Dominating Defense Paves Way For Patriots To Another AFC East Title

By Adam Jakubiak
BU News Service

It is practically a football tradition in the month of December here in New England.  Another division banner is coming to Gillette Stadium.

Propelled by a dominate first quarter and stifling defense throughout, the New England Patriots are the AFC East Champions for the tenth time in the past 11 seasons following a Miami Dolphins loss earlier in the day, and a dominate 41-7 victory over the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.

The game was a rematch of last season’s AFC Championship, where the Ravens came away with a thrilling victory.  This time, however, it was the Patriots coming out the winner, while dealing the Ravens a damaging blow to their playoff hopes.

It has been a strange season for the Patriots, full of ups and downs and injuries to the point where many wondered just how much this New England team had left in the tank.  Despite all of this, it looks like the Patriots are locked into the #2 seed in the AFC playoffs, which would give them a first round bye.  There is still an outside chance they can catch Denver for the top seed, but the Patriots will need a victory next week and a Denver loss against Oakland for that to happen.

New England was in complete control from start to finish in this one, starting the game off with a 6-play, 64-yard drive capped off by a LeGarrette Blount touchdown run from one yard out.  A few minutes later, Shane Vereen found the end zone thanks to a Tom Brady 4-yard pass, and suddenly it was 14-0 just ten minutes into the game.

Late in the fourth quarter, the Patriots scored 21 points in just 1:16 of game time, thanks to Blount’s second touchdown run of the day, a Chandler Jones fumble recovery touchdown on the ensuing kickoff, and a pick-six by Tavon Wilson, who took it 74 yards to the end zone.

New England’s defense forced four turnovers in the game, including the fumble recovery and three interceptions.  Logan Ryan had two interceptions to lead the way.  Baltimore, who had won four straight coming into the game, was hindered by nine penalties and by going just one for three on their trips to the red zone.  The loss eliminated the Ravens from the AFC North title race, and they will now have to try and lock down one of the two wild card spots if they want an opportunity to defend their Super Bowl title.  They will need to win next week against Cincinnati, and get help elsewhere.

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco went 22-for-38 with 260 yards and two interceptions.  Wearing a brace on his left knee after being injured last Monday against Detroit, Flacco had trouble escaping the pressure applied by New England’s defensive front.  He was only sacked twice, but hurried on numerous occasions.

Brady was not particularly sharp in the game, but he didn’t need to be thanks to the defense and a strong rushing attack.  Blount finished the game with 76 yards and two touchdowns, while Stevan Ridley added 54 yards on the ground.  Brady finished 14-for-26 with 172 yards passing and one touchdown.  Julian Edelman was once again Brady’s favorite target, catching seven passes for 77 yards.  With Sunday’s results, Brady will make his 11th appearance as a starting quarterback in the postseason, tying him with Joe Montana for third-most in NFL history.

Stephen Gostkowski also added two field goals in the win, coming from 45-yards out early in the 2nd quarter, and a 42-yard field goal midway through the third.

New England wraps up the regular season next Sunday at home against Buffalo at 1 p.m.  With a victory, the Patriots will clinch a bye and at least the #2 seed, as well as a home playoff game.

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