FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (Jan. 7, 2007) -- The teacher had the upper hand in this game -- and so did Tom Brady, his quarterback.
Brady capped long scoring drives with short touchdown passes to Daniel Graham and Kevin Faulk, and Asante Samuel sealed it with a 36-yard interception return for a score with 4:54 left in the game as Bill Belichick's three-time Super Bowl champions beat the New York Jets 37-16.
New England (13-4), the only team to win a playoff game in each of the last four seasons, will play at top-seeded San Diego (14-2) next Sunday (Jan. 14). The Patriots are going for their fourth Super Bowl title in six seasons.
"It's a huge challenge, the best team in the NFL this year, the MVP," linebacker Tedy Bruschi said of the Chargers and running back LaDainian Tomlinson. "It's a huge challenge."
The loss ended a surprising run by the Jets, who won their last three regular-season games to get into the playoffs in what was supposed to be a rebuilding season under rookie coach Mangini. Belichick's former assistant showed he learned a lot in his six years in New England, but the mentor still had some lessons left to teach.
After the game, the two coaches, whose relationship has cooled since Mangini left to become coach of the Jets, met at midfield and Belichick hugged Mangini.
Brady improved to 10-2 against the Jets (10-7), and played much better than in the teams' last meeting, when New York frustrated the quarterback with blitzes and won 17-14. This time, Brady was in control right from the start.
"I think we had a great plan," Brady said. "This is a pressure defense, and I think we were prepared much more for the pressure this time around."
New England, which has won seven of eight since that loss to New York, improved to 9-1 at home in the playoffs, and hasn't lost in the postseason since a 31-14 defeat against the Houston Oilers on Dec. 31, 1978. The Jets made things interesting early, taking a 10-7 lead in the second quarter on a 77-yard touchdown catch and run by Jerricho Cotchery.
But it was all New England from that point in the teams' second-ever meeting in the playoffs, the last also a victory by the Patriots in 1985.
"We just fight," Bruschi said.
With the Patriots leading 23-16, Brady engineered the type of drive that has made him so deadly in big games. New England took over at its 37 and with a series of short passes and runs got to the Jets 7.
Brady then found Kevin Faulk with a short pass and the running back zipped into the end zone with 5:16 left as the Patriots quarterback put up both hands and pointed skyward.
Brady finished 22 of 34 for 212 yards and two touchdowns, while Jabar Gaffney had eight catches for 104 yards. The Patriots also outrushed the Jets 148-70.
New England also took advantage of a big mistake by the Jets late in the third quarter.
Chad Pennington's pass was knocked down by Rosevelt Colvin and picked up by Vince Wilfork, who rumbled 31 yards to the Jets 15 before being tackled by Cotchery. The play was ruled a backward pass and a fumble, and the ruling was upheld after a challenge by Mangini.
"I think it was something that broke the game open for us," defensive tackle Richard Seymour said.
Four plays later, Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 28-yard field goal to give New England a 23-13 lead.
Mike Nugent's 37-yard field goal 3:21 into the fourth quarter made it 23-16.
"You look at the big picture and say it was a good job on our part," Jets linebacker Jonathan Vilma said. "But if you're competitive, if you're a player, you don't want to go 10-6 and lose in the first round of the playoffs."
The Patriots got things started early on Corey Dillon's 11-yard touchdown run 3:07 in.
It was an efficient drive conducted without a huddle by Brady, who completed three of his four passes to Gaffney. On third-and-12 from the Jets 27, Brady hit Troy Brown with a 16-yard pass. Dillon then took a handoff, ran into a crowd in the middle before bouncing to the right side and high-stepping into the end zone.
The Jets took advantage of a turnover when Dewayne Robertson knocked the ball out of Dillon's hands and Hank Poteat recovered. Nugent kicked a 28-yard field goal to make it 7-3.
Cotchery put the Jets ahead 10-7 with his 77-yard touchdown score, the longest in team postseason history.
Pennington found Cotchery open with James Sanders, in for the injured Rodney Harrison, back in zone coverage. Sanders took a bad angle on the receiver before Cotchery blew past him and down the right sideline untouched with a trail of Patriots behind him.
Gostkowski kicked a 20-yard field goal to tie it at 10.
The Patriots again had a long drive late in the first half, capped by Graham's 1-yard TD catch. New England started at its 20 with 7:05 remaining in the half. After Laurence Maroney 's 5-yard run put the ball at the 1, the Jets stopped Heath Evans and Maroney for no gain. On third-and-goal, Brady found Graham in the back of the end zone just out of the reach of linebacker Brad Kassell for a 17-10 lead, capping a 15-play, 80-play drive that took 6:54.
"I just put it up there and tried to let that big guy make a play for us," Brady said.
Notes: Patriots backup Vinny Testaverde, who played for the Jets for seven seasons, took a knee to end the game. ... New England, which led 17-10 at halftime, improved to 15-0 when they lead after two quarters in the postseason. ... Pennington finished 23 of 40 for 300 yards and one touchdown and an interception. ... Nugent had three field goals, extending his streak of kicks made to 21.