FOXBORO -- Stevan Ridley ran for a pair of touchdowns and Tom Brady threw for two more Sunday as the Patriots took advantage of a Houston loss earlier in the day and clinched a first-round bye with a 28-0 win over the Dolphins at a frigid Gillette Stadium. Brady was 22-of-36 for 284 yards, including 23-yard touchdown strike to Rob Gronkowski. The tight end had two catches for 42 yards on four targets in his return from a broken left forearm. The Patriots defense was a force on the day, racking up a season-high seven sacks, including three from rookie Justin Francis.
The Patriots began the game with the knowledge that the Colts beat the Texans, 28-16, in Indianapolis, and that a win in the 12-degree wind chill would give them the week off. The Patriots recorded their first shutout since Oct. 18, 2009, when they blanked Tennessee, 59-0.
Given the motivation of a first-round bye and break next weekend, the Patriots raced out to a 21-0 halftime lead. After Steve Gregory intercepted Ryan Tannehill and returned it 13 yards to the Miami 28, Brady connected with Gronkowski for 19 yards down to the Miami 9. It was the tight end's first catch since breaking his left forearm on Nov. 18. On the next play, Brady connected with a wide open Wes Welker over the middle for his 48th straight game with a touchdown pass, passing Johnny Unitas for second place on the all-time list.
Brady engineered a pair of long scoring drives in the second quarter, including a 92-yard drive in 13 plays, consuming 7:28 of the second quarter clock. The long scoring drive was capped off by a 1-yard TD run by Stevan Ridley on fourth-and-goal from the Miami 1. Ridley added a 2-yard TD run later in the second quarter to put the Patriots up, 21-0.
The only bit of bad news in the first half was the loss of pass-rushing specialist Rob Ninkovich to a hip injury midway through the second quarter. Ninkovich was down on the ground for several minutes before being helped off the field by medical personnel, including team doctor Tom Gill. He was listed as questionable but did not return.
The Dolphins appeared to be ready to get on the scoreboard but Reggie Bush fumbled at the Patriots 4 and Dont'a Hightower recovered at the 1 to keep Miami off the scoreboard. The Patriots made it 28-0 when Brady hit Gronkowski down the left seam midway through the fourth quarter.
The Patriots will have the luxury of watching the playoffs at home next weekend before opening the postseason in two weeks against one of three possible opponents -- the Texans, Ravens or Colts -- at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots finish the regular season at 12-4 and complete a perfect season in the AFC East (6-0) for just the second time in franchise history.
Denver (13-3) routed Kansas City Sunday to wrap up the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs and home field throughout. The playoffs will open next weekend with the No. 6 Bengals visiting No. 3 Houston and the No. 5 Colts playing in Baltimore against the No. 4 Ravens.