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Jets again prove they don't belong with AFC's elite

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- Tom Brady tried to avoid watching
the highlights, or lowlights, of his performance against the Miami
Dolphins.

He almost succeeded. Just a few hours before his New England
Patriots played the New York Jets on Sunday, Brady was flipping
through television channels and stopped when he saw his
game-changing interception in a loss to Miami on Monday night.

Perhaps it served as motivation. Brady and his Patriots bounced
back in a big way, blowing out their division rival 23-7 to clinch
a first-round bye in the playoffs. The Jets (10-5) now must win
their finale at St. Louis next week to be assured of making the AFC
playoffs as a wild card.

"It was a long week," Brady said. "Everyone who knows me
knows how tough those weeks are. It was a great opportunity for
this team to show what we're made of. We suffered a tough one last
week. This week that locker room is an elated group of guys."

The Patriots (13-2) looked completely different from the squad
that lost 29-28 to the lowly Dolphins and had some critics
questioning whether the Super Bowl champions had finally lost a
step.

"I guess we weren't as beatable as everybody says we were,"
Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel said.

Brady threw two touchdown passes and went 21-of-32 for 264
yards, making beautiful throws and good decisions after tying a
career high with four picks against Miami.

The Patriots defense, which surrendered an 11-point lead with 4
minutes remaining in the Miami game, harassed Chad Pennington all
day and stopped NFL leading rusher Curtis Martin.

"All the guys were embarrassed, ticked off, frustrated,"
Patriots safety Rodney Harrison said. "You just can't blow leads
like that. It was very disappointing. Last week, a lot of guys got
back to the basics. We came out and performed like the Patriots
should perform."

Pennington, who started a firestorm last week when he berated
reporters for suggesting that he falls flat in big games, struggled
again. He threw two interceptions and lost a fumble while
constantly overthrowing or underthrowing receivers.

He finished 22-of-36 for 252 yards, while Martin had season lows
with 33 yards and 13 carries. Pennington is now 1-4 against the
Patriots as a starter, with his lone win coming in 2002. The
offense also failed to take advantage of a depleted New England
secondary, which was without Ty Law (foot) for the eighth straight
game and starting cornerback Randall Gay (arm).

"It's one of those things that when it rains, it pours,"
Pennington said. "We put a lot of work and preparation and it blew
up in our faces. It's disappointing, but thank goodness it wasn't
the last game of the season."

But there was some bad news for the Patriots. Pro Bowl defensive
end Richard Seymour left the game with a leg injury in the third
quarter. The extent of his injury was not immediately clear.

The Jets, desperate to prove they belong in the elite of the
AFC, once again could not come through in a game against the upper
echelon of the conference. They are 0-3 this season against New
England and Pittsburgh, scoring a combined 20 points.

Fans booed their team in the home finale, and most headed for
the exits in the third quarter.

"It's very frustrating," said Jets linebacker Jonathan Vilma.
"I'm not used to being on a team that's considered second rate.
I'm used to being on elite teams. We need to find a way to get the
job done."

Brady, meanwhile, had the Patriots humming. He led them to three
scores in the second quarter, including a beautiful 16-yard
touchdown pass to Daniel Graham. He added another touchdown pass
early in the fourth quarter, a 6-yarder to Deion Branch. One fan
showed his disgust by throwing a plastic beer bottle on the field
after the score.

Adam Vinatieri connected on three field goals (28, 29, 26) for
New England.

"They just came down here and flat out kicked our behinds,"
Jets coach Herman Edwards said. "We knew what was at stake. We
needed to win a game at home to get in the playoffs and we didn't
do it."

Game notes
The Jets retired the No. 73 jersey of DL Joe Klecko at
halftime. Klecko became the third player to have his number
retired, joining QB Joe Namath and WR Don Maynard. ... Curtis
Martin set a career and team record for single-season rushing yards
with 1,544, breaking his old mark of 1,513 set in 2001. ... Corey
Dillon set a New England record for single-season rushing yards
with 1,519, breaking the old mark of 1,487 set by Martin in 1995.