FOXBOROUGH, Mass.- The Patriots began Sunday knowing they needed to win and also get some outside help to grab one of the two top AFC seeds and a first-round bye in the playoffs.
They got both.
Now, they get a week of rest before hosting a divisional playoff game as they bid to return to the Super Bowl.
The defending-champion Giants, who beat New England in last year's Super Bowl, were eliminated in the NFC Sunday, but the Patriots recorded their 12th win of the season with a 28-0 hammering of the Dolphins.
The win -- on a blustery evening (16 degrees with the wind chill at kickoff) that followed a Saturday night snowstorm (and fans throwing snowballs every time the home team scored) -- came hours after the Texans lost to the Colts to drop out of the bye picture and into the third seed. The New England win came while the Broncos were shellacking the Chiefs, leaving Denver as No. 1 and the Patriots No. 2.
Stevan Ridley scored on two short touchdown runs and Tom Brady threw for 284 yards and two touchdowns as the Patriots (12-4) built a 21-0 halftime lead and cruised home to their ninth win in the last 10 games. Brady hit Wes Welker (eight catches) and returning tight end Rob Gronkowski for touchdowns.
Gronkowski, who missed five games with a broken left arm, returned on a limited basis, catching two passes, the second a 23-yarder for a fourth-quarter touchdown.
Ridley ran for 74 yards on 20 carries as the Patriots rebounded from a ho-hum performance in a win at Jacksonville to enter the playoffs on a high note.
The Dolphins, who finished 7-9 after a two-game winning streak ended, had chances to score. But Armon Binns dropped what likely would have been a touchdown pass, Reggie Bush fumbled near the New England goal-line and Nate Kaeding missed a 41-yard field goal. Safety Chris Clemens also ran some 60 yards with a loose ball for a touchdown, but the play was overturned and ruled an incompletion.
Dolphins rookie Ryan Tannehill was sacked a New England season-high seven times (also the most allowed by Miami), three of them by tackle Justin Francis. Tannehill was 20-for-35 for 235 yards and an interception.
Defensive end Rob Ninkovich, who has had a strong year for New England, was helped off the field after suffering a hip injury in the first half. For Miami, tight end Sal Fasano and linebacker Kevin Burnett both left in the second half for concussion evaluations.
NOTES: Before the game, the Patriots honored play-by-play announcer Gil Santos, who is retiring after the season. He worked his 743rd game Sunday. His long-time broadcast partner, Gino Cappelletti, who retired after last season, was on hand and worked the first series of the game with Santos in the booth. Owner Robert Kraft announced Santos would join Cappelletti in the club's Hall of Fame. "Memorable moments" of the pair were played on the video board throughout the game. ... Brady threw a touchdown pass for the 48th straight game (three full seasons), passing Johnny Unitas for second place on the all-time list. Drew Brees leads with 54, a streak that ended this season. Brady is the first NFL quarterback to throw at least one TD in every game for three straight seasons. ... New England's first first down was its 417th of the season, an NFL record ... Welker caught a pass for the 110th straight game. ... Tannehill is the first Miami rookie ever to start all 16 games. ... New England defensive end Jermaine Cunningham returned from a four-game league substance suspension. ... Brady, who passed former teammate Drew Bledsoe for ninth place on the NFL's all-time yardage list, has won 12 games in a season seven times. Peyton Manning is the all-time leader with nine. Brady also passed Vinny Testaverde for eighth place on the all-time completion list. ... Patriots coach Bill Belichick notched his 11th 12-win season, second to Don Shula's 13. ... The Patriots swept the Dolphins in the season series for the second straight year, the eighth time overall. Miami has swept New England 13 times. ... Ridley became the fifth Patriot to rush for 1,200 yards in a season. ... Miami was blanked for the first time since Nov. 18, 2010.