FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – The players are getting healthy, the schedule is easy and the quarterback is still outstanding. The New England Patriots could be going into the playoffs on a pretty good roll.

Sunday’s win was their third in four games – even if it was against the punchless New York Jets – and they can clinch the AFC East title with a win in their next game, at Buffalo, combined with a loss by Miami at San Diego.

Not bad for a team with the worst record of any division leader in a season in which it’s been burdened by injuries to key players.

“That was a big game for us,” coach Bill Belichick said Monday of Sunday’s 16-3 victory. “We were able to get the lead, play from ahead, and that’s always the position you want to be in at the end of the game when they have to throw.”

The win improved the Patriots record to 7-5 with four games to play, three of them against division opponents – Miami (5-7), Buffalo (4-8) and New York (2-10).

Three offensive players who had been sidelined contributed to the victory. Kevin Faulk, who missed eight games, made three big third-down catches. David Givens, sidelined for three, had five receptions. And Corey Dillon, who sat out the previous two, scored the only touchdown on a 1-yard run and led all rushers with 65 yards.

“I think it comes down to a function of how the whole team operates. It’s not about one guy,” Belichick said, “but it’s good to have everybody back out there. There’s no doubt about that.”

Some players won’t be back this season. Rodney Harrison and five other defensive backs are on injured reserve. So is center Dan Koppen. And tackle Matt Light, sidelined the last nine games, may not return this season.

But their backups have gotten plenty of playing time and have done reasonably well.

One constant all season has been Tom Brady. He hasn’t missed a game and, on Sunday, rebounded from his worst outing of the year by completing 27 of 37 passes for 271 yards. A week earlier he threw four interceptions in a 26-16 loss at Kansas City.

“Every time I thought about the four interceptions this whole week, I just got in the worst mood,” he said. “You just want to get past that game.”

He and his teammates did that Sunday and are preparing for their next game at Buffalo, which is 4-2 at home. The Bills nearly beat the Patriots on Oct. 30 before blowing a 16-7 lead in the last 7:06 and losing 21-16.

But Buffalo beat Kansas City 14-3 before losing its last three games.

The Bills had “a big win against Kansas City a couple of weeks ago, a lot more than we can say,” Belichick said. “We were in a real tough game with them the last time. We had some plays in the fourth quarter that enabled us to win. But it certainly didn’t look too good there for about three-and-a-half quarters.”

Miami is in second place in the AFC East and has a tough game Sunday at San Diego (8-4). The Dolphins have won their last two games, but the Chargers have won five in a row.

The Patriots haven’t won more than two straight games and Sunday’s win was their first by more than 10 points. Four of their losses have been by 10 points or more.

“We’re approaching games now just to win, just to win any way we can,” linebacker Tedy Bruschi said. “That’s the emphasis now.”

But 12 games into the season and with a chance to clinch a playoff berth in the next game, Belichick still doesn’t have a firm handle on just what kind of team his three-time Super Bowl champions are.

“I don’t think we’ve been able to consistently be the same team,” he said. “A big part of our season has been defined by our lack of consistency in all three phases of the game. I think if we could develop a more consistent pattern, then there would be a lot better barometer on how the team is going to perform on a consistent basis.”


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