Tom Brady was shaky early on, Wes Welker had an uncharacteristic drop, and Rob Gronkowski was nursing an injury that kept him from making any sort of impact. But Sunday night's Patriots' 41-28 AFC divisional-round victory over the Texans wasn't exactly a carbon copy of last year's heartbreaking Super Bowl loss to the Giants.
Quite the contrary, in fact, as the Patriots responded from early setbacks and first-quarter injuries to two key offensive players with precise offense, opportunistic defense and contributions from two second-year running backs whom they've been waiting to see flourish in big spots like these since they were both drafted on the second day of the 2011 NFL Draft.
Running backs Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley -- taken 56th and 73rd overall, respectively, in the 2011 NFL Draft -- carried the New England offense when starting tailback Danny Woodhead (thumb) and Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski (arm) left the game with first-quarter injuries.
Vereen became just the...