New England Patriots escape Houston with crucial win

This is the backstory to one of the great moments of Week 13, the New Englnd Patriots being pushed to the brink by a team attempting to avoid a franchise-record 10-game losing streak, the Houston Texans. The Patriots' wild win over the Texans, as well as the Minnesota Vikings' overtime win over the Chicago Bears and the Atlanta Falcons' overtime triumph over the Buffalo Bills in Toronto are nominees for the GMC Never Say Never Moment of the week. Cast your vote for the GMC Never Say Never Moments of Week 13.

For the third consecutive week, the Patriots have been involved in a moment worthy of the GMC Never Say Never Moments. Last week, the Patriots overcame a 24-point deficit against the Denver Broncos. And a week before that, the Carolina Panthers pulled out a thriller on "Monday Night Football" to beat the Patriots for Week 11's top moment. The Patriots are trending toward excitement, and it will be interesteing to see if that hysteria continues when the Cleveland Browns visit for a Week 14 tilt (before you poo-poo that idea, remember the last time these two teams met).

During their Week 13 encounter in Houston, the Patriots survived a slow start, overcame a 10-point deficit and endured a wild second half that featured five lead changes to ultimately prevail, 34-31. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski made two long field goals -- both from 53 yards -- in the fourth quarter to aid in the triumph.

Here are the key moments before the moment:

Not the start the Patriots wanted

The play:Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph intercepts Tom Brady.

The aftermath: The Texans were already up a touchdown because of Ben Tate's 8-yard touchdown run when Joseph forced a Patriots turnover. A field goal by kicker Randy Bullock put Houston up 10-0 on New England, which was forced to play from behind from a deficit of 10 or more points for the third consecutive week.

Gronk smash

The play: Brady connects with tight end Rob Gronkowski, who rolls into the end zone to trim the Texans' lead to 10-7. Gronkowski follows that play up with a power spike of the pigskin.

The aftermath: Gronkowski had a big day at Reliant Stadium, catching six passes for 127 yards and a touchdown. He has a touchdown reception in four consecutive games, two short of his career-high of six in 2011. Gronkowski also extended his record for most receiving touchdowns for a tight end in his first four seasons with 42 (the New Orleans Saints' Jimmy Graham -- who has played that same amount of seasons as Gronk -- is second with 35 touchdowns).

Tate takes it to the house

The play: Tate rushes for a 20-yard touchdown run, putting the Texans back up by 10 before the end of the first half.

The aftermath: Tate was a workhorse for the Texans, carrying the ball 22 times for 102 yards and a career-high three touchdowns. Tate entered Week 13 with just one rushing touchdown in his last 20 games and having not rushed for 100 or more yards in his previous 29 games. Tate became the first player to rush for three touchdowns against the Patriots since Ronnie Brown did so for the Miami Dolphins in a blowout of the Patriots in 2008 (you might remember that 2008 encounter as the famous game in which the Dolphins unleashed the Wildcat).

Texans strike back

The play:Case Keenum scores a 5-yard touchdown on a quarterback keeper, helping the Texans regain the lead at 24-21 after the Patriots had stormed out front following halftime.

The aftermath: Just when you thought the Texans might fold under the collective might of a team perceived to be a Super Bowl favorite in the AFC, Houston shows a glimmer of the soul that helped it capture two consecutive AFC South crowns. After the Patriots grabbed a 21-17 lead on a touchdown pass from Brady to Shane Vereen, the Texans executed a 10-play, 81-yard march for a go-ahead score late in the third quarter.

Patriots quickly retake lead

The play:LeGarrette Blount barrels into the end zone to help the Patriots recapture the lead at 28-24.

The aftermath: The back-and-forth tone of the second half had been set. The Texans weren't going to go away quietly into the night, while the Patriots would continue to show the resolve that has made them one of the league's most successful teams over the past few years.

Pats' time in lead is short-lived

The play: Keenum hits rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins for a 66-yard pass play.

The aftermath: Hopkins' catch and run set the Texans up to grab the lead again at 31-28 after Tate's 10-yard touchdown run. Hopkins is now 346 yards short of Andre Johnson's franchise record for receiving yards by a rookie (976 to 631) with four games left. Hopkins had been cold in the Texans' previous two games, sporting just 15 yards receiving, but busted out for 77 receiving yards against the Patriots.

The moment

The play: Gostkowski kicks a 53-yard field goal to give the Patriots the lead for good at 34-31.

The aftermath: It was Gostkowski's second consecutive successful 53-yard field-goal attempt, having connected on the Patriots' previous drive to tie the game up at 31-31. Earlier in the game, Gostkowski missed on a 55-yard field goal attempt, yet managed to keep his composure to complete these difficult kicks successfully.

What was short on style points for the Patriots was high on excitement. The escape from Houston kept the Patriots within striking distance of the Denver Broncos for the AFC's top playoff seed (remember, the two teams' head-to-head encounter means the Patriots own a valuable tiebreaker). The win also meant that the Patriots will finish a 13th consecutive season with a winning record, tying the Cleveland Browns (1957-1969) for the sixth-longest such streak in NFL history, and sitting one season behind the Green Bay Packers (1934-1947) for fifth-longest in NFL history. The Dallas Cowboys (1966-1985) own the longest streak of consecutive winning seasons with 20.

Follow Jim Reineking on Twitter @jimreineking.

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