FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The New England Patriots claimed two victories in one game.
Actually, it only took them about a half.
Tom Brady threw for three first-half touchdowns and New England clinched its ninth straight first-round bye in the playoffs on Sunday with a 38-3 victory over the New York Jets. The Patriots (11-5) finished the season undefeated at home, where they’ll have at least one playoff game.
“Essentially, we won next week because we won today,” coach Bill Belichick said. “We’ll see who our next opponent is, but we know they’ll be good or they wouldn’t be playing this time of the year.”
After back-to-back December losses left the Patriots with a losing record on the road, they finished with two straight wins in New England to finish with the NFL’s only perfect home record and avoid playing in the wild-card round for the first time since 2009.
The Patriots could have still earned the No. 1 seed in the AFC with losses by both Kansas City and the Los Angeles Chargers on the last day of the regular season. But the Chiefs beat the Raiders 35-3, locking New England into the second seed.
“Eleven and five is nothing to be sad about,” Brady said. “We fought pretty hard and put ourselves in good position.”
Jets rookie Sam Darnold, who had been playing well since returning from a foot injury, completed 16 of 28 passes for 167 yards, but he also had a fumble that gave New England a touchdown . In what turned out to be the final game for Jets coach Todd Bowles, New York (4-12) lost for the ninth time in 10 games.
“I’m not going to talk about my job. That’s been consistent since I’ve been here,” said Bowles, who won 10 games in his first season but just 14 in the next three combined. “It’s frustrating. That’s our season. I wouldn’t say we didn’t show progress. We did show progress. We didn’t win games.”
The Jets announced Bowles’ firing a few hours after the game.
Brady completed 24 of 33 passes for 250 yards and four scores overall, bouncing back from his worst performance since 2006 — a 48.3 passer rating in a 24-12 win over Buffalo. That, combined with the team’s losses in Miami and Pittsburgh, again raised doubts whether the 41-year-old quarterback of the five-time Super Bowl champions had reached the end of their run.
But now they’re back where they usually are: AFC East champions, a first-round bye, and a team no one is eager to play in the postseason.
“No matter the situation, even when it’s not looking good, everybody wants to ignore us and say we’re finished,” safety Duron Harmon said. “We just ignored the noise, come to fight, work hard, every week.”
After punting on their first possession, the Patriots scored on three straight drives.
Brady hit James White for a 17-yard TD late in the first quarter, and then connected with Rex Burkhead early in the second. After Elijah McGuire fumbled on the Jets’ first play of the second quarter, Devin McCourty picked it up and ran it 14 yards to the 8.
Five plays later, Brady scrambled right and found Phillip Dorsett in the back of the end zone to make it 21-3. New England opened a 28-3 lead in the third quarter when defensive lineman Adam Butler knocked the ball out of Darnold’s arm as he raised it to throw; Kyle Van Noy picked it up and ran 46 yards for the score.
Julian Edelman added a 6-yard TD catch in the fourth.
“It’s embarrassing,” Darnold said. “It’s embarrassing to go out here and lose 38-3.”
Darnold had strung together three solid games before Sunday’s dud.
The No. 3 overall draft pick had completed 66 percent of his passes, with six touchdowns and just one interception, in the three games since he returned from a foot injury. But he won just one of them.
“Just couldn’t get anything going,” Darnold said. “I thought there were some drives where we drove the ball well and moved the ball, just couldn’t finish. Couldn’t finish in the red zone.”
The Patriots earned their 13th playoff bye since 2001. … It’s their seventh time since 2002. … They scored more than 400 points for the 12th straight season, extending their record. … The ninth straight playoff bye also extended a record; Dallas and San Francisco (1992-95) and Denver (2012-15) went four straight. … It was the 500th regular-season victory in franchise history. … The ninth straight 11-win season is also a record; Indianapolis had seven from 2003-09. … Belichick’s 16th 11-win season is the most in history (Don Shula had 13). … Brady threw for four touchdowns for the 29th time in his career, third-most all-time. He also threw his 6,000th career completion. … Stephen Gostkowski had a field goal and five extra points to move into 12th on the NFL’s all-time scoring list, passing Norm Johnson with 1,743 points in his career.
Patriots’ DB Devin McCourty sustained a head injury early in the third quarter and left the game. LB Dont’a Hightower and S Patrick Chung were also injured on the play but they returned within a few plays.
Jets: Finished with five or fewer wins for the third straight season.
Patriots: Will host one of three teams on Jan. 13: the Texans, Ravens or Chargers.
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