Home, sweet, home: While the Pittsburgh Steelers found the 0-15 Cleveland Browns fitting enough to have quarterback Landry Jones earn the start in place of Ben Roethlisberger, there was no such switch in New England Sunday. Indeed, it was no surprise that Tom Brady took the start against the New York Jets at Gillette, helping the Patriots to a 26-6 victory in the regular season finale, thus securing home-field advantage for the NFL postseason. The Patriots finished the season (13-3, as the No. 1 seed in the AFC) with as many wins as degrees at game time (It was 13 degrees at kickoff, which qualified the game as the coldest in Patriots regular season history; the coldest was the four-degree playoff evening against the Tennessee Titans in 2004). The Steelers (who, believe it or not, struggled against the winless Browns Sunday, escaping, 28-24) finished with the same record, but were locked into the second seed thanks to the Patriots’ win in Pittsburgh two weeks ago. Which means, if and when we get a Pats-Steelers rematch in the AFC title game, it will take place in Foxborough, where it will hopefully be a tad bit more genteel on the mercury than it was this New Year’s Eve Day.
Two-tool titan: Patriots running back/all-purpose weapon extraordinaire Dion Lewis scored two touchdowns on the afternoon, one rushing, one receiving, and was obviously a pivotal factor in a Patriots win, a role he has played repeatedly down the stretch. It also put him into some historic company. According to the NFL, Lewis is the first Patriots player to score a rushing touchdown and a receiving touchdown in back-to-back games since Larry Garron in Weeks 5-6, 1964. The Los Angeles Rams’ Todd Gurley was the only other player to do so this season, during Weeks 2-3. Overall, Lewis carried the ball 26 times for 93 yards (a long of 17) and had six catches for 40 more yards. Over his last 13 games, Lewis had six rushing touchdowns, three receiving touchdowns and one return TD. Not bad for a guy that some figured began the season third on the running back depth chart behind Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead.
Welcome old foe…er, friend: James Harrison didn’t take the field for the Patriots’ first defensive series of the game, but he quickly made his presence known regardless. At the beginning of the third quarter, with the Patriots leading 21-3, the Jets faced a third-and-five when quarterback Bryce Petty found wide receiver Robby Anderson for what looked to be enough yardage for a first down. That is, until Harrison, the recently-released Steeler who joined the Patriots last week shot in like a cannon and stopped Anderson prior to the first down marker. In the game’s final minutes, Harrison added back-to-back sacks to end his debut successfully in New England. Before the third quarter was even over, Harrison had already logged 20 snaps on the field with his new team, more than he had seen with Pittsburgh all season. How Harrison manages to fit into the Patriots’ defensive scheme for the playoff run should be a fascinating development. Particularly as we inch closer to the AFC Championship game everybody wants against Pittsburgh. But first, a bye for both teams on wild card weekend.