FOXBOROUGH, Mass. ­— The New England Patriots have once again clinched a first-round bye in the playoffs and are another step closer to earning home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

Tom Brady threw for two touchdowns to help the Patriots hold onto the top spot in the AFC, beating Tennessee 33-16 on Sunday and knocking Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota out with a knee injury in the first half.

Mariota, the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner and the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s draft, left the game and did not return after being sacked twice to stop consecutive second-quarter possessions. He said after the game he could have returned, but agreed with interim coach Mike Mularkey that it wasn’t worth the risk.

“I wanted to go in right away,” Mariota said, adding that he deferred to the wishes of the training staff. “I don’t expect to be out for the rest of the year.”

The Patriots (12-2) clinched a first-round bye when Denver lost to Pittsburgh. New England can clinch home-field throughout the playoffs with one more win, either next week at the Jets or the final weekend at Miami.

Brady completed 23 of 35 passes for 267 yards. James White caught seven passes for 71 yards, including a 30-yard catch-and-run touchdown, and Keshawn Martin added a 75-yard kickoff return to set up another score.

The Patriots have won two in a row since stumbling to consecutive losses – their first two-game losing streak since 2012. This is their sixth straight season with at least 12 wins.
“Twelve wins, that’s on the right track here,” Coach Bill Belichick said.

Rob Gronkowski caught a 5-yard touchdown pass, and Akiem Hicks fell on the ball in the end zone for New England’s other TD after Chandler Jones strip-sacked Mariota.
Mariota was sacked to end the next drive, too. Zach Mettenberger replaced him and completed 20 of 28 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns – both to Delanie Walker – but also threw two interceptions.

Walker had a 7-yard catch in the third quarter and then a 57-yard rumble down the right sideline with 7 minutes left.

But Brady led the Patriots to the Tennessee 23, and Stephen Gostkowski’s third field goal of the day made it a two-touchdown game. After Jamie Collins intercepted Mettenberger and ran it back 51 yards to the Titans’ 16, Gostkowski added another field goal to clinch the victory.

Already mired in a lost season, with Ken Whisenhunt fired as head coach after a 1-6 start, the only thing left for the Titans (3-11) is to get Mariota more experience – and add a high draft pick such as Ohio State defensive lineman Joey Bosa to the roster. Mariota has already missed two games because a left knee injury.

“We discussed bringing him back in,” Mularkey said. “I’d rather err on the side of caution.”

Brady took the Patriots 79 yards on their first possession, connecting with Gronkowski for the touchdown. New England made it 14-0 when Jones sacked Mariota at the Tennessee 17, and Hicks chased the ball and knocked it into the end zone before falling on it for the touchdown.

Tennessee’s next drive stalled, but Danny Amendola fumbled the punt and the Titans took over at the New England 26.

Unable to move – and again giving up a third-down sack of Mariota – they settled for a 49-yard field goal by Ryan Succop that helped them avoid the fate of their last trip to New England, a 59-0 shutout in 2009.

But Mariota went to the sideline and never returned.

And things got worse on the field, too: Martin ran the kickoff back 75 yards to the Titans’ 30. On the next play, Brady threw a swing pass to White out of the backfield, and he ran it in to make it 21-3.