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Patriots Notebook: A clinching win

The Patriots took care of business with a 23-7 win over the New York Jets today, clinching the AFC's second seed and a first round bye through the playoffs.

The Patriots will host a divisional playoff game the weekend of Jan. 15-16 at Gillette Stadium. They have earned a bye on three occassions (1996, 2001 and 2003) since it was instituted in 1990, reaching the Super Bowl in each of those seasons. In terms of this season's playoff picture, the Patriots are guaranteed the only road game during a potential playoff run would come in Pittsburgh, the site of one of their only two losses this season.

Pittsburgh (14-1), Indianapolis (12-3) and San Diego (11-4) have also clinched their respective divisions. The Steelers earned the AFC's top seed and hold the home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Indianapolis defeated San Diego 34-31earlier today, clinching the No. 3 seed.

With one week remaining in the regular season, the Jets and Denver Broncos hold the inside track on the final two playoff slots. The Jets, who fell to 10-5, can clinch a playoff berth with a win over St. Louis next week. The same holds true for Denver (9-6), who can clinch with a win over Indianapolis next week and would edge Buffalo (9-6) based on a better conference record.

As the playoff seeding currently stands, the Jets would go on the road against the Chargers, while Denver would be at Indianapolis. As the second seed, the Patriots would host the highest remaining seed from the wild card round.

Dillon Sets Mark
In his first season in New England, running back Corey Dillon has put up the best-ever rushing season in franchise history. Dillon rushed for 89 yards on 29 carries Sunday, giving him 1,519 rushing yards this season to break the single-season franchise mark set by Curtis Martin (1,487) in 1995. Dillon, who did most of his damage in the second half against the Jets, also broke his previous career-high of 1,435 set in 2000 with Cincinnati. He has played in 14 of the Patriots 15 games this season, recording career-highs in rushing touchdowns (11) and 100-yard games while averaging 110 yards per contest.

A Very Brady Day
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady rebounded from one of his worst performances of the season last week with a solid day against the Jets, completing 21-of-32 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns. Brady was at his best at the end of the first half, leading the Patriots to two scoring drives on their final two possesions of the half for a 16-0 lead. When the Patriots took over on their own 14-yard line with 6:02 left in the half, he engineered an 8-play, 86-yard drive completing all five of his attempts for 82 yards, capped by a 16-yard touchdown pass to tight end Daniel Graham. After a three-and-out by the Jets, Brady completed his first three attempts on the next drive to put the Patriots in position for a 29-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri. Brady improved to 6-1 all-time against the Jets and now has a touchdown pass in 14 consecutive road games.

Three For Free
The Patriots were nearly the benefactors of three free points at the end of the first half. Following a field goal that extended their lead to 13-0, the ensuing kickoff by Vinatieri bounced of New York upback Jason Glenn. After several Jets missed a chance to recover the ball, Patriots linebacker Tully Banta-Cain recovered the ball at the New York 33-yard line, giving the Patriots the ball with two seconds left in the half. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick elected to go for a 50-yard field goal attempt by Vinatieri, which had the distance but sailed wide left, just his second miss of the season. The miss by Vinatieri, who connected earlier on field goals of 28 and 29 yards, ended his streak of 23 consecutive field goals. He finished with three field goals and two extra points Sunday and has now made 31-of-33 field goal attempts this season, giving him an NFL-leading 130 points to break his previous single-season mark (127) set in 1998.

Scoring Streak Extended
When Vinatieri gave the Patriots a 3-0 lead on a 28-yard field goal with 7:50 remaining in the first half, it marked the NFL-record 20th consecutive regular season game in which the Patriots have scored first. The Patriots, who have scored first in 23 games overall including the playoffs, bested the mark previously held by the 1978 Miami Dolphins. The last time the Patriots did not score first was when they fell behind 0-3 on Nov. 23, 2003, in a 23-20 overtime win over Houston.

Secondary Shuffle
With cornerbacks Ty Law and Randall Gay and safety Dexter Reid out due to injury, the Patriots were forced to shuffle thier defensive secondary against the Jets. Linebacker Don Davis was inserted into the starting lineup and made his first career start at safety, while safety Eugene Wilson started at cornerback alongside Asante Samuel. Davis finished with three tackles and a pass break up, while Wilson had one tackle and also recorded his team-leading fourth interception of the season off Chad Pennington in the fourth quarter.

Givens Makes Return
Wide receiver David Givens was back in the starting lineup for the Patriots, and his impact was certainly felt. Givens finished with only two receptions for the Patriots, but they went for 64 yards in his first action in three weeks after missing the last two games with an ankle injury. Givens, who entered the game leading the team in receptions (52) and receiving yards (780), had receptions of 29 and 35 yards in the first half, the latter setting up Brady's touchdown to Graham in the second quarter.

Injury Update
Pro Bowl defensive tackle Richard Seymour left the game with 9:48 left in the third quarter with a knee injury. Seymour, who was able to walk off the field, suffered the injury when Jets' center Kevin Mawae fell into his left leg. Trainers continued to work on Seymour on the sideline but he was unable to return and was replaced by Jarvis Green. Wilson also suffered an ankle injury midway through the first quarter but was able to return.

Game Day Inactives
The Patriots deactivated eight players from the active roster Sunday: Cornerbacks Law and Gay; safety Reid; wide receiver Bethel Johnson; running back Kevin Faulk; linebacker Matt Chatham and defensive linemen Ethan Kelley. Jim Miller was designated the third quarterback.

Quick HitsSunday's paid attendance was 77,975. ... The Patriots re-signed cornerback Omare Lowe from the practice squad prior to today's game. ... Linebacker Tedy Bruschi ended New York's first drive of the game with his third interception of the season. Bruschi and linebacker Ted Johnson tied for the team-lead with four tackles each. ... Deion Branch led the Patriots with seven receptions for 82 yards and his third touchdown of the season, tying his career-high he set last season. ... The Patriots improved to 19-2 since 1993 when the temperature at kickoff is 35 degrees or colder. ... The Patriots out-gained the Jets 184 to 9 during the second quarter, leading to a 372 to 279 for the game. ... Kevin Kasper and Patrick Pass handled kickoff return duties in place of Johnson. ... Green, Mike Vrabel and Rosevelt Colvin each recorded sacks for the Patriots.

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