Patriots edge Jets, clinch 1st-round playoff bye
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots are in a familiar position.
They've got a first-round bye in the postseason for the fifth straight year, and they're closing in on having home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
But first, they had to sweat through a 17-16 victory over the upset-minded New York Jets on Sunday.
''We made plenty of good (plays) in the fourth quarter to come from behind, so that was great,'' quarterback Tom Brady said. ''I'm glad it came out the way it did - makes for a better Christmas. It's always tough to get a win here.''
Jonas Gray scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 1-yard run early in the fourth quarter after New England intercepted Geno Smith, and Vince Wilfork tipped Nick Folk's 52-yard field goal attempt with just over 5 minutes left.
Brady threw a 3-yard TD pass to Rob Gronkowski for the Patriots (12-3), who could earn home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs if Denver loses to Cincinnati on Monday night.
''Right now, we're focused on our last game,'' wide receiver Danny Amendola said. ''We'll kind of assess the situation as we go.''
New England plays at home against Buffalo next week, then gets to rest for the opening round of the playoffs. The Patriots' five consecutive seasons of first-round byes is the longest streak since the current playoff format began in 1990.
This win, though, didn't come easy.
''Yeah, he underthrew it,'' Jets coach Rex Ryan said in what could have been his last home game with the team. ''Poor throw. That was a big play on their part.''
So was Wilfork's tip of Folk's long attempt that could have given New York a lead.
It was reminiscent of the teams' first meeting, when Chris Jones blocked Folk's 58-yard try on the final play of New England's 27-25 win at Gillette Stadium in October.
Brady and the Patriots were then able to run out the clock for the win.
''It's unfortunate,'' Ryan said. ''I really thought it was going to be our day.''
Here are a few things to know about the Patriots' win over the Jets:
REX'S LAST STAND?: Ryan's future with the team is uncertain as his sixth season winds down.
New York will miss the postseason for the fourth straight year, and Ryan and general manager John Idzik have come under heavy criticism by fans who have urged owner Woody Johnson to make changes. Several waved yellow ''penalty towels'' at MetLife Stadium with the words ''Fire Idzik!'' printed in green.
''It's tough because through this all, he's been the rock,'' right guard Willie Colon said of Ryan. ''I honestly want to win for him, more than anybody.''
SO-SO BRADY: It wasn't a vintage performance by Brady, by any means, but he got the job done - as usual - against the Jets.
Brady finished 23 of 35 for 182 yards and was sacked four times, a modest showing while playing without wide receiver Julian Edelman (concussion) and running back LeGarrette Blount (shoulder). He still improved to 20-5 in the regular season - 21-6 overall - as a starter against the Patriots' AFC East rivals.
''They always play us pretty hard,'' Brady said. ''We got their best today.''
REVIS RETURNS: Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis played against his former team for the first time at MetLife Stadium since signing with New England, and it was a mostly quiet return - except for the fans booing him when he made one of his four tackles.
Revis spoke briefly to Ryan, his former coach, after the game.
''I just told him after the game, good luck, good to see him, and that was it,'' Revis said. ''I was just showing him my respect for him coaching me in the past.''
INJURIES: Jets center Nick Mangold injured his left ankle in the second quarter and was carted off the field.
He said he had X-rays, which revealed no break, but was scheduled for additional tests Monday.
New York also played without wide receiver Percy Harvin in the second half after he injured a rib.
PAYING RESPECTS: Mangold wore a black NYPD cap while walking into MetLife Stadium off the team bus in honor of Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, who were murdered in Brooklyn on Saturday, and held it to his heart during the singing of the national anthem. The team also observed a 10-second moment of silence before the game.
Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson, recently critical of law enforcement in the Ferguson, Missouri, incident, spoke out in support of the officers.
''Some innocent blood was spilled,'' Richardson said. ''I'm not with that at all. That's the message that I'm trying to get across. It's sad, real sad that two officers lost their lives and can't go home to their families.''
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL