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Chiefs wipe out Texans, advance in playoffs for first time since 1994 01.09.16 at 7:33 pm ET
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Knile Davis (34) reacts after retuning the opening kickoff for a touchdown against the Texans Saturday. (John David Mercer/USA TODAY Sports)

Knile Davis (34) reacts after retuning the opening kickoff for a touchdown against the Texans Saturday. (John David Mercer/USA TODAY Sports)

From the moment Knile Davis took the opening kickoff 106 yards for a touchdown, the first game of the playoff season belonged to the Chiefs.

The Chiefs intercepted former Tom Brady backup Brian Hoyer four times and forced a strip sack as Kansas City rolled to a 30-0 win over the Texans at NRG Stadium in Houston.

The Chiefs, who have now won 11 straight games after a 1-5 start, now play the Patriots after the Steelers shocked the Bengals on a last-second field goal in Cincinnati. The Steelers travel to Denver for an AFC divisional playoff game against the Broncos on Jan. 17.

Hoyer had a nightmare of a game in his first career playoff start. He completed just 15-of-34 passes for 136 yards. In addition to the four interceptions, he was strip-sacked in the first half and sacked three times altogether.

After being staked to a 7-0 lead 12 seconds into the game, Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith didn’t need to make any spectacular plays. He finished 17-of-22 for 190 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Travis Kelce had eight catches for 128 yards.

The only bit of bad news for the Chiefs came in the second half when they lost wide receiver Jeremy Maclin to what appeared to be a serious knee injury. Maclin was taken to the locker room on a cart after his knee got tied up following a reception.

J.J. Watt re-aggravated his groin injury on the same play as the Maclin injury in the third quarter. Maclin caught three passes from Smith for 29 yards on four targets. The Chiefs took a 20-0 lead on the drive Maclin left the game. Watt came back to the field to cheers but did not return to the game and left for good with 10 minutes left in the game.

The loss is potentially devastating for the Chiefs and Smith. Maclin led the Chiefs this season, catching 87 balls for 1,088 yards and eight touchdowns. receptions and eight touchdown catches. In 2014, Smith did not complete a touchdown pass to a wide receiver.

The Chiefs hadn’t won a playoff game since Joe Montana beat the Houston Oilers in Jan. 1994 across the parking lot in the old Astrodome, snapping an eight-game postseason skid. The Chiefs also washed away the nightmare of two years ago when they blew a 38-10 third-quarter lead and lost to Andrew Luck and the Colts, 45-44. The win leaves the Bengals with the longest current streak at eight games.

The shutout win was the first in the NFL playoffs since Jan. 8, 2006, when the Panthers beat the Giants, 23-0.

According to Elias Sports, in 80 years of NFL playoffs, it marked the first time the postseason opened with a kickoff return for touchdown.

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Patriots to play Saturday, Jan. 16, NFL wild card playoff schedule announced 01.04.16 at 12:19 am ET
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Will Andy Dalton play when the Bengals host the Steelers this weekend in the playoffs? (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Will Andy Dalton play when the Bengals host the Steelers this weekend in the playoffs? (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The Patriots will open the playoffs in a divisional game at 4:35 p.m. ET on Saturday, Jan. 16 at Gillette Stadium. They will play one of three teams, the Bengals, Chiefs or Texans.

There is something a little different about the NFL wild card playoff schedule announced late Sunday night after the Vikings defeated the Packers, 20-13, to clinch the NFC North title.

For the first time, both conferences will have a dedicated day for their playoff games on the first weekend.

The AFC will go first on Saturday as the No. 5 seed Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) visit the AFC South champion and No. 4 seed Houston Texans (9-7). The Texans earn the game by virtue of winning their division while the Chiefs finished a game behind the Broncos in the AFC West and earned the first wild card. The game will start at 4:20 p.m. ET and be broadcast nationally on ESPN/ABC.

The second game Saturday will feature the No. 6 seed Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6) visiting the AFC North champion and No. 3 seed Cincinnati Bengals (12-4). The two teams each won in the other team’s building this season. This game is also a revenge game for the Bengals, who lost a similar game in Jan. 2006 when they won the AFC North but lost quarterback Carson Palmer to a knee injury in the first quarter of a 31-17 Steelers’ win. The game will be on CBS nationally beginning at 8:15 p.m. ET at Paul Brown Stadium.

If the Bengals win, they will play the Patriots at Gillette Stadium. If the Steelers win, the Patriots get the winner of the Chiefs-Texans game.

In the NFC, the wild card weekend begins on Sunday with a pair of games. NBC will broadcast the matchup between the No. 6 seed Seattle Seahawks (10-6) and the NFC North champion and No. 3 seed Minnesota Vikings (11-5) in Minnesota beginning at 1 p.m. ET.

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Bill Belichick on the reappearance of the run game: ‘We tried to stick with it’ 12.14.15 at 6:55 pm ET
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Brandon Bolden carried the load in the run game when LeGarrette Blount left with a hip injury. (Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Brandon Bolden carried the load in the run game when LeGarrette Blount left with a hip injury. (Bob Levey/Getty Images)

HOUSTON — Whether or not Bill Belichick heard the whispers about the lack of a run game to complement Tom Brady‘s right arm, the fact of the matter is the Patriots came out with more resolve Sunday night to run the ball.

The Patriots had 15 carries for 75 yards in the first half, good for a 5.0 per carry average. LeGarrette Blount, before leaving with a hip injury, had 53 yards on just 10 carries while Brandon Bolden carried five times for 22 yards. Both backs had at least one rush for at least 10 yards.

This factored into the protection plan for the quarterback, as Brady was not sacked once and was hurried only a few times while completing 13-of-18 passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns. In the last four games before Sunday, the Patriots ran the ball 22, 23, 16 and 25 times as the hit totals on Brady continued to mount.

“Well, we tried to stick with it, make them play it,” Belichick said of taking the run to the Texans. “We had our moments. There were times when we were able to punch out some plays and some important plays. The touchdown run on third-and-two ‘€“ that was a big play for us. We had a third-down conversion on [Brandon] Bolden’€™s sweep there on a third-and-four, third-and-five … that was another big third-down conversion. So there were some plays like that were kind of timely plays.

“Houston is a tough team to run against. They’€™ve got a lot of very disruptive players. Vince [Wilfork] is a big guy in the middle, obviously, but between [Jadeveon] Clowney and [J.J.] Watt on both edges plus [Whitney] Mercilus, they’€˜re really athletic and explosive and powerful out there, so it’€™s a tough matchup. The got us from behind a couple times when we had decent blocking, actually good blocking on a couple plays, and they just got us from behind. I’€™m not sure there are too many other players in the league that could have made the plays that Watt or Clowney made on a couple of those running plays. You’€™ve got to give them some credit, but I thought we competed in the running game.”

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Brandon Bolden, houston texans, LeGarrette Blount
Rob Gronkowski lights up with 45-yard grab: ‘It was great to be back out there’ at 1:38 am ET
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HOUSTON — Rob Gronkowski saw the light Sunday night then fortunately he saw the ball.

On the single defining play of his return to action against the Texans, the Patriots tight end ran a route on the Patriots’ second drive that had him run off the right side of the line and then cross over to the left side of the field.

While he was running around, Tom Brady rolled out to his right and then threw across his body to a wide open Gronkowski running free. It was a sight to behold for all involved.

“I was running that route and it was taking a while and I couldn’t even see Tom,” Gronkowski said after the game. I had no clue where he was. Next thing you know, I just see the ball go flying in the air, coming at me and then I couldn’t see the ball anymore in the stadium. It went right into the lights for like half the way and I’m like, ‘I know it’s coming to me.’ Then, when it was like 20 feet from coming down I saw it and I thought, ‘there it is,’ and I just had to make the catch. And it was just a good pass overall.”

That pass on the second drive set the Patriots up at the Houston 7. Three plays later, Brady found Keshawn Martin in the back of the end zone for a 7-0 Patriots lead. Brady after the game said there was no one he trusts more than Gronkowski.

The 27-6 win over the Texans here Sunday night put the Patriots back on top in the AFC at 11-2 and stopped a two-game skid. Gronkowski acknowledged the urgency of the game but not as it related to his return to playing as it did getting a win.

“There was urgency and they wasn’t urgency,” a philosophical Gronkowski said. “Obviously, I want to be back out there with my teammates, be back out there playing football. When you miss a game, it’s just hard to watch. You want to be out there playing football, making plays and, at the same time, you just have to be smart about it, which we were. The organization, myself, just rehabbing really hard and everything checked out, everything felt good, so I was good to go.”

Gronkowski, who caught four balls for 87 yards and a touchdown right before halftime, echoed the pregame comments of team president Jonathan Kraft who said Gronkowski was “100 percent” or he wouldn’t be playing.

“It was easy to be smart,” Gronkowski added. “Just had to work hard. If you worked hard and you gave everything you gave to get back, and it wasn’t checking out right, well then you know you have it all you had. That’s how you can be smart about it. Everything just checked out well. I rehabbed hard all well for the last two weeks. It turned out good, and it was great to be back out there.”

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Mike Petraglia recaps Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Patriots ripping Texans at 1:08 am ET
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HOUSTON — WEEI.com’s Mike Petraglia recaps a 27-6 win for the Patriots over the Texans at NRG Stadium on Sunday night football. Rob Gronkowski returned to action after a one-game absence due to right knee injury and caught four passes for 87 yards and a touchdown in a win that clinches a playoff berth and puts the Patriots back on top in the AFC with an 11-2 record, one game better than the Bengals and Broncos.

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Read More: Gronk, houston texans, Mike Petraglia, New England Patriots
Jonathan Kraft on Rob Gronkowski: ‘I’m sure he’s 100 percent or he wouldn’t be going’ 12.13.15 at 8:03 pm ET
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HOUSTON — Count Patriots president Jonathan Kraft among those grateful to have Rob Gronkowski back on the field.

Speaking on the team’s pregame broadcast, Kraft said he was excited when he got word that the tight end would be coming back after missing just one game with a right knee injury, suffered Nov. 29 in Denver.

“Players are going to come back when they’re ready and able to safely come back and play,” Kraft said. “That’s what it was always going to be all along with Gronk. It’s awesome that he’s going to out on the field tonight. I think everybody understands what he means to our football team, both his physical presence and the emotional presence when he’s out there. It’s going to be awesome to have him on the field tonight.”

Kraft was asked if he thought Gronkowski was coming back at full strength.

“We got into the stadium [at about 6 p.m. CT], I have not seen the doctor or Bill. I knew they were going to work him out before the game,” Kraft added. “I’m sure he’s 100 percent or he wouldn’t be going but I haven’t talked to anybody about it with first-hand information.”

Kraft and his father, Robert, watched the first half of the Broncos-Raiders game together and were pleasantly surprised when the Raiders came back and beat the Broncos, 15-12. That game, combined with the Bengals losing at home to the Steelers, 33-20, open the door wide for the Patriots to reassume the No. 1 seed in the AFC with a win over the Texans.

“It’s always unpredictable. We were watching the first half of the Oakland-Denver game on the way [to stadium], you watch the first half of that game and Oakland didn’t do very much on offense and Denver’s defense was playing great. And then first drive of the second half [Oakland] scores a touchdown and they looked like a different team. Everything is always unpredictable. It’s why everyone likes to watch it and it’s why you can’t take anything for granted.

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Read More: houston texans, Jonathan Kraft, New England Patriots, nfl
Setting the scene: Rob Gronkowski, J.J. Watt square off in Lone Star showdown between Patriots, Texans at 12:51 pm ET
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NRG Stadium will be the site for a Sunday night showdown between the Patriots and Texans. (Bob Levey/Getty Images)

NRG Stadium will be the site for a Sunday night showdown between the Patriots and Texans. (Bob Levey/Getty Images)

HOUSTON — In a game where the Patriots might be getting back one of their biggest stars, how they handle an injured star on the other side might determine their success in ending a rare losing streak.

Rob Gronkowski made the trip to Houston with the team, leading to speculation that the tight end will make his return from a right knee injury suffered two weeks ago in Denver.

The 10-2 Patriots will win their seventh straight AFC East title with a win and a Jets loss to the Titans. The 6-6 Texans are tied with the Colts for first in the AFC South. The Patriots are trying to avoid their first three-game losing streak since 2002 when they lost four in a row and missed the playoffs with a 9-7 record, also the last time they did not reach double figures in wins.

Gronkowski leads the Patriots with nine touchdowns and 931 yards receiving. Both Adam Schefter and Diana Russini of ESPN report that Gronkowski will play in the game.

But while many in New England are focused on Gronkowski, the rest of the country will be fixated on the left hand of J.J. Watt. With a cast protecting the hand, the defensive end told reporters on Thursday that he broke the hand during practice Wednesday.

Watt did not practice Thursday or Friday but worked on the side. Texans coach Bill O’Brien said Watt was “good to go” and listed him as “probable” on Friday’s injury report. Watt insisted this week that he’s played through much worse and would be ready to play against the Patriots.

“People are going to try to make a big deal out of this but I’€™ve played with worse than this before, even in this season,” Watt said. “I’€™m not very worried about it My elbow a couple years back was way more painful. This was painful when it happened but it’€™s football. In the game of football, you’€™re going to play with pain. That’€™s just the way it goes. If you don’€™t play with pain, you’€™re probably in the wrong sport.”

Former Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, who now serves in that capacity for the Texans, was a little more cautious.

“€œHe won’€™t be able to grab with that one hand and as a defensive lineman you have to use your hands a little bit. We will all just have to see how that impacts him and he is the one who is going to have to adapt his game to the fact that he doesn’€™t have the grip with that hand,” Crennel said. “We will see how it goes. But having him out there is going to be good, I believe.”

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