Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
The road to New Orleans now goes through Gillette Stadium. With the New England Patriots beating the Houston Texans, the Patriots will now advance to the AFC Championship. With that being said, let's take a look at what we learned from New England's victory.
It's official: The road to the Super Bowl goes through Gillette Stadium.
Before we start previewing Patriots vs. Ravens, let's take a minute to recap New England's win. Here is what we learned following the team's 41-28 victory over the Texans.
1. Wes Welker is New England's most reliable receiver
With Hernandez, he's frequently hurt and sometimes develops a case of sticky-fingers, Gronk re-injured himself Sunday night and Lloyd and Tom Brady aren't always on the same page—but with Welker, you can depend on him.
When the Patriots need a completion, the ball has to be thrown to Welker—it's just that simple.
Welker finished Sunday's game with eight receptions for 131 yards.
2. Rob Gronkowski re-injured his forearm and is done for the remainder of the playoffs
Rob Gronkowski lasted just a few plays as he left Sunday's game early after landing awkwardly on his previously fractured forearm—and he broke it again and will miss the remainder of the playoffs, according to NBC Sports.
The loss of Gronk wont only affect New England's passing attack, but their ground-game as he's arguably one of the team's top blockers.
However, the Patriots had to play without Gronk for the majority of 2012, so this loss might not be as meaningful as you'd expect.
3. Danny Woodhead injured his left thumb
Danny Woodhead lasted just one offensive play as he left the game after one carry for no yards.
The latest on Woodhead is that he has a wrap on his left thumb. We'll have updates on Woodhead's thumb throughout the week.
4. Shane Vereen is the real deal
Three touchdowns for Shane Vereen? I think that's a pretty impressive day.
Vereen filled in for the injured Woodhead and ultimately stole the show on offense.
Vereen finished with 41 rushing yards on seven carries while reeling in five passes for 83 yards.
I realize that Stevan Ridley is the team's leading rusher, but the Patriots need to find more ways to get Vereen involved moving forward as they prepare for Baltimore.
5. New England's run-defense is the team's defensive strength
Arian Foster vs. New England's run-defese = New England wins.
New England's front-seven didn't give Foster any moving room as he rushed for 90 yards on 22 carries.
Without a debate, Wilfork is the main reason to why Foster and other elite running backs can't get things going against the Pats—but players like Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes and Kyle Love have major impacts as well.
6. Aqib Talib has taken this defense to the next level
Outside of Vince Wilfork, Aqib Talib is New England's most valuable player on defense. He allows the team to do a lot of different things on defense solely because of his ability to shut-down the opposing team's No. 1 wide receivers.
Andre Johnson wasn't much of a factor Sunday, as he Talib held him to eight receptions for 95 yards.
You can put any receiver out with Talib on an island and I'd have complete faith in him—this simply opens up New England's defensive playbook.