Afterburners

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – Bill Belichick and Tom Brady won three Super Bowls with Eric Mangini on their side.

The Patriots coach taught his former student that maybe he can win another without him – especially with his quarterback in championship form.

Brady capped long scoring drives with short touchdown passes to Daniel Graham and Kevin Faulk, and Asante Samuel sealed it with a 36-yard interception return for a score with 4:54 left as New England beat Mangini’s New York Jets 37-16 on Sunday.

“We keep playing like that, we can make it a long ways,” wide receiver Reche Caldwell said.

New England (13-4), the only team to win a playoff game in each of the last four seasons, will play at AFC top seed San Diego (14-2) next Sunday. The Patriots are going for their fourth Super Bowl title in six seasons.

“I think our players stepped up and just made a few more plays, and that was obviously the difference in the game,” Belichick said.

The loss ended a surprising run by the Jets, who won their last three regular-season games to get into the playoffs. This was supposed to be a rebuilding season under Mangini, their rookie coach.

“You look at the big picture and say it was a good job on our part,” Jets linebacker Jonathan Vilma said. “But if you’re competitive, if you’re a player, you don’t want to go 10-6 and lose in the first round of the playoffs.”

Mangini, Belichick’s former assistant, showed he learned a lot in his six years in New England. But the mentor still had some lessons left.

After the game, the two coaches, whose relationship has cooled since Mangini left to become coach of the Jets, met at midfield and Belichick hugged Mangini. It was a bit warmer than the loose, businesslike handshakes the two exchanged following their two regular-season meetings.

“I’m not going to get into a postgame analysis here,” Belichick said. “Really, I’ve had enough of that.”

Added Mangini: “I’ve got to tell you, I wasn’t focused on that moment. It was nice, but I honestly wasn’t thinking about that.”

Brady improved to 10-2 against the Jets (10-7), and played much better than in the teams’ last meeting, when New York frustrated the quarterback with blitzes and won 17-14.

“I’m beginning to experience it on this side,” Mangini said. “He’s a great player. He can hurt you at all times.”

And this time, Brady was in control from the start.

“I think we had a great plan,” Brady said. “This is a pressure defense, and I think we were prepared much more for the pressure this time around.”

New England, which has won seven of eight since that loss to New York, improved to 9-1 at home in the playoffs. The Jets made things interesting early, taking a 10-7 lead in the second quarter on a 77-yard touchdown catch and run by Jerricho Cotchery.

But it was all New England from that point in the teams’ second-ever meeting in the playoffs, the last also a victory by the Patriots in 1985.

“We showed a lot of resilience and played well, but it’s disappointing right now,” Jets receiver Laveranues Coles said. “It hurts right now.”

With the Patriots leading 23-16, Brady engineered the type of drive that has made him so deadly in big games. New England took over at its 37 and, with a series of short passes and runs got to the Jets 7.

Brady then found Kevin Faulk with a short pass and the running back zipped into the end zone with 5:16 left as the Patriots quarterback put up both hands and pointed skyward.

Brady finished 22-of-34 for 212 yards and two touchdowns, while Jabar Gaffney had eight catches for 104 yards. The Patriots also outrushed the Jets 148-70.

New England also took advantage of a big mistake by the Jets late in the third quarter.

Chad Pennington’s pass was knocked down by Rosevelt Colvin and picked up by Vince Wilfork, who rumbled 31 yards to the Jets 15 before being tackled by Cotchery.

“He rumbled and rumbled and rumbled, but if I had picked it up: ‘Game over,'” defensive tackle Richard Seymour joked.

The play was ruled a backward pass and a fumble, and the ruling was upheld after a challenge by Mangini.

Four plays later, Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 28-yard field goal to give New England a 23-13 lead.

Mike Nugent’s 37-yard field goal 3:21 into the fourth quarter made it 23-16.

The Patriots got things started early on Corey Dillon’s 11-yard touchdown run 3:07 in.

Cotchery put the Jets ahead 10-7 with his 77-yard touchdown score, the longest in team postseason history, but Gostkowski tied it with a 20-yard field goal.

The Patriots again had a long drive late in the first half, capped by Graham’s 1-yard TD catch. New England started at its 20 with 7:05 remaining in the half. After Laurence Maroney’s 5-yard run put the ball at the 1, the Jets stopped Heath Evans and Maroney for no gain. On third-and-goal, Brady found Graham in the back of the end zone just out of the reach of linebacker Brad Kassell for a 17-10 lead.

The 15-play drive that took 6:54.

“I just put it up there and tried to let that big guy make a play for us,” Brady said.

Notes: Patriots backup Vinny Testaverde, who played for the Jets for seven seasons, took a knee to end the game. … New England, which led 17-10 at halftime, improved to 15-0 when they lead after two quarters in the postseason. … Pennington finished 23-of-40 for 300 yards and one touchdown and an interception. … Nugent had three field goals, extending his streak of kicks made to 21.

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