening kickoff to take a 7-3 lead over the Houston Texans after the first quarter of their AFC divisional playoff game Sunday.
Manning’s kickoff set up Shayne Graham’s 27-yard field goal just 1:03 into the game.
The Patriots had two players injured with running back Danny Woodhead hurting his thumb after carrying the ball on the Patriots’ first offensive play and tight end Rob Gronkowski going to the locker room with an arm injury midway through the period. Gronkowski was playing his second game since breaking his left forearm.
Houston’s early score was in stark contrast to its first game against New England, a 42-14 loss in which the Texans trailed 21-0 at halftime.
After the kickoff return gave them the ball at the Patriots 12-yard line, they struggled to move it. Arian Foster ran 3 yards and Matt Schaub threw two incompletions before Graham, a former Patriot, connected.
The Patriots (12-4) had early troubles on offense, punting on their first two possessions. Tom 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 (13-4), Brady threw touchdown passes on the Patriots’ first three possessions.
He got the Patriots moving on their third series after a poor punt by Donnie Jones gave them the ball at their 35. Stevan 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 then scored on the next play.
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.
Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL
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