All roads will lead to Foxboro en route to Super Bowl LII after the Patriots took care of business against the New York Jets, 26-6.
New England finishes the regular season at 13-3 and has clinched the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC, assuring that the AFC Championship Game will be played at Gillette Stadium should the Patriots make it through divisional weekend unscathed.
It's the second year in a row, third time in the last four seasons and seventh time in the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick era the team will finish with the best record in the AFC (2003, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2014 and 2016).
With core special teamer Brandon Bolden the only other healthy running back, Dion Lewis gave New England’s offense a jolt at every turn. The "small, but not little" tailback carried the ball 26 times for 93 yards and caught six passes for 40 yards, scoring a touchdown both on the ground and through the air. The 26 carries and 32 total touches each established a career high for Lewis, who has been perhaps the team’s most consistent player on offense over the last month.
"I'm embracing it," Lewis said of his heavier workload and involvement in the offense. "I like having the ball, I like helping my team win. They counted on me today and I just got to try and make plays for the team and have fun out there."
Lewis scored the first points of the game when he ran in from the 3-yard line on the Patriots’ opening possession, a methodical 13-play, 75-yard drive that featured a steady dose of Danny Amendola (four catches, 43 yards).
Things went slightly wayward for New England until the end of the first half, when too many defensive penalties finally began to catch up to the Jets. They were flagged twice for defensive holding and once for pass interference in the first half, the 39-yard interference call setting up a 5-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Brandin Cooks four plays later for a 14-3 Patriots lead. Lewis scored again before the half was out to send New England to the locker room with a 21-3 edge.
Brady finished the game 18 for 37 for 190 yards and a pair of touchdown passes and also snapped his streak of five straight games with an interception. It was his second game of the season in which he completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes, which also happened way back in the season opener vs. the Chiefs. Brian Hoyer replaced Brady with 5:59 left in the fourth quarter, the outcome of the game already decided.
"That was pretty hardcore today," Brady said, a nod to the fans who stayed the distance for the coldest regular season game in Patriots history (13 degrees at kickoff). "To be out there and to brave that weather, sit in the stands, that was pretty sweet. It was a great way to end the year. We started 2-2 and 13-3 is pretty good and to get the No. 1 seed. So, our biggest games are ahead of us, and hopefully the fans enjoy that and they come out ready to go whenever we play."
New York received the second half kickoff but continued to do nothing offensively, going three and out.
For the game, the Jets were 0-for-11 on third downs, a welcome change from previous weeks for the Patriots. Quarterback Bryce Petty never settled into a rhythm, completing 19 of 36 passes for 232 yards without a touchdown or interception.
While it wasn’t exactly against Aaron Rodgers or Matt Ryan, it has to be an encouraging sign that neither Stephon Gilmore nor Malcolm Butler were targeted in the passing game by Petty until the second half.
James Harrison had a relatively successful debut for the Patriots after signing with the team on Tuesday. He didn’t appear on the field until the team’s second defensive series but showed off a wide array of skills, including the ability to drop back in coverage when need be. He had five total tackles, including an impressive stuff of Robby Anderson on third-and-5 on New York’s first series of the second half. He had sacks on back-to-back plays in the final minute of the fourth quarter, doubling his total from the five games he played for Pittsburgh this season.
"I was just rushing outside and they were passing a lot, so I had good opportunities to get around the corner," Harrison said. "For the other one, I was able to cut back underneath the guard, and the quarterback was scrambling. It felt good."
Eric Lee had a 7-yard sack of Petty with 6:04 to go in the fourth quarter that resulted in a safety for the Patriots, extending their lead to 20 points.
Rob Gronkowski was active for the game but was not targeted once in the passing game. He finishes his 2017 season with 69 catches for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns, short of the numbers he needed to earn an extra $5.5 million in incentives. However, should he be named First Team All-Pro – which appears possible, if not likely – he’ll earn the bonus anyways. His main competition is Kansas City’s Travis Kelce, who has 83 catches for 1,038 yards and eight touchdowns.
The Patriots will have a first-round bye in the postseason for the eighth season in a row and will welcome in the lowest-remaining to Foxboro the weekend of Jan. 13-14.