FOXBOROUGH — Happy New Year! Same old Jets.
The Patriots closed out the 2018 regular season the same way they seem to every year — by grounding the Jets and securing a bye week for the ninth straight season.
Tom Brady threw for 250 yards and four touchdowns Sunday in his sharpest performance in a month and the defense forced three fumbles in a thoroughly dominating 38-3 win before 65,878 at Gillette Stadium.
Up next for the Patriots is a divisional round home game in two weeks against a foe to be determined. But first, a little rest and relaxation.
“The bye is huge. It’s huge. I mean that was basically a playoff win right there,’’ said Rob Gronkowski. “Now we don’t have to play next week. We can rest up — the mental and physical part. Clean up the bumps and bruises because every game you get those. We’ll take advantage of it so we’re ready to go when it comes to the playoffs.”
The Patriots improved to 11-5 — including a perfect 8-0 in front of the home folks. The Jets finished 4-12 and likely played their last game under coach Todd Bowles, who is 24-40 with no playoff trips in four seasons at the helm.
There was plenty of skepticism when Tom Brady announced last week that he was “not injured.” His performance against the Jets likely quieted a lot of that.
Brady completed 24 of 33 passes — with zero interceptions — and showed both great zip and accuracy. His best of the day was an 18-yard frozen rope to Julian Edelman in the first quarter and his 18-yard touchdown teardrop to Rex Burkhead in the second that gave his club a 14-3 lead.
“Less interceptions, more touchdowns. That would be it,” Brady said when asked about New Year’s resolutions.
Brady got all his guys involved, targeting and hitting seven pass catchers on the day.
“That’s what we’ve got to do,’’ he said. “To be a good offense, everyone’s got to touch it, everyone’s got to be involved.’’
Hope with Darnold
Sam Darnold looked overwhelmed at times —he was sacked four times — but also showed some glimpses as to why he was taken with the third overall pick.
He is developing a rapport with fellow rookies Deontay Burnett (his 22-yard sideline out to Burnett in the second quarter was picture perfect) and Chris Herndon and the trio will be heard from in the future.
“Just couldn’t get anything going,’’ said Darnold. “. . . It’s embarrassing to go out here and lose, 38-3.’’
The Patriots defense had plenty to do with why Darnold & Co. couldn’t get anything going.
Elijah McGuire had just 41 yards on 18 carries as the New England front seven controlled the line and plugged every gap. McGuire was stopped for no gain on seven carries and was dropped for a loss on three more.
New England scored a touchdown five plays after McGuire’s fumble (forced by Trey Flowers) in the second quarter and Kyle Van Noy returned a Darnold fumble (forced by Adam Butler) 46 yards for another touchdown.
“So Darnold, he’s known for making plays on his feet or extending plays,’’ said Butler. “Our cornerbacks did a great job of covering and making sure he couldn’t throw it. The defensive ends did a great job of containing him and making sure he couldn’t roll out. He came back into my area and Trey got him around his feet. The pocket closed really quickly and he had no choice but to throw it. So, I just stuck my hand out and got a piece of it and we were rolling.’’
Gilmore had it covered
Stephon Gilmore continued his marvelous season, registering two pass breakups, giving the Pro Bowler 20 on the season.
He rendered Robby Anderson (3 catches on 8 targets for 24 yards) virtually useless, consistently manhandling him and playing through the whistle to knock out balls.
“Just get my hands on him, he’s a smaller guy,’’ Gilmore said of his matchup. “I was physical with him every time and he didn’t like that.’’
Asked if he thinks he’s one of the best cornerbacks in the league, Gilmore shied away from making any declarations.
“I don’t like to talk about myself, you know that,’’ said Gilmore. “Film don’t lie. So, I’ll let other people say that.’’
The Patriots were sizzling in the red zone, scoring touchdowns on 4 of 5 trips in that coveted stretch of real estate.
By contrast, the New England defense prevented the Jets from cashing in on both their trips to the red zone.
“I think there were two or three drives where we drove down there — if we finish those drives, I think it’s a different game,’’ said Darnold. “. . . When we get down there, we’ve got to finish in the red zone.’’
Rivers on the board
Derek Rivers was active for the first time since Week 10 and the second-year defensive end recorded his first career sack, taking down Darnold for a 10-yard loss to close out the first half.
As Rivers made his way off the field, Deatrich Wise began a parade of teammates to offer congratulatory hugs, high fives, and helmet taps to Rivers.
“It’s a blessing,’’ said Rivers. “The friendships and the bonds we have as a defense . . . It’s fun playing for one another.’’
Rivers acknowledged his eyes got pretty wide when he saw a clear path to Darnold.
“We ran a game, I came around, and saw the lane was wide open, I got anxious. I got real anxious,’’ he said with a laugh.
The Patriots employed a great strategy to minimize the impact of Jets return man Andre Roberts: They kept the ball out of his hands a lot.
Stephen Gostkowski kicked off six times, blasting it through the end zone twice and short-kicking it two more times, forcing players other than Roberts to field it.
Roberts, who leads the NFL in kickoff return average, did return two for 59 yards, including a 32-yarder.
Roberts’s only punt return was for zero yards and he had a pair of fair catches as Ryan Allen had another fine day with directional kicking and hang time.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“It was a great atmosphere. Patriots fans are obviously awesome — they bring the juice and when we’re on offense, it’s tough to hear and all that, tough to communicate . . . It was really fun to play in . . . I’m looking forward to coming back here next year.’’
Jets QB Sam Darnold
Devin McCourty left the game early in the third quarter with a head injury and didn’t return. McCourty was in on a tackle of Trenton Cannon near the sideline when he was injured.
He spent a brief time in the medical tent before being taken to the locker room.
Dont’a Hightower was dinged up on the same play but returned after one play.
NEXT WEEK: TV time
The Patriots get the luxury of watching wild-card weekend unfold like any other football fan as they learn — and do some early film work on — their next opponent.