The New England Patriots needed a win to get a playoff bye.
They got a rout.
Now they get a weekend off to rest and prepare after dominating the Miami Dolphins 28-0 on Sunday and gaining the second seed in the AFC.
"Whoever we're going to face is going to be a good team," defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said. "We have to start playing our best game and tonight was a good night to start it."
Tom Brady threw two touchdown passes, Stevan Ridley ran for two scores and the defense had a season-high seven sacks. It was quite a turnaround from the previous two games when the Patriots started slowly and lost to the San Francisco 49ers 41-34 before beating the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars 23-16.
"We won 10 of 11 and the only loss was against a pretty good football team where we turned it over four times," Brady said. "So if we don't turn it over four times I like our chances."
New England (12-4) will be home on Jan. 13 for the divisional game against the Houston Texans, Baltimore Ravens or Indianapolis Colts.
The Patriots began the day knowing that if they won and the Texans or Denver Broncos lost, they would get one of the top two seeds and a bye. And when Houston lost to Indianapolis in an early game, 28-16, the stage was set.
But coach Bill Belichick had a pregame reminder.
He "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."
They did it with little trouble.
The Patriots 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. "I got limited reps (but) you always want to get some reps before heading into the playoffs."
For the Dolphins (7-9), Sunday's game was their big chance to knock off one of the NFL's best teams and end a streak of three straight losing seasons.
"This is like our playoff game," Miami center Mike Pouncey said, "and we didn't go out and perform the way we should have."
They head into an uncertain offseason with running back Reggie Bush's two-year contract ending and uncertainty about whether he'll return.
Coach Joe Philbin's team showed promise in his first season, with quarterback Ryan Tannehill starting all 16 games and setting Miami rookie records with 282 completions, 484 attempts and 3,294 yards passing.
"I learned a lot and I have a lot of work to do," Tannehill said. "A lot of guys stepped up and got a lot of playing time early in their careers, obviously. Hopefully, we can use that as a building block."
Instead of finishing with three straight wins, the Dolphins leave with the memory of their first blanking since losing 16-0 to the Chicago Bears on Nov. 18, 2010.
The Patriots used a ball-control offense and had an edge of more than 11 minutes in time of possession as they posted their first shutout since beating the Tennessee Titans 59-0 on Oct. 18, 2009.
"That's always awesome when you walk away with a goose egg on the scoreboard," Wilfork said.
The game was scoreless before Tannehill's pass was intercepted by Steve Gregory, who returned it 13 yards to the Miami 28-yard line midway through the first quarter. Two plays later, Brady hit Welker for the touchdown.
Brady moved into second place in NFL history with a touchdown pass in 48 consecutive games, breaking a tie with Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas. And Brady became the first player to throw at least one scoring pass in all 16 games for three straight seasons.
He finished with 22 completions in 36 attempts for 284 yards. Tannehill was 20 for 35 for 235.
The closest the Dolphins came to scoring was when they reached the Patriots 3 with about four minutes left in the third quarter. But Tannehill was credited with a fumble on a botched handoff to Bush and the Patriots recovered at the 1.
"We came in here with the mentality that we needed to finish the season strong," said Bush, whose 26 yards rushing left him 14 short of 1,000 for the season. "We obviously didn't do that."
NOTES: The Patriots forced a turnover for the 27th consecutive game. ... They outgained the Dolphins on the ground, 167 yards to 47. .. New England set an NFL record with 444 first downs after getting 28 Sunday. The Patriots began the game tied with the 2011 New Orleans Saints at 416. ... Brian Hartline led the Dolphins with five receptions and finished the season with a team-high 74. Davone Bess missed his third straight game and was second with 61 catches.
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