|The Patriots will move on to face the Ravens next week. (AP)|
The Texans had high hopes for avenging their 28-point loss vs. the Patriots from Week 14, and early in Sunday's game, it looked like Houston had a chance to upset New England. But the Texans never could get out of their late-season swoon, and the Patriots played more of their electric brand of football. The way they played Sunday, the Patriots have to be considered the Super Bowl favorites right now.
Patriots running backs: With Tom Brady and Wes Welker and the two-headed tight end monster, it's been easy to overlook Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen this year. Ridley certainly hasn't gotten the publicity of Chris Johnson, Frank Gore, Ray Rice or Matt Forte -- all of whom Vereen outgained this season (he finished with 1,263 yards). But Ridley and Vereen -- who received more playing time Sunday because Danny Woodhead was injured on the first Patriots snap of the game -- showed how valuable they are, combining to gain 219 yards of total offense and scoring four touchdowns.
Wes Welker: It's not often you see Welker drop a pass he absolutely should catch, but he did early in the game. Didn't really matter, considering he responded with an eight-catch, 131-yard day. Without Rob Gronkowski (arm) playing for most of the game, Welker again proved how important he is to the offense when one of its other important pieces is out. Perhaps that will help Welker as he tries to get a new contract in the offseason.
Danieal Manning: If only he had returned that game-opening kick for the touchdown, instead of being caught at the 12-yard line by Devin McCourty, maybe things would have been different for Houston. Still, it was a strong special-teams day for the Texans safety.
Brandon Spikes: Even though the Patriots didn't recover this fumble, as Spikes thought they had, you have to enjoy the New England linebacker's celebratory dance (via B/R).
Joe Flacco: Now he'll face one of the toughest, if not THE toughest, games of his career, going to New England next week for the right to play in the Super Bowl. Beat Tom Brady, and maybe we can have a conversation about whether Flacco is close to reaching that level of elite quarterback.
Matt Schaub: Houston's quarterback was decidedly non-elite, throwing too many short passes in the middle of the field on third-and-long, and then, in one bad sequence, escaping a sack and throwing the ball away on third down though he clearly had time to make something happen. Houston has some questions to answer this offseason about its quarterback situation. Schaub's stats were good (34-53, 343 yards, two touchdowns, one interception), but is any Texans fan pleased with his performance?
Rob Gronkowski: After missing five games this season with a broken forearm, the Patriots tight end hurt his arm again when he laid out for a pass and landed on it midway through the first quarter. Reportedly, he's broken it again. Obviously, that's a big blow to the team, particulary since he needs another surgery and is out for the rest of the postseason.
Texans letterman jackets: The first time the Texans unveiled their jackets, the Patriots pounded Houston in Week 14, and as CBSSports.com's Ryan Wilson points out, Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo said the Texans looked like a high school swim team. A few Texans reportedly have continued to wear them. New England continues to not be intimidated.
My preseason Super Bowl predictions: To be totally honest, my picks for the AFC/NFC champions this year were awful. Just awful (though we should note I predicted Russell Wilson to lead the Seahawks to the playoffs).
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