Pa­tri­ots play­ing for bye

Stamford Advocate (Sunday) - - Nfl -

The New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots have ap­proached the fi­nal week of the reg­u­lar sea­son with a post­sea­son­like fo­cus.

No, re­ally. A first-round bye through the AFC play­offs is on the line Sun­day, so they in­sist they’re not tak­ing their game against the lowly New York Jets lightly.

“It’s a one-game sea­son,” run­ning back James White said. “We’ve got to play our best foot­ball this week.”

The Pa­tri­ots have not played dur­ing wild-card week­end since the 2009 sea­son, when they were blown out 33-14 by Bal­ti­more. They also failed to make it to the Su­per Bowl the other two times un­der coach Bill Belichick (2005 and ’06) that they played dur­ing the open­ing week­end of play­offs.

So New Eng­land wants a win, which would clinch the fran­chise’s 13th firstround bye in AFC play­offs since 2001, the most in the NFL dur­ing that span. The Pa­tri­ots (10-5) would also earn a bye with losses by Bal­ti­more, Hous­ton and Ten­nessee on Sun­day.

But they’d pre­fer to take care of busi­ness them­selves against the Jets (4-11).

“I mean, for us this is a play­off game, so we just worry about what we can con­trol,” safety Patrick Chung said.

There’s also an out­side shot New Eng­land could clinch home-field ad­van­tage through­out the AFC play­offs with a win — which would be its 500th in the reg­u­lar sea­son — com­bined with losses by Kansas City and Los An­ge­les Charg­ers.

Speak­ing of Gil­lette Sta­dium, Tom Brady and the Pa­tri­ots are the only team in the NFL without a loss at home (7-0). They could com­plete an un­de­feated home reg­u­lar sea­son for the sev­enth time since 2002 with a sixth straight vic­tory in the se­ries with the Jets.

“It’s al­ways tough when we play these guys, home or away,” White said. “They’re go­ing to come in ready to play no mat­ter what their record is. We’ve just got to play our best foot­ball — which we haven’t done yet and which I’ve said a lot this year. I think we all know that we can play bet­ter in gen­eral and maybe that’s enough mo­ti­va­tion for us to go out there and play our best.”

The Jets’ play­off hopes van­ished months ago and this is ex­pected to be Todd Bowles’ fi­nal game as coach. New York failed to reach the post­sea­son in any of Bowles’ four sea­sons and needs a vic­tory to just match the team’s 5-11 records of the last two sea­sons.

Bowles’ bunch could have some ex­tra mo­ti­va­tion: spoil the Pa­tri­ots’ plans.

“It would be awe­some,” left tackle Kelvin Beachum said. “But that’s not what it’s about. It’s about pride and about find­ing a way to get a win.”

Here are some other things to know when the Jets and Pa­tri­ots face off in Foxbor­ough:

BRADY’S BUMMER

Brady is com­ing off his worst per­for­mance of the sea­son with his 48.3 passer rat­ing in a 24-12 win over Buf­falo his low­est since throw­ing four in­ter­cep­tions against In­di­anapo­lis in 2006.

He has 25 touch­down passes, his fewest since also toss­ing 25 dur­ing the 2013 sea­son. But the 41-year-old Brady has no plans to step away from the game any time soon. In his weekly ra­dio spot with West­wood One Sports Ra­dio on Mon­day, he said he fully in­tends to play be­yond the end of his con­tract in 2019.

“I ab­so­lutely be­lieve I will,” Brady said. “I know I’ve talked about it a long time. I have goals to play not only next year, but be­yond that.”

THE END?

All in­di­ca­tions are that Bowles will be fired by the Jets some­time af­ter the clock hits zero on the score­board Sun­day.

Bowles has mostly de­clined to dis­cuss his job sta­tus or his fu­ture, de­spite the spec­u­la­tion swirling for weeks, and his fam­ily has inevitably been ex­posed to it.

“My pri­vate life will re­main pri­vate,” Bowles said. “I don’t in­su­late them from any­thing. My kids go to school and they’re tough­minded, they can take care of them­selves and the Mrs. can take care of her­self. We un­der­stand where we are and I’ve got no prob­lems with my fam­ily.”

Jim Ro­gash / Getty Im­ages

The Pa­tri­ots’ James White rushes for a 27-yard touch­down against the Bills on Dec. 23.

Bill Kostroun / As­so­ci­ated Press

Jets coach Todd Bowles smiles be­fore a game against the Pack­ers on Dec. 23.

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