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Vereen's 2 TDs lead Pats to 31-13 lead after third

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Vereen's 2 TDs lead Pats to 31-13 lead after third

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Tom Brady threw two touchdown passes, Shane Vereen scored twice and the New England Patriots overcame a 94-yard return by Danieal Manning on the opening kickoff to take a 31-13 lead over the Houston Texans after three quarters of their AFC divisional playoff game Sunday.

Shayne Graham kicked a 55-yard field goal on the final play of the first half after a short punt by Zoltan Mesko gave the Texans the ball at their 38-yard line. That cut the lead to 17-13.

But the Patriots (12-4) scored on two of their three series in the third quarter on an 8-yard run by Stevan Ridley and a 5-yard pass from Brady to Brandon Lloyd.

The Patriots got little help from running back Danny Woodhead and tight end Rob Gronkowski, who left with injuries.

Woodhead hurt his thumb after carrying the ball on the Patriots' first offensive play and Gronkowski went to the locker room with an arm injury midway through the period. Gronkowski was playing his second game since breaking his left forearm

After the Patriots took a 24-13 lead with Ridley's touchdown, both teams punted before the Texans (13-4) started a drive at their 10-yard line. They moved to the New England 37 with the help of a 22-yard completion from Matt Schaub to Andre Johnson. But five plays later, Rob Ninkovich jumped and intercepted a pass over the middle intended for James Casey.

That gave the Patriots the ball at their 37 and they needed just six plays to score on Lloyd's touchdown in the first playoff game of his 10-year career.

Vereen had scored on a 1-yard run with 1:28 left in the first quarter after Graham opened the scoring with a 27-yard field goal.

Stephen Gostkowski gave the Patriots a 10-3 lead with a 31-yard field goal on the first series of the second quarter. They went ahead 17-3 as Tom Brady threw to a wide-open Vereen, who easily ran into the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown reception.

But the Texans made it 17-10 with 1:15 left in the half on a 1-yard run by Arian Foster, who gained all 47 yards on the drive on five rushes. Manning had set them up with another big kickoff return. He ran 35 yards before being horse-collared by Gostkowski, who was called for a 15-yard penalty.

Manning's first kickoff return set up Graham's opening field goal just 1:03 into the game.

That early score was in stark contrast to Houston's first game against New England, a 42-14 loss in which the Texans trailed 21-0 at halftime.

The Patriots punted on their first two possessions before taking charge.

After a poor punt by Donnie Jones gave them the ball at their 35, Ridley rushed 14 yards on the first play, then lost 2 on the next. Brady then connected on three straight passes: 13 yards to Ridley, 25 to Vereen and 14 to Aaron Hernandez.

Vereen ran in from the 1-yard line on the next play.

After Gostkowski's field goal, Jones punted again for Houston and New England started at its 20. With a second-and-3 at the Patriots 39, Brady hit Wes Welker for a 47-yard completion down the left sideline. It was Welker's 59th postseason catch, a New England club record, and he had 131 yards receiving on eight catches after three quarters.

On the next play, Vereen drifted out to the left with no Texan nearby and scored 3:38 before intermission.

The Patriots had early troubles on offense, punting on their first two possessions. Brady was sacked once, with NFL sacks leader J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed sharing credit for it.

In the first meeting with the Texans, Brady threw three touchdown passes on the Patriots' first three possessions.

The winner of Sunday's game will host the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC championship game next Sunday.

New England's victory over Houston in Foxborough on Dec. 10 began the Texans' stretch of three losses in their last four regular-season games that cost them a playoff bye and home-field advantage.

But Houston beat the Cincinnati Bengals 19-13 in a wild-card game to advance to Sunday's rematch, the first playoff meeting between the Texans and Patriots.

AFC East champion New England had a first-round bye and is the top remaining AFC seed after the No. 1 Denver Broncos lost to the No. 4 Ravens 38-35 in double overtime on Saturday.

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Joe Flacco passes physical, is set to become Broncos' latest addition to QB carousel

Joe Flacco passes physical, is set to become Broncos' latest addition to QB carousel

Joe Flacco's journey out West is making progress.

The 34-year-old was in Denver last week and passed his physical with the Broncos, according to sources of Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer, clearing a path for their trade with the Ravens to become official when the new league year begins March 13.

In a move that was expected as the team made it clear 2018 first-round pick Lamar Jackson is its future, the Ravens are reportedly sending Flacco to the Broncos for a fourth-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Based off of one observant flyer at Denver International Airport, the former Super Bowl MVP flew commercial out of Denver in a very Flacco-like move.

'Joe Cool' will presumably be the Broncos' fourth starting quarterback in three seasons and the latest addition to their quarterback carousel.

The Broncos drafted Brock Osweiler 57th overall in the 2012 NFL Draft, starting just seven games over four seasons and was eventually re-signed in 2017 where he only started four games. Then they drafted Trevor Siemian in the seventh round of the 2015 NFL Draft, starting 24 games during the 2016-17 season, before trading up in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft for Paxton Lynch, who earned four starts in two seasons. They traded for Mark Sanchez in 2016, but he never made it to the regular season.

And finally, the Broncos signed free agent Case Keenum in 2018 to a two-year, $36 million deal. Keenum started all 16 games this season, going 365-for-586 for 3,890 yards, 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. However, general manager John Elway is now making room for Flacco for at least the next year. 

Flacco, who the Ravens drafted with the 18th overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, has no guaranteed money left with the Ravens and is working on a one-year, $18.5 million deal with two-team option years following that. It's not a bad deal for a team that can't commit to a starting QB. 

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The timeline of Joe Flacco's 11 seasons with the Ravens

The timeline of Joe Flacco's 11 seasons with the Ravens

The Joe Flacco era in Baltimore is coming to an end.

After 11 seasons with the team, the Ravens are reportedly trading Flacco to the Denver Broncos for a fourth-round pick. 

While the move wasn't shocking, it's not often a quarterback keeps a residency with one organization for that amount of time.

Over those years, Flacco has experienced the highest of highs and a few major lows. Let's take a look back at his time with the Ravens.

April 26, 2008: The Ravens drafted Flacco with the No.18 overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. A low-profile quarterback out of Delaware, the only other first-round quarterback in that draft was Boston College's Matt Ryan at No. 3 to the Atlanta Flacons.

September 7, 2008: Flacco's first-career game as the Ravens' QB. Completing 15-of-29 attempts for 129 yards, the rookie led his team to a 17-10 win over the division rival Cincinnati Bengals. In the win, Flacco also recorded his first-career rushing touchdown on a career-long 38-yard run. It was also the longest rushing TD by a rookie quarterback in their debut. 

January 2009: After finishing the 2008 season 11-5 and second in the AFC North, Flacco led the Ravens past the Miami Dolphins in the AFC Wild Card Round and past the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Divisional Round before losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers 23-14 in the AFC Championship Round. It was the first time since the 2000 season the Ravens advanced to the conference championship game. Flacco finished his rookie season with 2,791 yards, 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

2009 season: Flacco became the fourth starting QB since the 1970 merger to reach the playoffs in their first two seasons. Easily beating the Patriots on the road, 33-14, the Ravens lost to the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Divisional Round, 20-3. 

2010 season: Flacco became the Ravens' all-time leader in every major passing category, throwing for 3,622 yards and 25 touchdowns with a career-high 93.6 QB rating. Finishing the season 12-4, the team lost in the AFC Divisional Round to the Steelers.

November 6, 2011: With 2:24 left in the fourth quarter and trailing 20-16, Flacco and the Ravens orchestrated a 92-yard drive to stun the Steelers at Heinz Field. Torrey Smith's 26-yard touchdown pass with eight seconds left to seal the deal will go down as one of the best drives in Flacco's history

2011 playoffs: Flacco became the first quarterback since the 1970 merger to start a playoff game in his first four seasons and win a game each of those years. Finishing the season 312-of-542 for 3,610 yards, 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, the Ravens lost in the AFC Championship Round to the Patriots in heartbreaking fashion after kicker Billy Cundiff missed a game-tying field goal attempt. 

2012 season: En route to winning Super Bowl XLVII and Super Bowl MVP, Flacco was 317-of-531 for 3,817 yards, 22 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Mounting one of the most memorable playoff runs ever, the QB was 73-of-126 for 1,140 yards and a 117.2 QB rating, becoming the second QB in NFL postseason history to throw 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions. In what will reportedly now be his new home, Flacco had one of the most memorable moments of his career in the 'Mile High Miracle.'

2013 season: In 16 games, Flacco set career-highs in attempts (614) and completions (362) and became the first player in franchise history to throw for 20,000 yards. 

2014 season: Flacco started all 16 games for the seventh-consecutive season and set career-highs in passing yards (3,986) and touchdown passes (27). He became the first QB in NFL history to reach the postseason in six of his first seven years, with the Ravens offense setting a franchise single-season record in yards and points-scored, ranking eighth in the league. 

2015 season: Throwing for 2,791 yards and 14 touchdowns in the first ten games, Flacco sustained a season-ending knee injury against the then St. Louis Rams. The injury brought an end to his 122-consecutive regular season start streak, the sixth longest in NFL history entering 2018.

2016 season: Flacco threw for a single-season franchise record 4,317 yards in 2016 and set career highs in attempts (672), completions (436) and completion percentage (64.9). He also posted four 300-yard passing games and 20 touchdowns, including a career-long 95-yarder to wide receiver Mike Wallace Week 9 against the Steelers.

2017 season: Flacco's 3,141 yards and 18 touchdowns helped the Ravens have the ninth ranked points per game offense (29.4). Their postseason hopes came to a dramatic end with seconds to spare Week 17 against the Bengals.

2018 season: Flacco was 232-of-379 for 2,465 yards and 12 touchdowns before injuring his hip Week 9 against the Steelers. The QB would go on to miss four games before losing the starting job to rookie Lamar Jackson. 

February 13, 2019: The Ravens reportedly agree to trade Flacco to the Broncos in exchange for a fourth-round pick. 

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