Dion Lewis (2 TD), Brandin Cooks (TD) warm to the task, Patriots ice No. 1 seed with 26-6 win over Jets

James Harrison makes busy debut for the Patriots while Rob Gronkowski plays but protected from harm in season finale.

975
0
SHARE
Dion Lewis dives for a touchdown on the game-opening drive Sunday. (CBS TV screenshot)

FOXBORO — With a lot of help from Mother Nature, the Patriots put their No. 1 seed in the upcoming AFC playoffs on ice Sunday with a 26-6 win over the Jets in record-setting cold at Gillette Stadium.

Dion Lewis ran for a touchdown and caught another as the Patriots finished the regular season 13-3 while James Harrison made an impact on defense in his debut, playing defensive snaps to the end of the game. Lewis finished with 93 yards rushing on 26 carries and another 40 yards on six receptions on 52 snaps.

With the Steelers resting their starters against the winless Browns in Pittsburgh, the Patriots knew that clinching the top spot was entirely in their control. The win means the AFC road to the Super Bowl runs through Foxboro for the third time in four years. The previous two times have resulted in a trip to the Super Bowl for the Patriots.

But the biggest news of the day was the way James Harrison looked in playing a season-high in snaps. The 39-year-old made his Patriots debut and finished the game with a pair of sacks, including a strip sack of Bryce Petty on the next to last play.

“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. It felt really good.”

Harrison, a legitimate outside force for the Patriots on the edge, finished with five tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble in his over 30 snaps on the field.

“I feel like we got a few big plays here and there,” Harrison added. “We could have done a better job, but all in all we accomplished the goal and came out with the win. This is God’s plan and God’s doing. I’m just a receiver of what he has planned, and I’m 39 years old and still playing so I’m extremely blessed.”

“James worked really hard,” Bill Belichick said. “He worked really hard to get things down and to handle the roles that he was in today. Very professional, has a lot of experience but not in this system so he had to do a lot of things to try to acclimate himself to what we do, and terminology, and adjustments and so forth. He really worked hard on that. He got better every day. You could see that through the course of the week. Sometimes it piles up and the load just becomes – there’s a diminishing return effect. In his case, I would say that wasn’t the case. Each day that it went it got better. I thought he made a couple of plays out there today. We’ll see how it goes going forward, but yeah, he worked very hard.”

Harrison again spoke about the Steelers letting him go and his attitude going forward.

“I always wonder why I’m not playing,” Harrison said. “Like they say, it’s never easy and it’s never late, it’s just timing. It may not happen when you want it to happen, but it’ll happen when it’s meant to.”

Rob Gronkowski played but was not targeted in the passing game, an apparent attempt limit exposure and risk to the star tight end. It was statistical domination as the Patriots ran 80 plays to New York’s 59 while gaining 28 first downs, 16 more than the Jets. New England held the Jets to 0-for-12 on third down.

“I think this is something that we really worked hard on, talked a lot about defensively, especially last week, how we gave up four in a row to start the game,” Belichick said. “(The Bills) kept the ball for 15 plays on that first drive. We talked a lot about how much just playing well on that down could change things for us defensively. I forget how many plays we had in the first half but it wasn’t very many. We weren’t out there a lot and our offense had some good drives.

“Again, it’s just team defense. It’s the rush, it’s the coverage, it’s jamming receivers, it’s disguise. I thought Matt [Patricia] and the defensive staff did a good job of mixing it up and trying to keep the offense off-balance with a variety of calls and looks. But in the end, it came down to the players and their execution.”

For a full boxscore, click here.

The game-time temperature was 13 degrees but with a wind out of the west-northwest at 14 miles an hour, the wind chill was officially announced as minus-2.

The previous low temperature for a regular season game at Gillette came on Nov. 24, 2013 when the Patriots came from behind to beat Peyton Manning and the Broncos on Sunday night football. Temperature at game-time for that contest was 22 degrees with a wind chill of 6 above.

The game opened with a twist as the Patriots won the coin toss and actually elected to receive.

The Patriots faced 4th-and-2 on the Jets 21 and Brady hit Danny Amendola with a pass over the middle for seven yards to keep the drive alive. Lewis capped off the drive with a 3-yard run around the left side, stretching the ball over the goal line before being tackled.

The Patriots appear poised to make it 14-0 when they got the ball on their second possession. But a second down pass from a well-protected Brady to an open Brandin Cooks sailed into the end zone incomplete. Cooks appeared to slow down and hesitate at the end of the route.

James Harrison made his debut for the Patriots on New England’s second defensive series. He played four defensive snaps, including setting the edge on a 1-yard loss by running back Elijah McGuire, forcing a 48-yard field goal from Chandler Catanzaro, cutting New England’s lead to 7-3. Harrison finished the first half playing 10 of a possible 26 defensive snaps.

The Jets continued to show signs of life on their next drive when Bryce Petty fired a laser over the middle to tight end Neal Sterling for 35 yards. As Petty released the ball, he was hit by defensive tackle Malcom Brown, who was called for a personal foul. The 15-yard penalty moved the ball to the Patriots 36. The Patriots dodged a bullet when Catanzaro pulled a 40-yard field goal wide left.

But the Patriots couldn’t take advantage as they were forced to punt for a third straight possession.

Eventually, the Patriots were able to widen the lead to 14-3 on a 5-yard Brady-to-Cooks TD over the middle. The key play on that drive was 39-yard pass interference call on rookie Marcus Maye, who was in coverage on Cooks. Adding injury to insult, Maye was hit by his own teammate Jamal Adams and suffered a right ankle injury. He limped immediately to the Jets locker room. Four plays later, Brady waited and waited and finally found Cooks alone in the end zone.

The Patriots stopped the Jets on the next drive and went into 2-minute mode. A Brady-to-Lewis dump pass in the right flat from 5 yards was Lewis’ second straight game with a rushing and receiving touchdown. Right before that play, Brady put a block on linebacker Darron Lee, paving the way for a Cooks’ 12-yard reverse run to the Jets 5.

Harrison played into the second half and came up with his first big hit with the Patriots when he drilled Robby Anderson on third-and-5 for a two-yard gain. Through three quarters, he had played half of the Patriots’ 36 defensive snaps.

Linebacker Kyle Van Noy was active for the first time in four weeks after suffering a rib injury on Dec. 3 in Buffalo. He came on to replace the injured Elandon Roberts late in the third quarter. The only scoring for either side in the third quarter came on a 21-yard Stephen Gosktowksi field goal to make it 24-3.

Brady hit Brandin Cooks for a 37-yard pass on an out route to the right sideline in the fourth quarter, putting the Patriots at the Jets 27. But a bizarre intentional grounding on an incomplete pass with no one in sight killed the drive. The Jets took over after a punt. A Stephon Gilmore unnecessary roughness call followed by a 46-yard completion to ArDarius Stewart led the Jets into Patriots territory. The Jets settled for a 35-yard Catanzaro field goal with just over 10 minutes left, cutting the Patriots lead to 24-6.

Eric Lee concluded the scoring with a sack of Bryce Petty in the end zone with just over six minutes left. Brian Hoyer came on to replace Tom Brady for the final 5:59.

The Patriots will now enjoy their playoff bye week and wait for their opponent on the weekend of Jan. 13-14.