Originally posted on Patriots Extra  |  Last updated 1/13/13
Welcome to the playoffs, Shane Vereen.  New England's forgotten second-year tailback—who was drafted 17 spots ahead of Stevan Ridley in 2011—stole the show Sunday evening, piling up 124 total yards and three touchdowns in New England's 41-28 thrashing of the Houston Texans in the Divisional Round.  The speedster out of California proved to be the X-factor for the Patriots, who lost star tight end Rob Gronkowski for the rest of the playoffs after the Pro Bowler re-injured his forearm.  Vereen and Ridley picked up the slack and helped the Patriots reach the AFC Championship for the second consecutive season.  Not to be lost in the win was New England's defense, which held Matt Schaub to a paltry 6.5 yards per completion and mostly bottled up Arian Foster (22 carries for 90 yards).  Although the loss of Gronkowski certainly doesn't help the Patriots' Super Bowl chances, the fact they dropped 40+ points on the Texans again highlights their versatility, resiliency and creativity on offense.  Let's take a look at this week's risers and fallers.    Risers 1. Shane Vereen, RB: Selected with the 56th overall pick in 2011, Vereen basically redshirted his rookie year because of a hamstring injury. After making spot contributions during the regular season, the speedy second-year tailback exploded for three touchdowns, including a beautiful 33-yard reception along the left sideline to put the Pats up 38-13. Vereen's quickness and big-play ability could help ease the loss of Gronk as the Patriots' playoff march continues.  2. Wes Welker, WR: It wasn't a perfect day for No. 83, but dammit I'll take it. Dubbed "unathletic" by Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, the 5'9", 185-pounder proved good things do come in small packages. The super slot receiver racked up 131 yards on eight catches, with none better than his 47-yard, one-handed bomb in tight coverage. Welker's terrific outing pushed him past Patriot great Troy Brown as the team's all-time leader in playoff receptions (59).  3. Offensive Line: Houston got its hits on Tom Brady—seven to be exact—but J.J. Watt and Co. managed to take down No. 12 just once in the 13-point defeat. Left tackle Nate Solder and left guard Logan Mankins were dominant on the afternoon, and Sebastian Vollmer and Dan Connolly were solid enough on the right side to limit Watt to just four tackles and a half sack. The o-line wore down Houston's front seven, leading the way for 122 rushing yards on just 24 carries (5.1 yard average) and two touchdowns.  4. Tom Brady, QB: Tom wasn't on his A game to start, but boy did he finish. Missing key cogs Danny Woodhead and Rob Gronkowski, Brady continued to pepper the ball to Welker, Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Lloyd. Just a few weeks after shredding the Texans defense for 296 yards and four touchdowns, the 2010 MVP tossed three scores on 344 yards passing in his record-breaking 17th playoff win.  5. Rob Ninkovich, DE: Ninko is officially my new man crush. No matter what position he plays, how he hurt he is, or how bad the defense is playing, the guy comes up with game-changing plays. With Houston driving into New England territory and down by 11 points in the third quarter, Ninkovich dropped into coverage and intercepted Schaub. Six plays later, Brady hooked up with Lloyd for his 40th career postseason touchdown pass.    Fallers 1. Chandler Jones, DE: It's been a rough second half of the season for New England's top draft pick. Facing the league's best left tackle in Duane Brown, Jones was shut down all game before exiting with an ankle injury. The 21st overall pick was limited to just two tackles and failed to provide any pressure on Schaub.  2. Kickoff Coverage: An absolute abysmal day for this special teams unit. Danieal Manning torched the kickoff team for 216 yards on four returns, including a 94-yarder to open the game. If not for Stephen Gostkowski tripping up the starting safety a few times, Manning could have taken a few back to the house. Houston really only scored because of Manning's excellent returns, so this is an area New England must clean up as the Ravens feature Pro Bowl returner Jacoby Jones.   
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