Tom Brady tunes up and Patriots clinch first-round bye after routing Jets

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady had described Sunday’s regular-season finale as a playoff game, and then he went out and turned in one of his trademark postseason-type performances.

That’s good news for the Patriots, as their 38-3 victory over the New York Jets clinched a first-round bye.

The bye was why Brady called this a playoff game. His point was that if the Patriots won, it essentially meant that they won on wild-card weekend by not having to play a game.

Brady, of course, is uniquely qualified to comment on playoff football, as he’s played in an NFL record 37 career postseason games. That’s more than two full seasons worth of football.

As he prepares for his 38th, he does so coming off one of his best games of the season — 24-of-33 for 250 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions against a depleted Jets defense that did little to disrupt him. Along the way, he hit 6,000 completions for his career, joining Drew Brees, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning as the only quarterbacks to reach the milestone. It also marked Brady’s 29th career four-touchdown game.

Brady’s strong passing day was a notable change from Week 16, when Brady was held to 126 yards passing against the Bills, who entered the final week of the season as the NFL’s No. 1-rated pass defense.

What stood out most against the Jets was the decisiveness with which the ball left his hands, and the accuracy of some tight-window throws. His second-quarter touchdown pass to running back Rex Burkhead was arguably as impressive as any throw he’s made this season — perfect touch — while he was consistently stepping up in the pocket and delivering lasers down the field.

With Brady and the passing offense clicking overall, their play was complemented by a defense that has played its best at home this season, where the Patriots are 8-0 (the NFL’s only undefeated team at home in 2018). A forced fumble and recovery that led to a touchdown, and two fourth-down stops against rookie quarterback Sam Darnold, highlighted a decisive performance from the D.

So now it’s on to the playoffs, where the Patriots aren’t the favorite in the AFC like they’ve been in past years.

But first, with Brady playing a key role, a well-deserved and most coveted bye — for the ninth straight season.

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