EditorsNote: Changes Harrison tackles to five
Patriots beat Jets to clinch No. 1 seed
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — It felt like more of a formality than an uncertainty that the New England Patriots would stake their claim as the AFC’s best team with an easy victory on Sunday.
That is exactly what took place.
Dion Lewis totaled 133 yards and scored two touchdowns, Tom Brady tossed a pair of touchdown passes and the Patriots locked up the AFC’s No. 1 seed with a 26-6 victory against the New York Jets in arctic conditions at Gillette Stadium.
“I mean, we’re 13-3. That’s the best in the AFC,” Brady said after the victory. “That’s what we’re playing for, and that’s all that really matters.”
Needing a win or a Pittsburgh loss among other scenarios, the AFC East champion Patriots clinched home-field advantage and the conference’s top spot for a second consecutive season and the seventh time overall.
Only San Francisco and Denver have claimed more No. 1 seeds, with eight each.
“It’s important, but it’s not the only thing that’s important,” Lewis said of having the No. 1 seed. “We definitely are happy to have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, but ... you’re guaranteed to have it just one game.
“So we have it for one game in two weeks that we know we are going to be home for.”
New England begins its playoff push for a sixth Super Bowl championship on either Jan. 13 or 14 at Gillette Stadium.
Lewis rushed for 93 yards and had 40 receiving while Brady completed just 49 percent of his passes (18 of 37) to lead the Patriots.
The 40-year-old Brady came out of the game in favor of backup Brian Hoyer at the start of the Patriots’ final drive with 5:59 left in the fourth quarter.
By that point, with the game easily in hand, Brady was happy to be off the field and done playing in the bitterly-cold weather.
“It’s just a challenge, I think, for everyone — mentally, physically,” Brady said of the inclement conditions. “But it was great to get a win.”
New York (5-11) finished last in the AFC East for the second straight season and the third time in four years.
The Jets are on the outside of the playoff picture for the seventh straight season, with their last playoff triumph being a 28-21 win at New England in the AFC divisional round on Jan. 16, 2011.
“Well, we are 5-11, record-wise, we are far away,” Jets head coach Todd Bowles said. “But, you know, chemistry-wise we are there. We have a few pieces here and there that we will assess in the offseason. And you kind of go from there. Obviously, I think we have a building block that we’ll go off of and we will go from there.”
Jets quarterback Bryce Petty finished 19 of 36 for 232 yards. Five of those passes went to Neal Sterling, who had a team-high 74 receiving yards. Bilal Powell led the Jets with 46 rushing yards.
The Patriots outgained the Jets in total yardage 330-247 and held New York to 0 of 12 on third down.
“That’s just due to being in third-and-long situations,” Jets wide receiver Jermaine Kearse said of New York’s third-down woes. “In those situations, it’s hard to convert. We just have to get better there, focus and finish.”
Five-time Pro-Bowl linebacker James Harrison made his Patriots debut after signing with the team on Dec. 26 following his release from the Steelers. Harrison had five tackles and two sacks, both on back-to-back plays to end the game.
“It felt really good (to play),” Harrison said. “It was just rushing outside and they were passing a lot, so I had good opportunities to get around the corner (on the sacks).”
Stephen Gostkowski’s 21-yard field goal with 1:29 remaining in the third quarter accounted for the period’s only score and extended New England’s lead to 24-3.
Chandler Catanzaro’s second field goal of the day, this from 35 yards out, brought New York within 24-6 at the 10:28 mark of the fourth quarter.
Eric Lee sacked Petty in the end zone for a safety with 6:04 to go in the game, making it 26-6.
The Patriots led 21-3 at halftime.
New England was off and running after receiving the opening kickoff, driving 75 yards on 13 plays to score a touchdown on Lewis’ 3-yard rush with 9:30 left in the first quarter.
After Catanzaro’s 48-yard field goal made it 7-3 with 1:42 to go in the first quarter, the Patriots effectively put the game out of reach with a pair of second-quarter touchdowns.
Brady found Brandin Cooks for a 5-yard scoring connection at 4:14 of the second quarter before Lewis reached the end zone for the second time on another 5-yard pass from Brady with 20 seconds to play in the half.
NOTES: With the thermometer reading 13 degrees at kickoff, Sunday’s game was the coldest regular-season home game in Patriots history. ... The Patriots passed out 65,000 hand warmers to fans before the game. ... Jets S Marcus Maye was ruled out with an ankle injury and WR Robby Anderson sustained a concussion on a hit in the third quarter. ... RB James White (ankle) was inactive for New England along with RB Rex Burkhead (knee), RB Mike Gillislee (knee), WR Chris Hogan (shoulder), DT Alan Branch (knee), OL Cole Croston and LB David Harris. ... The Jets placed two-time Pro-Bowl RB Matt Forte (knee) on injured reserve Saturday. ... New York’s inactives were DE Muhammad Wilkerson, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (rib/foot), RT Brandon Shell (concussion), WR Lucky Whitehead, OLB Freddie Bishop, CB Rashard Robinson and DE Deon Simon. ... New England beat New York 24-17 in the teams’ first meeting in Week 6 on Oct. 15 and swept the season series for the 18th time.