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January 14, 2013

Patriots beat Texans to advance to AFC title game

FOXBOROUGH — Tom Brady idolized Joe Montana as a kid in the Bay Area. Now, he’s surpassed his hero for postseason wins.

Brady got his 17th, the most for any quarterback, in New England’s 41-28 AFC divisional victory over Houston yesterday. If Brady can lead the Patriots past Baltimore in next weekend’s conference title game, then win the Super Bowl, he’ll equal the 49ers’ Hall of Famer for NFL championships.

Brady has guided the Patriots to five Super Bowls, winning the first three; Montana was 4 for 4 in the big game, playing for Brady’s hometown team.

“I grew up a 49ers fan,” Brady said. “Joe Montana and Steve Young ... those guys are in another class.”

Next up is Baltimore, which stunned top-seeded Denver in double overtime Saturday, and lost 23-20 at Gillette Stadium last January in the last step before the Super Bowl. But the Ravens beat the Patriots in Week 3 this season at Baltimore.

“I think the two best teams are in the final,” Brady said. “Baltimore certainly deserves to be here and so do we.”

Seldom-used Shane Vereen scored three times, twice on pinpoint throws from Brady, as New England (13-4) beat Houston (13-5) for the second time in a month.

Brady was missing some key helpers, but got the usual outstanding performance from Wes Welker, his favorite target the last six years. The AFC’s top receiver with 118 catches this season, Welker looked like he might reach that total against Houston’s befuddled defense. He caught six in the first half for 120 yards, including a 47-yarder, and wound up with eight for 131.

And the AFC East champion Patriots got more than anyone could have predicted from third-string running back Vereen, who scored their first two TDs on a 1-yard run and an 8-yard pass. He capped his biggest pro performance with an over-the-shoulder 33-yard catch early in the fourth period.

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