FOXBORO — The Patriots and Ravens will meet in the AFC championship game for the second consecutive year, as New England rolled over Houston Sunday afternoon 41-28 at Gillette Stadium .
On a mild January afternoon, the Patriots spotted Houston a 3-0 lead, but quickly put seven on the board — thanks to the first of three touchdowns by running back Shane Vereen  — and never trailed the rest of the way. The Texans made it interesting when they put 10 points on the scoreboard in the final 75 seconds of the second quarter to cut New England’s lead to 17-13, but the Patriots up up 14 points in the third, and that cushion was more than enough down the stretch.
Tom Brady  led New England, going 25-for-40 for 344 yards and three touchdowns. Meanwhile, Wes Welker  had eight catches for 131 yards, Shane Vereen  had five catches for 83 yards and two touchdowns, and he added seven carries for 41 yards and a touchdown, and Stevan Ridley had 15 carries for 82 yards and a touchdown
On the other side of the ball, Houston quarterback Matt Schaub was 34-for-51 for 343 yards with two touchdowns and one pick. Running back Arian Foster had 22 carries for 90 yards, with one rushing touchdown and one receiving touchdown, while wide receiver Andre Johnson  had eight catches for 95 yards.
Here are a few quick notes on what happened.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
‘¢The Patriots needed their offense to step up in the wake of losing Danny Woodhead  and Rob Gronkowski  early on (more on his loss in a second), and second-year running back Shane Vereen responded. The Cal product was immense when it came to getting into the end zone, with his finest moment coming at the start of the fourth quarter when he hauled in a 33-yard touchdown catch from Brady. The young running back, who suffered through one of the toughest years of his football life last season, did a very nice job in this one, and became just the third Patriots player (joining Gronkowski and Curtis Martin) to record at least three touchdowns in a playoff game.
‘¢In that same vein, veteran wide receiver Wes Welker was able to do a terrific job helping move the chains, particularly in the first half — over the first two quarters, Welker had six catches on 10 targets for 120 yards, including a 47-yarder down the New England sidelines that set up a Patriots touchdown. A really impressive performance for Welker.
‘¢The Patriots were able to do a decent job containing J.J. Watt, who finished with four total tackles (one solo), 1/2 sacks and one quarterback hit and one tackle for loss.
‘¢Rob Ninkovich  has made a career of coming up big in big moments for the Patriots, and Sunday afternoon was no exception. On a Houston drive late in the third quarter, Schaub dropped back to pass. Meanwhile, Ninkovich dropped neatly into coverage and baited Schaub into a throw over the middle. The linebacker came away with the ball, changing the momentum once again. Ninkovich has been involved in so many big plays over the last two seasons, it’s hard to keep track of each one. But there he was again, coming away with the ball.
WHAT WENT WRONG
‘¢The Patriots lost a few important players, including tight end Rob Gronkowski, who went down with what appeared to be a wrist or forearm injury in the first half. He went to the locker room, and was not spotted on the sidelines in the second half. (Pro Football Talk is reporting that Gronkowski is done for the rest of the postseason, as he has reportedly re-injured his forearm and will require surgery.) As for the rest of the wounded, running back Danny Woodhead was clocked pretty good on the hand on New England’s first offensive series by Watt, and was quickly escorted to the locker room. (He was spotted on the sidelines in the second half.) Rookie defensive end Chandler Jones went down midway through with an ankle injury, and he didn’t return.
‘¢The Patriots coverage units really struggled against Houston kick returner Danieal Manning. Manning opened the game with a 94-yard kick return and in the fourth quarter, he ended up with a 69-yard return that set up Houston’s first touchdown of the second half. On a weekend where the Ravens were nearly derailed by Denver’s return game, it’s something New England really has to tighten up between now and the AFC title game against the Ravens.