FOXBOROUGH — If you love police dramas, then you can understand when we tell you that the Buffalo Bills died Sunday night of Blount force trauma.
LeGarrette Blount had the game of his career on a rainy Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium. With the Patriot playoff seeding hanging in the balance, Blount responded with a career high in rushing yardage and two monster kickoff returns. Tom Brady was able to have a subpar game by the numbers, and the Patriots nailed down the two seed in the AFC playoffs with a 34-20 win over Buffalo. The Bills gave a good effort despite having nothing to play for, but in the end mistakes by the Bills and the Patriot superiority decided the contest.
Denver secured the top seed with a 34-14 win at Oakland, so the Patriot loss at Miami cost the Patriots the chance to have home field throughout the playoffs. Still, the Patriots did get the cherished week off next week, allowing them to heal up and prepare for whomever their next opponent will be.
The opponent will be the Cincinnati Bengals if they hold serve at home next week. San Diego survived the crazy chase for the six seed and head for Paul Brown Stadium next week. But if they could barely handle a Kansas City team at home with nothing to gain or lose and who rested all their defensive starters and their starting quarterback and running back, look for Cincinnati to be a solid favorite at home. But if somehow San Diego should win, they would head for Denver and New England would then get the winner of Indianapolis-Kansas City.
Blount finished with 334 all-purpose yards. He had 189 yards rushing, his career best, averaging just under eight yards per carry and ripping off a late 36-yard touchdown run to seal the win. He also had kickoff returns for 83 and 62 yards in an area he has never been known for. On a day where the ball was incredibly slippery and Brady was not able to sustain any consistent passing attack, Blount's effort proved to be the critical difference in the game.
As a team, the Patriots had 267 rushing yards and a 6.2 yards per carry average. Stevan Ridley had 72 yards rushing, which also proved to be handy for the passing-challenged Patriot offense. Another interesting element of the game was that the Patriots suffered four fumbles, all of which should be blamed on a slippery ball, but lost none of them. The Bills were not able to take advantage of some breaks the Patriots offered them.
The rain slowed the game down considerably. Stephen Gostkowski was also one of the secondary heroes of the game, hitting on all four field goal attempts (43, 35, 29, 35). Dan Carpenter was also perfect in field goals (51, 37), so the field goal kickers did their job when they were needed the most.
One stat that Bill Belichick should pay heed to, even though he says that "stats are for losers", is that the Bills did wind up with more total yards than the Patriots at game's end. The Bills outgained the Patriots 393-382. The Patriots won by two touchdowns, but the game was in doubt until Blount's late touchdown scamper. The Patriot defense did not consistently stop the Bills all game long.
Buffalo quarterback Thad Lewis finished with a 95 passer rating, compared to a 68.4 figure for Brady. Lewis threw for 247 yards and a touchdown. C.J. Spiller rushed for 105 yards on 19 carries, and Fred Jackson chipped in with 60 rushing yards on 14 carries. The Bills had three drives of eight or more plays, resulting in ten points and losing the ball on downs.
What partially dragged the Bills down was that Lewis was sacked four times for 23 yards in losses. The Bills were also flagged six times for 54 yards, including two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on one play. One of those penalties was an offside call on Marcell Dareus on the first play of the fourth quarter as Gostkowski lined up for a field goal attempt. The penalty gave the Patriots a first down at the Bills' six-yard line, and Shane Vereen caught a screen pass for a touchdown on the first play after the penalty.
Still, it turned out to be a rough day for the Patriot defense. You expect Spiller and Jackson to get their yards. But Lewis isn't the kind of quarterback that should have a near-100 passer rating. T.J. Graham, Scott Chandler and Jackson each had over 50 receiving yards. To be fair, Graham and Jackson's numbers are a little skewed thanks to one long gain by each player, but Graham's 41-yard catch was in double coverage, and Jackson's 37-yard catch was a slant pattern where someone named Michael Buchanan was beaten in coverage.
Despite not getting the top playoff seed, the Patriots are nicely set up for the playoffs. The Patriots could still host the AFC Championship Game as they did last year.
Denver, the top seed last year, was upset at home by eventual champion Baltimore. This year, they will get either San Diego, Indianapolis or Kansas City. If Cincinnati beats San Diego, they automatically go to Foxborough. Either the Colts or the Chiefs could upset Denver. And if the weather is cold or otherwise adverse, it will be bad news for Peyton Manning, who made most of his career hay playing indoors in a dome or under covered conditions. Manning has never shown to be a good quarterback in bad weather other than perhaps his one and only Super Bowl win, which was played in rainy (but balmy) Miami against a Chicago Bears team lacking in offensive punch.
If the Patriots get Cincinnati at home, they have a chance to avenge an earlier loss in the regular season. That loss was at Paul Brown Stadium, where Andy Dalton plays much better at home. But with the Bengals having to travel, all bets are off. If Dalton has a bad game, the Bengals have almost no chance. Of the four teams seeded lower than the Patriots, the Bengals would be the most attractive opponent. If they handle San Diego next week at home like they should, they would also be the most likely.
But the Patriots have next week off. They won't care who they play right now. They will watch the games, Belichick will glance at all three teams they could play (all except San Diego), and focus on the one who will come when they know who it will be. Until then, it's enjoy the win, relax, heal up, and stay focused on the big prize.
And hopefully, the Patriots will Blount any opponent's hopes of an upset in two weeks.
The New England Patriots put an exclamation point on an impressive victory over with a couple of defensive touchdowns in the last two minutes and clinched the AFC East for the fifth consecutive year and 11th time in the last 13 with a 41-7 pasting of the Baltimore Ravens.
After a quick start by the offense and Tom Brady, the Patriots defense held Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense at bay and off-balance all game long. The Ravens were only 5 for 14 on third downs and 0-3 on fourth downs. Brady didn't have a huge day, passing only 26 times, completing 14 for 172 yards and 1 touchdown, but his pass protection was very good and most importantly, they didn't turn the ball over once.
LaGarrette Blount had a big day for the offense carrying 16 times for 76 yards and two big rushing touchdowns and even gave a little Ray Lewis shake after his 2nd touchdown. Julian Edelman had another big game for the offense with 7 catches for 77 yards. Edelman needs only four more catches in the final against Buffalo to reach 100 catches for the season.
The defense got big performances from Logan Ryan (2 INTs), Brandon Spikes in the running game and the pass rush which was much improved and sacked a hobbled Joe Flacco four times. And the underrated (except in NE) Rob Ninkovich made a bunch of big plays when the defense needed them.
Big Physical Win: Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the game was the way the Patriots won; against a big physical team on the road, New England was able to out-physical the Ravens for the first time in the past few meetings. Something few were willing to admit (this writer among them) could happen.
Perhaps the biggest positive was the play of the banged up secondary and it seemed like a revolving door back there at times on Sunday, but the Patriots secondary stayed physical and stayed in man coverage for much of the day, not afraid of the deep ball ability of Baltimore and contested every play.
They made key stops on a couple of big fourth downs, especially with the Ravens facing 4th and 2 inside the red zone in the fourth quarter. Flacco went from the shotgun to under center, and the Patriots recognized this and rotated the defense with Sealver Siliga clogging up the point of attack and Rob Ninkovich was able to stop Ray Rice short.
It wasn't all pretty however and we'll get to that later, but to go into Baltimore and hold them to seven points is some great work by the Patriots defense.
Turnovers Reappear At A Perfect Time: On the subject of the defense, one the facets missing this season has been the timely turnovers that the defense feasted on in years past. And things didn't start off to well as the team had opportunities for a couple of early interceptions of Joe Flacco.
Devin McCourty, who left the game after being injured making a tackle had a chance to make two interceptions but couldn't haul in either one. However, the defense ended up forcing four turnovers, two Flacco picks, one more from Tyrod Taylor and botched snap fumble that was recovered by Chandler Jones in the endzone for a touchdown.
Tavon Wilson, who has been the forgotten man in the secondary put the finishing touch on the day when he picked off Taylor and returned it 74 yards for a touchdown. With the injuries to Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington and Aqib Talib, rookie Logan Ryan got extended playing time again and turned in another excellent performance with two interceptions.
Big Boy Drive Caps Off the Game: With the game at 20-7, the Patriots got the ball back with just under seven minutes left and the ground game made a big statement with a drive that didn't throw the football once.
After taking over on downs at the Baltimore 48 yard line, the Ravens knew the Patriots were going to run the football and weren't able to stop them. New England ate up 4:32 of the playclock before LaGarrette Blount powered in from the seven yard line to put the game away with 2:05 left.
This is the type of drive the offense has wanted to make all season, putting a team away with the running game when they know you're going to run and still be successful. And against the Ravens, one of the more physical defenses in the league, it was a not only a big statement but it got this team over an emotional hurdle as well.
Red Zone Improvements: A week after going only 1 for 4 in the red zone against Miami, the Patriots went 3 for 3 against on the better red zone defenses in the NFL. They did it on the ground for two touchdowns by Blount and one on a pass from Brady to Shane Vereen.
They have to be very pleased with the work in the red zone especially with the beat up offensive line. And on an already good day for the defense, the Pats defense held the Ravens to only 1 for 3 in the red zone.
Too Many Penalties: The Patriots entered the game as one of the least penalized teams in the league and whether it was just a case of being over-aggressive or just that the officiating crew was having a rough day (ok they were awful), the Patriots ended up with seven penalties on the day and a few which were declined.
While it is nothing to worry about at this juncture, I'm sure Bill Belichick will be preaching to the troops this week about playing cleanly and not taking unnecessary flags. But this crew today, missed too many calls and couldn't make up its collective minds on more than one occasion.
Third & Long Conversion Again Haunts Defense: While it's hard to find much fault with the defense when they gave up only 7 points, one particular sequence will most certainly get plenty of film reviews this week.
On a Ravens drive that started on the ten yard line, after a sack and a penalty the Patriots had Baltimore backed up to the two on a 3rd and 17 and couldn't get off the field. The end result was a 90 yard Ravens drive that culminated in their only seven points of the day.
It has been happening too frequently this season and needs to be addressed but overall, the coaching staff has to be thrilled with the performance of a very banged up unit.
The rush defense continues to improve by small increments, holding Ray Rice to just 40 yards on 11 carries and Bernard Pierce to only 31 yards on 10 carries. Tyrod Taylor had 39 yards scrambling out of the backfield at garbage time, but the rush defense was pretty good on Sunday.
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BALTIMORE – Looks like balmy weather in Baltimore suits the Patriots better than the same in Miami.
Most experts had the Patriots losing their game Sunday against the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday. After the heartbreaking loss to the Dolphins on the road last week, going into this game, it was a preconceived notion that the Ravens would combine their hatred for the Patriots, them playing at home and the dilapidated state of the Patriots into an easy win. Instead, the Patriots took advantage of a lame Joe Flacco, early Ravens mistakes and a sharp first half offense by the Patriots and Tom Brady and walked off with a huge 41-7 victory. Two late turnovers for touchdowns made this game a rout, when in fact the game was close and tight until the final offensive possession for the Patriots.
Going into the game, the Buffalo Bills gave the Patriots an early Christmas present by whitewashing the Miami Dolphins in western New York, 19-0. The Dolphin loss gave the AFC East title to the Patriots. The victory by the Patriots enabled them to be able to clinch a first round bye with a win at home next week against Buffalo. With the Ravens' loss, the Cincinnati Bengals clinch the AFC North, though the Bengals were rooting for Baltimore to win and give Cincinnati the inside track to the two seed and set up a division championship game with Baltimore next week at Paul Brown Stadium.
Instead, the Patriots set themselves up nicely. So far, the Dolphin loss last week only imperils their chances to get the top seed. The Patriots scored touchdowns on two of their first three drives, ran up a 20-0 third quarter lead, sat on that lead for a while and surrendered one Ravens touchdown, before finally locking up the game in the end with a stop on fourth down (their third such stop of the game), a clock-killing touchdown drive, then two rather kooky turnovers which resulted in touchdowns to make the game a Patriot rout.
The most important element of this game turned out to be Flacco's left knee. Injured last week against the Lions, Flacco sustained a strained ACL but was able to play with a brace. Still, he was never able to truly get into a rhythm until the fourth quarter, the Patriots put constant pressure on him and sacked him four times, Logan Ryan picked him off twice, and Aqib Talib did a nice job on Torrey Smith for much of the game.
There were other skirmishes that the Patriots were able to win. The Patriot offensive line protected Brady well and generated a decent run attack (142 team rushing yards, 4.2 yards per carry). Ray Rice was held to only 40 yards rushing and a 3.6 yards per carry average. Three times the Ravens went for it on fourth down, and the Patriots stopped them each time.
The game wasn't decided until late in the fourth quarter, when the Ravens were finally able to dent the Patriot defense. The Ravens' defense had stiffened in the second half, with three of the first five Patriot drives ending in three-and-outs. Bill Belichick seemed to be managing the game to not lose instead of to win, giving up a lot on defense between the 20s but trying to keep the Ravens out of the end zone, while Brady played ultra-conservative and did not turn the ball over.
Justin Tucker, who kicked six field goals last week at Detroit including a game-winning 61-yard field goal, yanked a 37-yard field goal wide left with 14:24 left in the fourth quarter. Brady responded by hitting Julian Edelman on a right sideline pass for 15 yards and Aaron Dobson with a leaping grab down the middle for 21 yards to the Baltimore 37. But the drive stalled there, and instead of trying a 53-yard field goal (Stephen Gostkowski was perfect on two field goal attempts, both from beyond 40 yards), Belichick punted and Ryan Allen (four of seven punts inside the 20) did his job and pinned the Ravens back at the ten-yard line.
However, the game seemed to tilt towards the Ravens on this drive and portended a potential rally down only three touchdowns with plenty of time left. Flacco led the Ravens on a nine-play, 90-yard touchdown drive. It began with a sack of Flacco at the three-yard line by Sealver Siliga. Two plays later, a false start against Michael Oher was changed to a neutral zone infraction by Chandler Jones. Flacco was then able to get out of danger with a 15-yard pass to Dennis Pitta who beat Tavon Wilson on a slant route. Four plays later, Flacco found Pitta on the right sideline for 15 yards which was called out of bounds but reversed on replay. With the ball at the Patriot 25, Flacco tried to hit Smith in the end zone but Steve Gregory was called for interference. Two plays later Flacco sneaked it in from one yard out.
Needing to kill clock with 9:21 left, on first down Josh McDaniels inexplicably called for a floater along the right sideline to Edelman. The pass misfired and the clock stopped. Three plays later, the Patriots punted after killing off only 1:25 of game time.
After Flacco hit Smith for 17 yards to get the Ravens to their own 48, the Patriots finally put the clamps on any sort of Baltimore rally. Flacco threw four straight incompletions, the last of which sailed over Pitta's head out of bounds on the right side with Donta Hightower in close pursuit of Flacco. The Patriots took over on the Baltimore 48.
With 6:37 left in the game, the Patriots finally did what they should have done on the previous drive. The Patriots ripped off nine running plays, five to Stevan Ridley and four to LeGarrette Blount. Blount covered the last seven yards and made it 27-7 with just over two minutes left. School was out at this time, and it was fun to watch the Patriots push the Ravens' defense around for a change.
Tyrod Taylor came into play quarterback at this time. On the first play, with Taylor lined up in the gun, the ball was snapped to his right and Taylor whiffed on the pass. The ball rolled into the end zone and Chandler Jones scooped up the ball to make it 34-7. The Ravens had still another drive, but on the sixth play with 54 seconds left, Taylor tried to hit Marlon Brown on the right sideline and Wilson picked him off. He was able to tightrope the left sideline and take it 74 yards for the touchdown to finally complete the scoring.
Brady finished 14 of 26 passing for 172 yards and an 87.3 passer rating. He threw one touchdown pass to Shane Vereen (who left the game later with a groin pull). Flacco had 260 yards on 22 of 38 passing for and a 56.9 rating.
The Patriots now await the Bills at home. A win and they get a first round bye. Four teams are vying for the six seed, all are alive and none of them control their own destiny. But the Patriot mandate is clear. Win and they once again get the following week off before hosting a Divisional Playoff Game.
All of a sudden, the holidays for Patriot Nation seem warm and happy.
FOXBOROUGH – If the national football public hates the Patriots, obviously the football gods don’t.
Somewhere up yonder, there is some metaphysical being who is still angry over the penalty flag being picked up in Carolina. This is now three weeks in a row that the Patriots have had to pull off incredible rallies to win. This latest one, on Sunday at Gillette Stadium against the Cleveland Browns, was the wackiest of all. A recovered onside kick and a questionable pass interference call in the end zone negated a strong effort by the Browns, and the Patriots escaped with a 27-26 win in a game Cleveland clearly deserved to win.
The Browns hadn’t won in Foxborough since 1992, and the Patriots hadn’t recovered an onside kick since a New Year’s Day playoff game in 1995. In both cases, Bill Belichick was the Browns head coach. One streak continued, the other ended in what has to go down as one of the most unbelievable game endings for the Patriots in recent memory. Trailing 26-14 with 2:35 left in the game, the Patriots were able to score 13 points in 30 seconds and then hold their collective breaths as a last second 58-yard field goal attempt by former Baltimore kicker Billy Cundiff fell tantalizingly short.
The catalyst for the Patriot comeback was Shane Vereen, who had an amazing 12 catches for 153 yards, almost all of it coming in the second half. Tom Brady hit Vereen for six yards, then hit Julian Edelman for two passes for 42 yards as the two-minute warning hit. Three passes to Vereen for 23 yards helped put the Patriots at the two-yard line with 1:10 left. A one-yard run by Vereen forced Belichick to use his final timeout. On the next play, Edelman caught a pass at the back of the end zone to make it 26-21 Cleveland. On the play, Jordan Poyer was flagged for a late hit on Edelman, making the ensuing kickoff from the 50 instead of the 35, and that would prove critical.
Stephen Gostkowski dribbled the kickoff right up the middle. As the ball hit the 40, the required ten yards, the players from both sides ran into each other and Kyle Arrington managed to fall on the loose ball. The play was reviewed, and it was possible that the ball accidentally clanged off of Gostkowski before the ball went ten yards. A close look at replay showed that that was not the case, and the Patriots had the ball at the Cleveland 40. Danny Amendola caught a ten-yard pass on a crossing pattern to get the ball to the 30.
The next play may be perceived by the rest of the league as “payback for the Carolina game”, where the pass interference call on Rob Gronkowski by Luke Kuechly was waved off, ending the game. Josh Boyce ran a simple go route towards the end zone. Leon McFadden, the defender, seemed to contact Boyce but clearly did not impede Boyce in trying to catch the overthrown ball. However, McFadden was flagged for interference in the end zone and the Patriots had the ball at the one-yard line with 35 seconds left. Cleveland used its final timeout to try and set their defense.
With Cleveland out of timeouts and the Patriot defense being carved up by Jason Campbell, the Patriots might have been advised to run one play, run some clock, then take three shots at the end zone. But on first down, Brady rolled right and found Amendola for the touchdown which gave the Patriots the lead. Belichick went for the two point conversion, but Vereen was stopped on a running play. Cleveland had 30 seconds and no timeouts to try and respond.
30 seconds was plenty of time for Campbell (391 yards passing) to get the Browns in position for a game-winning field goal. Starting at the 20, Gary Barnidge caught a nine-yard pass, then Jordan Cameron caught an 18-yard pass, and both receivers managed to get out of bounds on the left sideline to save time. After an incompletion, Campbell found Cameron for 13 yards but over the middle. Campbell managed to spike the ball with one second left, but the Browns were at the Patriot 40.
Cundiff, who could not hit a 33-yard field goal two years ago in the AFC Championship Game, tried as 58-yard field goal as time expired. The ball was not yanked left as the kick that sent the Patriots to Super Bowl XLVI was. It was straight as an arrow, but several feet short. The fans who stuck around at the end exploded in celebration.
The victory came at a high price for the Patriots. Gronkowski was hit low on a 21-yard third quarter pass by T.J. Ward and had to be carted off. Gronkowski was scheduled to have an MRI on Monday, but reports say that he has a torn ACL and could be looking at sitting out the rest of the season. Defenders have been trained to not hit high and avoid concussions, fines and suspensions. But low hits are dangerous too, and Gronkowski was sent spinning in the air after Ward’s hit.
Brady finished with 32 of 52 passing for 418 yards and two touchdowns, and one interception for a 91.7 passer rating. Vereen was the star of the game, but Edelman chipped in with 64 yards on six catches and the Patriots as a team averaged 4.1 rushing yards per carry. Brady was sacked four times, and the Browns played a very aggressive and effective defense for most of the game until Brady was able to find a rhythm with Vereen.
A bigger concern is the defense. Campbell finished with 391 yards passing. Cameron and Josh Gordon had 272 of those yards between them, with Gordon hauling in an 80-yard slant pass for a touchdown, leaving Aqib Talib in his wake. Gordon is on an historic receiving run, breaking records for receiving yards in consecutive games. But take away that one long bomb, and Talib did a fairly good job in taking away this sudden new phenom. Cameron was more of a problem, being covered largely by Donte Hightower and Jamie Collins. Cameron led the Browns with nine catches and proved more of a problem than Gordon.
The Patriots missed out on a chance to clinch a playoff berth or a division title as both Miami and Baltimore won. A warning salvo came from another direction, as Cincinnati took over the three seed with Indianapolis losing. The Patriots need to stay ahead of the Bengals as they hold a tiebreaker over the Patriots because of head to head. The Patriots can clinch the division next week with a win at Miami, but that will not be easy game on the road.
The Patriots would be best served to get off to better starts and to figure out how to patch up the holes in the defense. All teams deal with injuries, but when a journeyman quarterback like Campbell almost throws for 400 yards, something has to change.
Then again, if this is how the Patriots plan on winning games, hang on for the ride.
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