Monday December 31, 2012

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots are rolling again, right into a playoff bye.

Tom Brady threw two touchdown passes, the defense had a season-high seven sacks and New England ended a rare slump by dominating the Miami Dolphins 28-0 on Sunday.

"Hopefully, this will be a good game that we can step off from and keep working to improve," coach Bill Belichick said.

Rebounding from two mediocre performances, the Patriots earned the second seed in the AFC and an extra week to savor the win and prepare for their postseason opener on Jan. 13. The Denver Broncos got the top spot by beating the Kansas City Chiefs.

Shortly before the game, the Patriots learned that Houston had lost to the Indianapolis Colts. That meant a win would vault the Patriots over the Texans, who began the day seeded first, and into one of the two byes.

"Coach Belichick just said, "Look, the only people that can improve our position are us, so, regardless what anyone else does, we have to win," Brady said. "And that’s what we did."

Decisively.

Stevan Ridley ran for two touchdowns as New England used a ball-control offense and a defense that posted the team’s first shutout since a 59-0 rout of the Tennessee Titans 59-0 on Oct. 18, 2009.

The Patriots (12-4) led 21-0 at halftime on Brady’s 9-yard touchdown pass to Wes Welker and Ridley’s runs of 1 and 2 yards, capping drives lasting 14 and 13 plays. They ended the scoring on Brady’s 23-yard scoring pass to Rob Gronkowski, who missed the previous five games after breaking his left forearm.

"It felt good. I haven’t gotten hit in a while," Gronkowski said.