Shane Vereen  tied a franchise playoff record with three touchdowns and Tom Brady  threw three TD passes as the Patriots did the expected and beat the Texans, 41-28, in their AFC divisional game at Gillette Stadium . Wes Welker  caught eight passes for 131 yards and Brady passed Joe Montana  for most wins (17) by a quarterback in NFL playoff history. Brady, who finished 25-of-40 for 344 yards, is now 17-6 all-time in the postseason.
The win sets up the first AFC championship rematch since the Broncos  and Browns in 1986-87. The Patriots will host the Ravens next Sunday evening at 6:30 at Gillette Stadium.
The three touchdowns by Vereen tied the franchise playoff record for touchdowns in a single game, held by Rob Gronkowski  and Curtis Martin.
The Patriots special teams were bad from the beginning. Danieal Manning returning the opening kickoff 94 yards to the Patriots 12 yard line. But the Patriots defense  held Matt Schaub and the Texans to just three yards and a 27-yard field goal from Shayne Graham .
The Patriots got the ball and went three-and-out, and lost Danny Woodhead  to a left thumb injury on their first offensive play of the game. On the next drive, things got worse when the Patriots lost Rob Gronkowski when he appeared to re-injure his left forearm in trying to make a diving catch deep along the right sideline. Chandler Jones also injured his ankle in the first half and did not return.
The Patriots finally got momentum on the third drive, marching 65 yards in six plays. Vereen ran off left tackle for a 1-yard touchdown to give the Patriots a 7-3 lead late in the first. The Patriots made it 10-3 on a 37-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski  early in the second quarter.
The Patriots appeared to gain full control of the game when they went 80 yards in seven plays for a 17-3 lead. Brady hit Vereen with an eight-yard pass to the short left for the touchdown. The key play on the drive was a Brady to Welker pass down the left sideline for 47 yards to the Houston 8. On the play, Welker caught his 59th postseason pass, passing Troy Brown  for the all-time franchise lead.
Welker was huge in the first half, catching six balls for 120 yards
But the first half did not end well. On the ensuing kickoff following Vereen’s second touchdown, Manning returned it 35 yards to the Houston 38. Gostkowski committed a horse collar tackle that added 15 yards. Arian Foster later ran it in from two yards to cut the lead to 17-10. The Patriots got the ball back with 1:09 left and went three-and-out. The Texans got the ball back and managed a 55-yard field goal from Graham to cut New England’s lead to 17-13 at the half.
But the Patriots got the ball to start the second half and came out sizzling, driving 69 yards in seven plays. Stevan Ridley ran it up the middle from eight yards to make it 24-13.
The Texans were driving into Patriots territory with the chance to cut it a one-score game when Rob Ninkovich  disguised his coverage over the middle and picked off Schaub at the Patriots 31. The Patriots drove down and made it 31-13 on a 5-yard TD pass from Brady to Brandon Lloyd .
Vereen scored his third touchdown of the day in the fourth quarter when the Texans turned the ball over on downs at their own 33. Brady hit Vereen on a perfectly-placed pass down the left sideline, making it 38-13. The Texans added a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns and nearly converted an onside kick with over five minutes left but Ninkovich was again on the spot and recovered the ball and the Patriots put the game away with a 38-yard field goal from Gostkowski with 1:14 left.
This is the Patriots seventh AFC championship appearance in the last 12 seasons. For complete coverage from the team of Chris Price and Mike Petraglia at Gillette, including postgame video, visit the Patriots team page at weei.com/patriots .