It wasn’t an artistic success, but it was enough for the New England Patriots to return to the AFC title game for a record sixth straight time.
“You gotta give these guys a lot of credit — we didn’t play particularly well but we hung in there and we ended up making enough plays to win,” coach Bill Belichick said after his team moved on with a 34-16 victory over the Houston Texans in the divisional playoff game on Saturday night.
Dion Lewis scored touchdowns three different ways and the Patriots, who have won eight straight games, will play the winner of Sunday night’s Kansas City-Pittsburgh game at Gillette Stadium on Jan. 22.
They made more mistakes than usual Saturday night but got away with them and snapped the Raiders’ 1970s record of five straight title games.
“It doesn’t feel great because we worked pretty hard to play a lot better than we did,” Tom Brady said after he threw two interceptions to go with his two touchdowns. “We’ll learn from it and try to be better next week.”
But they won.
Asked how it feels to have broken the record for consecutive title-game appearances, Brady paused and said, “Ummm, pretty cool; pretty cool. Let’s go win the AFC championship game — that would be VERY cool. That’s what we gotta do.”
The Patriots, looking for their fifth Super Bowl title, turned the ball over three times, put the ball on the ground and were guilty of a costly defensive penalty that led to a field goal, but will make their 13th appearance in the conference title game.
Lewis recorded the first kickoff return for a touchdown in New England playoff history with a 98-yarder, caught a 13-yard touchdown pass from Brady and ran 1 yard for a score in the fourth quarter. He was also guilty of fumbling away a kickoff, leading to a Houston touchdown, and he fumbled on a running play in the fourth quarter.
Lewis became the first player in NFL history to score on a run, a pass and a kickoff return in a postseason game. He also joined Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill, who did it earlier this season, as the only players since Gale Sayers in 1965 to pull off the feat.
No other player ever had two offensive touchdowns and a return touchdown in a playoff game, according to STATS, LLC.
“I did OK,” said Lewis. “Some things I can do a lot better on, like protect the ball a little bit better. I put my team in jeopardy, so I’ve got to work on that this week.”
Brady, who also threw a touchdown pass to James White, finished 18 of 38 for 287 yards with two interceptions against the Texans’ top-ranked defense.
Julian Edelman caught eight passes for 137 yards, breaking Wes Welker’s club record for career postseason catches. Edelman now has 76.