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New England Patriots glad for No. 1 seed, week off

By The Sports Xchange
New England Patriots glad for No. 1 seed, week off
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) gives a high five to running back Mike Gillislee (35) after he scored on a one yard carry in the third quarter against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts on December 24, 2017. File photo by Matthew Healey/UPI | License Photo

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots (13-3) celebrated a frigid New Year's Eve in Foxborough by putting together a workmanlike 26-6 win over the Jets (5-11) to clinch the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoff picture.

It's the second straight season the road to the Super Bowl runs through New England, as head coach Bill Belichick's defending champions earn a week of rest before pushing the gas pedal aimed at arriving in Minneapolis early next month.

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While the AFC-rival Steelers sat stars such as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and running back Le'Veon Bell in their game in Cleveland, quarterback Tom Brady, tight end Rob Gronkowski and Co. were on the field for what was the coldest regular-season game (13 degree game-time temp with wind chills much lower throughout) in New England franchise history.

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The immediate aftermath of the win, a moment to take a breath before the pressure ramps up for the postseason, Belichick took a chance to praise his team for another impressive regular season in which it overcame plenty of injuries and issues along the way.

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"First of all, I congratulated the team after the game and, really, on the 13-3 season," Belichick said. "I thought those guys have worked really hard all year. They met a lot of different challenges throughout the course of the season. I thought they really did a good job of stepping up every day, every week and giving us their best.

"It's good to have 13 wins. It's not easy, but these guys accomplished it. We'll look forward to starting the second season."

Like Belichick, Brady has been through this all many times before. Though the potential MVP's passing offense sputtered at times down the stretch, Brady acknowledged that taking a second to acknowledge what the defending champions have done to date this season is worthwhile.

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"Football's a team sport, " Brady said when asked to evaluate his performance heading into the postseason. "I mean, we're 13-3. That's the best in the AFC. That's what we're playing for, and that's all that really matters.

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"It's good to be in this position. It's a good week to really reevaluate where we're at and try to put our best out there. It's the playoffs now, and there's no looking past the next game. So, whoever it is, we're going to have to play really well. Hopefully we can, being off this week, get us back to as healthy as we can be, and I think that would help everybody."

After breaking down the film of the season-ending win and knowing that his team will host either the Kansas City Chiefs, Tennessee Titans or Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on Jan. 14 in the divisional playoff, Belichick also emphasized that New England will have to be at its best next time it takes the field.

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"The best team that we face is the next team that we play," Belichick declared. "They'll be a team that's in the playoffs and has won a postseason game. So whatever they do, they'll probably continue to do a very high percentage of it because it's gotten them this far. It will have gotten them a playoff win next weekend. Whatever that team does then we're going to have to deal with the elements of them not only doing it, but doing it at a very high level and very successfully.

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"We'll just have to wait and see who that is and what their points of emphasis are and who their dangerous players are, but we know they'll have some or else they wouldn't be playing at this time of year and they wouldn't be able to win next week without those elements in place. We won't know that until we know the team, but we know they'll definitely be there. It'll be a big challenge for us to get ready for that once it's identified."

REPORT CARD VS. JETS

--PASSING OFFENSE: C-plus - Tom Brady's passing attack closed out the year with relatively limited production on the way to a relatively easy victory. Brady completed 18 of 37 passes for 190 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions -- snapping a career-long five-game streak of picks -- for an 82 rating. Brady did not target Rob Gronkowski on a single pass, Dion Lewis led the attack with six catches for 40 yards and a score. Brandin Cooks had five grabs on 11 targets for 79 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown.

--RUSHING OFFENSE: B - For the second straight week, Lewis set a career high in carries, this time running 26 times for 93 yards (3.6 average), including a 3-yard touchdown. Even with James White (ankle), Rex Burkhead (knee) and Mike Gillislee (knee) inactive, New England balanced out the offense matching a season best with 38 rushing attempts for 147 yards.

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--PASS DEFENSE: B - Aside from a couple coverage lapses for big plays of 46 and 35 yards, New England's back end was solid in holding Bryce Petty to 19 completions on 36 throws for 232 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions for a 72.9 rating. The Patriots held the Jets to 0-for-12 on third down, the first time New England's held an opponent without a conversion since 2014.

--RUSH DEFENSE: A - New England's struggling run defense -- the Patriots ranked 31st in the NFL allowing 4.8 yards per attempt coming in -- held the Jets to just 40 yards on 19 rushes (2.1 average), including a 24-yard long run for Bilal Powell. Veteran defensive tackle Lawrence Guy was key up front, with five tackles including one for a loss on what was by far the best game of the year for the rush defense.

--SPECIAL TEAMS: A-minus - Given a season-high eight chances to punt, Ryan Allen was impressive in the cold, windy conditions (41.8 net average) with five kicks downed inside the 20, including three straight punts inside the 5 in the fourth quarter. Stephen Gostkowski hit his only short field goal from 21 yards. New England's kickoff group wasn't up to its high standards, with New York starting at the 25 or better on three of five kickoff returns.

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--COACHING: A-minus - Bill Belichick had his team, and its stars, playing out the season in Foxborough. He also oversaw an offense that had its skill players taking a mind-over-matter bonding approach of all going sleeveless in the coldest regular-season game (13 degrees) in franchise history. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels leaned on Dion Lewis to balance out the offense as the passing attack continues to sputter a bit down the stretch. Defensively, Matt Patricia moved the pieces around up front for the best day of run defense all season while holding the Jets to 0-for-12 on third down. There were no excuses, no distractions and no letdown for the defending champs in the finale.

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