The road to the Super Bowl in the AFC no longer goes through Foxborough, Mass. Not at this point, at least.

The New England Patriots lost their grip on the top seed in the AFC playoffs Sunday night in Houston. Their offensive struggles continued, and quarterback Tom Brady’s frustration was on vivid display. Their usually mighty defense also had its issues and the Patriots lost to the Texans, 28-22.

“I think we’re all trying to do a good job out there,” Brady said at his postgame news conference. “I give them credit. They played well. We didn’t make enough plays. This wasn’t a great game.”

Indeed it wasn’t. The defeat dropped the Patriots to 10-2. The Baltimore Ravens have the No. 1 seed for now. They improved to 10-2 with their narrow triumph at home over the San Francisco 49ers earlier Sunday, and they hold the tie-breaker advantage after beating the Patriots in Baltimore last month. The Patriots’ lead over the second-place Buffalo Bills in the AFC East was trimmed to a single game.

Brady had three touchdown passes, two of them to running back James White, and threw an interception in a 24-for-47, 326-yard passing performance. The Patriots made a late push. They scored two touchdowns in the game’s final four minutes and nearly recovered an onside kick in the final minute after Brady’s touchdown pass to wide receiver Julian Edelman. But it was too little, too late.

“We’ll see if we can get to a good place and put ourselves in a good position,” Brady said. “We’ve got a tough one this week [at home Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs]. It’s a long flight home. We’ll try to get ready and get back at it.”

Brady’s exasperation with the offensive inconsistencies showed during the first half when the NBC cameras caught him yelling and gesturing as he left the field, then tossing his helmet into the air in disgust as he reached the sideline. While on the sideline, Brady could be seen telling Edelman and fellow wideout Phillip Dorsett: “Listen up. We’ve got to be faster, quicker, more explosive.”

The Patriots’ pass protection isn’t the biggest issue now, with left tackle Isaiah Wynn back in the lineup. This is on Brady and his receivers.

“He is holding the ball longer, I think, than he has at any point this season,” analyst Cris Collinsworth said on the NBC telecast during the second half. “And yet they’re not getting the separation.”

After a dropped pass by tight end Matt LaCosse, Collinsworth said: “The routine plays aren’t routine any more.”

Brady, at 42, too often has looked his age this season. There are no reinforcements on the way. Tight end Rob Gronkowski has remained in retirement and no longer is eligible to play this season. The Patriots do not appear inclined to re-sign wide receiver Antonio Brown, who remains under investigation by the NFL and could be placed on paid leave even if he is signed by a team.

It could be time, yet again, to wonder if the Patriots are done, if they will fall shy of a seventh Super Bowl title with Brady and Coach Bill Belichick. Will Brady, whose contract voids after this season, do the practically unthinkable and consider playing elsewhere next season, assuming that he continues playing? Is this finally it for the Patriots’ reign?

It always has been clear that whenever it finally crumbles for the Patriots, it probably won’t be pretty. Brady has said that he wants to keep playing into his mid-40s. Belichick is known for getting rid of players a year too early rather than a year too late. Over the years, he has unceremoniously parted with some of his greatest players and his best team leaders. Will it be any different with his greatest player of all?

But, then again, counting out Belichick, Brady and the Patriots has been a futile exercise for two decades. Does anyone really want to count them out now and risk being wrong again? It’s not like this is a 6-6 team. It’s a 10-2 team. Yes, it would be a formidable task to have to go on the road and beat quarterback Lamar Jackson and the Ravens in the AFC title game. The Ravens are on an eight-game winning streak and own victories over the Seattle Seahawks, Patriots, Texans and 49ers. Jackson could be the league’s MVP.

But would the task be any more daunting than last season’s, when Brady and the Patriots went to Kansas City in January for the AFC championship game and beat quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the NFL’s MVP, and the Chiefs en route to a Super Bowl triumph over the Los Angeles Rams? Just when you think it’s impossible for the Patriots to go to another Super Bowl or win another Lombardi Trophy, that’s when it will happen.

On Sunday night, however, the Patriots mostly were overmatched to end a week in which they had a long list of ill players, to the point that they utilized two team planes to travel to Houston to separate the sick players from those who were well.

“I think guys just battled hard,” Brady said. “I think you deal with a lot of adversity over the course of the season. I don’t think that had any effect on the game. Trying to figure out how to do a better job for 60 minutes is what’s most important. I’m proud of the guys the way they fought through the week. We played against a good team on the road. And when you don’t play good, you don’t win. So we didn’t deserve it.”

Texans Coach Bill O’Brien, a former Patriots assistant, beat Belichick for the first time in six tries.

“It’s huge,” Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson told NBC after the game. “It’s a big one, especially for this organization, this franchise, the city, for us this year. I mean, we can play with the top team in the NFL. ...That’s the GOAT. Especially for me, before he hangs it up, I had to at least get one. The first two, I was 0-2. He got me. I had to get this one.”

Watson threw three touchdown passes for the Texans, who improved their record to 8-4. He also scored a touchdown after taking a trick-play option pitch from wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. It officially was ruled a touchdown catch for Watson since Hopkins’s pitchout went forward.

Watson and the Texans made the Patriots appear vulnerable. But with the Patriots, appearing vulnerable during the regular season does not always translate to being beatable when the games that matter the most arrive.

“We’re battling,” Brady said. “We’re trying as hard as we can. Hopefully we can make enough plays…. It all remains to be seen. You can make a bunch of predictions and so forth. But that’s not what it’s about. It’s about going out there and doing it. A lot of guys made some plays tonight. We’ll try to build on it and see if we can do better next week.”

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Live updates and highlights can be found below.

4:22 a.m.
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Another Brady-to-White TD

Tom Brady threw his second touchdown pass of the night to running back James White, an 11-yarder this time. The Patriots failed on a two-point conversion try. (Texans 28, Patriots 15 with 3:42 left in the 4th quarter)

4:03 a.m.
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Watson scores trick-play TD

The Texans added to their lead with a trick-play touchdown that ended with quarterback Deshaun Watson diving to the corner of the end zone after taking a forward pitch from wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins on what amounted to an option play. Technically, it was a six-yard pass from Hopkins to Watson, since Hopkins’s pitchout went forward. The play began as a reverse, with Hopkins carrying the football and Watson trailing him. Hopkins made the pitch. Watson grabbed the football and sprinted toward the end zone, then dove and extended the ball over the goal line. (Texans 28, Patriots 9 with 9:53 left in the 4th quarter)

3:48 a.m.
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Pats get a TD

The Patriots finally have a touchdown, courtesy of a 12-yard pass from Tom Brady to running back James White. The touchdown came on a third-and-10 play. Earlier on the drive, the Patriots converted after two penalties created a first-and-30 predicament. New kicker Kai Forbath missed an extra-long extra point after the Patriots initially lined up for a two-point conversion and took a five-yard delay-of-game penalty. (Texans 21, Patriots 9 with 11 seconds left in the 3rd quarter)

3:33 a.m.
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Texans pouring it on

The Texans are pouring it on against the Patriots. Deshaun Watson’s third touchdown pass of the night came on a 35-yard strike to wide receiver Kenny Stills. That came on the very next play after an apparent 35-yard touchdown catch by Will Fuller was overturned by an instant replay review, which negated the catch and ruled the play an incompletion because Fuller lost control of the football at end of the play. (Texans 21, Patriots 3 with 5:41 left in the 3rd quarter)

3:24 a.m.
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Pats fail on fourth down

The Patriots failed on a fourth-and-one try from the Houston 42-yard line when Tom Brady threw incomplete to wide receiver Mohamed Sanu. NBC officiating analyst Terry McAulay said on the broadcast that he felt defensive pass interference should have been called on the play. Sanu also failed to get the ball past the first-down marker on his third-down catch. (Texans 14, Patriots 3 with 7:08 left in the 3rd quarter)

3:06 a.m.
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Offensive woes continue for Patriots

The struggles of the New England offense continued on the opening possession of the second half. The Patriots punted after Tom Brady was sacked on third down by blitzing Texans cornerback Bradley Roby. Earlier, Roby would have had his second interception of Brady of the night but it was nullified by a defensive holding penalty on Roby. (Texans 14, Patriots 3 with 12:31 left in the 3rd quarter)

2:51 a.m.
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Halftime in Houston

The Patriots are in jeopardy of losing their grip on the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs with four games left in the regular season. They trail the Texans, 14-3, at halftime in Houston. A loss would drop the Patriots’ record to 10-2. The Baltimore Ravens upped their record to 10-2 earlier in the day with their victory at home over the San Francisco 49ers, and hold the tiebreaker advantage by virtue of their victory over the Patriots last month. It has been a struggle, again, for the New England offense. Tom Brady has thrown for only 82 yards on seven-for-19 passing in the first half. He showed his frustration and could be seen telling wide receivers Julian Edelman and Phillip Dorsett on the sideline during the first half: “Listen up. We’ve got to be faster, quicker, more explosive.” Brady threw an interception that set up a Houston touchdown. The Texans also crafted an 88-yard touchdown drive against the mighty New England defense. Deshaun Watson had two first-half touchdown passes for the Texans. (Texans 14, Patriots 3 at halftime)

2:17 a.m.
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Texans extend lead

Even the sturdy New England defense is failing the Patriots now. The Texans extended their lead with a 13-play, 88-yard drive, culminating with a 13-yard touchdown pass from Deshaun Watson to tight end Darren Fells. (Texans 14, Patriots 3 with 6:21 left in the 2nd quarter)

2:08 a.m.
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Brady showing frustration

It has been a season-long struggle for the New England offense and Tom Brady is showing his frustration tonight. The NBC cameras caught him gesturing and yelling as he left the field and tossing his helmet into the air on the Patriots’ sideline. He also had a sideline conversation with his receivers, apparently about the need to get more separation from the Houston defenders. The Patriot just punted to end a possession on which Brady had a 13-yard scramble for a first down. It was not exactly Lamar Jackson-like. (Texans 7, Patriots 3 with 13:13 left in the 2nd quarter)

1:56 a.m.
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Texans convert pick of Brady into TD

The Texans converted an interception of Tom Brady into a 14-yard touchdown pass from Deshaun Watson to running back Duke Johnson. Cornerback Bradley Roby provided the interception by cutting in front of rookie wide receiver N’Keal Harry on a short pass. Roby returned the interception to the New England 6-yard line but was given a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for removing his helmet while still on the field. No matter. The Texans still cashed in and have the lead. (Texans 7, Patriots 3 with 38 seconds left in the 1st quarter)

1:39 a.m.
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Pats settle for opening-drive FG

The Patriots are on the board with a 23-yard field goal by their new kicker, Kai Forbath. It was a good opening possession for the New England offense, aided by a personal foul on the Texans’ Barkevious Mingo. But the drive stalled at the Houston 5-yard line as Tom Brady threw a third-down incompletion into the end zone. All of that came after the Patriots forced a punt by the Texans on the game’s opening possession. (Patriots 3, Texans 0 with 7:04 left in the 1st quarter)

12:40 a.m.
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Patriots look for 11th win of season

It has been a sickly week for the Patriots, who have a lengthy list of sick players entering their game Sunday night at Houston.

Offensive tackles Isaiah Wynn and Marcus Cannon, cornerback Stephon Gilmore, linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower and safety Patrick Chung were among the Patriots players listed as questionable on the team’s injury report due to illness. The Patriots reportedly took two team planes to Houston to keep sick players separated while traveling from those who are well.

The Patriots are attempting to improve their record to 11-1 as they seek the top seed in the AFC playoffs in their pursuit of what would be a seventh Super Bowl title with Coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady. The defense continues to lead the way, and the inconsistencies of the offense remain the issue. The Patriots scored 10 points off a blocked punt and an interception by Gilmore in last Sunday’s 13-9 triumph over the Dallas Cowboys in rain-soaked Foxborough, Mass.

Reinforcements are not on the way. Tight end Rob Gronkowski remains in retirement and now is not eligible to play this season. The Patriots do not appear interested in re-signing wide receiver Antonio Brown. Brady will have to find a way to make things work with his current supporting cast. He had to rely on rookie wide receivers N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers against the Cowboys, with veteran wideouts Mohamed Sanu and Phillip Dorsett on the inactive list for that game. Sanu, Dorsett and Julian Edelman are listed as questionable for this game.

The Texans lead the AFC South, with a record of 7-4, and have not played since a Nov. 21 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in a Thursday night game. Deshaun Watson seemingly has fallen behind fellow quarterbacks Lamar Jackson of Baltimore and Russell Wilson of Seattle in the league MVP race, but continues to have a standout season with 20 touchdown passes, seven interceptions and a passer rating of 103.4.

Houston’s star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins will try to get open against Gilmore, if Gilmore is not too sick and indeed plays, after Gilmore held the Cowboys’ Amari Cooper without a catch last Sunday.

12:30 a.m.
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How to watch Patriots at Texans

When: Sunday at 8:20 p.m. Eastern time

Where: NRG Stadium in Houston


Streaming: Yahoo Sports