Five quick thoughts: Patriots nail down top seed


FOXBORO -- Some quick observations from the Patriots' 26-6 victory over the Jets, which gave them the No. 1 seed in the upcoming AFC playoffs . . . 


1. The Patriots' offense had some help from the Jets' shoddy secondary or the over-officious referees , . . take your pick. The Pats increased their lead from 7-3 to 21-3 with two second-quarter scoring drives, and both greatly benefitted from generous calls. The first was a defensive holding call on Juston Burris away from the play, turning an incomplete pass on third-and-10 (and a certain Patriots punt) into a first down. Five plays later, a could-have-been-flagged-could-have-been-ignored pass-interference call on Marcus Maye moved the ball from the Pats' 44 to the Jets' 17, and New England scored four plays later to increase its lead to 14-3. On the next drive, another defensive holding call on Burris turned a third-down incompletion into a first down at the Jets' 26, setting up a Tom Brady-to-Dion Lewis touchdown pass with 24 seconds left that made the score 21-3.

2. As one door closes, another opens. The Jets decided to take Rob Gronkowski out of the Patriots' offense and they did so successfully; the double-teamed Gronk didn't get so much as a target from Brady. Instead the Pats' main offensive weapon became Lewis, and what a weapon he was -- 26 carries for 93 yards, 6 catches for 40 yards, and two touchdowns.,

3. So much for the Patriots' defensive problems on third down. The Pats' well-chronicled woes in getting off the field on third down completely disappeared today. The Jets failed to convert a third down in -- count 'em -- 12 attempts, mainly because the Patriots had them in third-and-long for a good part of the afternoon. (They did, however, convert a fourth-down attempt in garbage time in the final two minutes.)

4. The road -- once again -- goes through Foxboro. The Steelers were so certain the Pats would dispatch the Jets that they sat many of their key players -- Ben Roethlisberger and Le'Veon Bell among them -- for their finale against the Browns, even though their only hope of wresting the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs away from the Patriots was to beat Cleveland while New England was losing to New York. None of that happened, of course; the Steelers beat the Browns anyway (and saddled Cleveland with the second 0-16 season in NFL history) and the Pats, of course, took care of business against the Jets. So for the second straight season, the third time in the last four years, and the sixth time in the last eight years, the Patriots will be at home throughout the AFC playoffs. Only once (in 2010, when they lost to Rex Ryan's Jets in the divisional round) have they failed to get to the AFC Championship Game as the No. 1 seed, only once have they lost an AFC Championship Game in Foxboro (in 2012, to the Ravens), and they've gotten to three Super Bowls over that span. And won two.

5. And finally . . . James Harrison punctuated his Patriots debut with two sacks. You can be sure that won't go unnoticed in Pittsburgh.


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