The New England Patriots will enter 2018 in familiar fashion. They are once again the top seed in the AFC heading into the Playoffs…and, very much ‘Masters of their Domain.’ (as would say, Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza.)
On New Year’s Eve, the Patriots clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoff with a 26-6 victory over the New York Jets.
The win also clinched the seventh 13-win season for the Patriots (13-3), which is second in NFL history to San Francisco’s nine seasons. It was also Bill Belichick’s 250th career regular-season win, moving him into a tie with Tom Landry for third all-time among head coaches.
New England has defeated New York in four straight meetings, and the Patriots (13-3) haven’t lost to the Jets (5-11) at home during the regular season with Tom Brady starting since 2006. Brady’s 13th win as a starter this season tied him with Brett Favre for the most by a starting quarterback at age 40 or older.
The game ball for this contest goes to Patriots running back Dion Lewis. The man that I have unofficially dubbed, ‘The Fire‘ (because he always brings the heat) finished with a season-high 26 carries for 93 yards.
Wide Reciever, Brandin Cooks had 11 catches for 79 yards and a touchdown for New England. Tight end Rob Gronkowski was held without a catch for the first time this season. It was only the third time in his career that he was blanked for a game that he played in. It was also the first game in his career he was not the target of a pass for an entire game. As a result, Gronkowski will finish with 69 receptions; a stat of which he is sure to be proud.
James Harrison, signed by New England last Tuesday after being cut by Pittsburgh, had two sacks – on consecutive plays to end the game – and finished with five total tackles and a forced fumble. Harrison had a pretty impressive debut and seems to be a welcome addition in Foxboro.
Temperatures dipped into the low-teens at kickoff, but it didn’t stop the Patriots from being aggressive at the outset. They won the coin toss and surprisingly elected to receive, rather than defer until the second half. As a result, quarterback Tom Brady and the offense went to work. The Pats quickly moved 75 yards in just 13 plays to take a 7-0 lead on a 3-yard TD run by Lewis. The drive included a fourth-down pass conversion, one of three hookups between Brady and Danny Amendola in the series.
Penalties on the Jets’ defense aided New England’s final two scores of the first half. Safety Marcus Maye was called for a 39-yard pass interference penalty early in the second quarter that set up a 5-yard TD pass from Brady to Cooks that made it 14-3. Just before halftime, New York cornerback Juston Burris was flagged for defensive holding on a Patriots’ third-down pass attempt. New England got into the end zone three plays later via another 5-yard TD pass. This time, Brady connected with Lewis.
While the Patriots played a far-from-perfect game, they were able to capitalize on the Jets inefficiencies. The Jets’ offense was anemic throughout the entire game. New York was 0 for 12 on third down and 0 for 1 in its lone trip into the red zone. The Jets struggled to find their rhythm. Defensive end Eric Lee put the exclamation point on 2017 by sacking Jets quarterback Bryce Petty in the end zone. The final scoring of the game play resulted in a safety.
‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’
Sunday’s matchup was the coldest regular-season home game in Patriots history. The coldest playoff game on record was the divisional round game against the Tennessee Titans on Jan. 10, 2004. On that day, it was 4 degrees with a wind chill that made it feel like minus 10.
It was 13 degrees at kickoff, and the Patriots wanted to make sure their visitors knew it. A thermometer was hung in the Jets’ tunnel on Sunday. New York players filed past on their way to and from the field before the game.
The New England will enjoy a bye during Wild Card Weekend. They will host the divisional playoff round game during the week of January 13, 2018.
–Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor and National Columnist for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. He covers the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Chargers. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC