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Patriots hold on to No. 2 seed while pushing Ravens to brink

12.22.13 at 9:37 pm ET
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BALTIMORE — The Patriots’ 41-7 blow out of the Ravens wasn’t just window dressing on their fifth straight AFC East title that was clinched before the game even began.

With the win Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, the Patriots held on to the crucial No. 2 seed in the AFC, which they can clinch next week with a win over the Bills at Gillette Stadium or a Cincinnati loss at home to the Ravens.

The Bengals routed the Vikings at home, 42-14, Sunday to improve to 10-5. Cincinnati clinched the AFC North when the Patriots completed their romp over the Ravens. The Bengals hold the tiebreaker over the Patriots by virtue of a 13-6 win at Paul Brown Stadium on Oct. 6. The 11-4 Patriots hold a one-game lead heading into the final week.

The top two seeds have a first-round bye in both conferences. Why is a first-round by so important? All five trips to the Super Bowl under Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have occurred when the Patriots had a bye. The closest they have come to advancing to the Super Bowl without a bye was in 2006 when they won at home in the wild card round against the Jets and beat the Chargers on the road before losing to the Colts in the AFC championship.

The only time the Patriots have ever won three games to advance to the Super Bowl came in 1986 when they won in New York, Los Angeles and Miami before losing Super Bowl XX to the Bears.

The Patriots are 11-4 and control their destiny heading into the final week. The Patriots also have an outside chance at the No. 1 overall seed if they win and the 12-3 Broncos slip up and lose to the Raiders in Oakland. In that case, the Patriots would be the No. 1 and the Broncos would finish as the No. 2 seed.

If the Patriots lose to Buffalo and the Bengals beat the Ravens, the Patriots would finish as the No. 3 or 4 seed and be forced to play a home game in the wild card round Jan. 4-5 then heading out on the road. If that scenario unfolds, the Broncos and Bengals would receive the top two seeds and, with them, the two first-round byes. The Patriots would lose a tiebreaker with the Colts. The Patriots would finish as the No. 4 if they lose and the Colts win their season finale at home against Jacksonville.

The loss was a crushing one for the Ravens, who fall to 8-7 and saw their four-game win streak come to an end. The Ravens still can qualify for the playoffs, but their fate is no longer in their own hands. They must beat Cincinnati and hope that either Miami loses at home to the Jets, or the Chiefs beat the Chargers, or the Dolphins, Steelers and Chargers all lose.

Read More: Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, nfl

Quick Hits: Mike Petraglia, Chris Price break down Patriots’ blowout of Ravens

12.22.13 at 9:23 pm ET
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Read More: Baltimore Ravens, Chris Price, Mike Petraglia, New England Patriots

Tom Brady on division title: ‘We’ve really earned it this year’

12.22.13 at 9:10 pm ET
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BALTIMORE — As far as Tom Brady is concerned, winning never gets old.

The Patriots copped their fifth straight AFC East title and 11th in 13 years earlier in the day, then went on to beat the Ravens, 41-7, on Sunday afternoon at M&T Bank Stadium. Brady went 14-for-26 for 172 yards with a touchdown in the win.

“This is a great win for us — they’re a good team,” Brady said of the Ravens, who were riding a four-game winning streak coming into the contest. “They play well at home, and our defense really played well. They made some very big plays, which made it easier for us, the offense.”

Brady and the offense certainly did their part right out of the gate — the Patriots jumped to a 17-0 halftime lead and never let up. The 41 points was the most the Ravens had ever surrendered at home in the history of the franchise. New England was in control from start to finish, but really put the hammer down late with an impressive ball-control drive that went for 4:32 and effectively ended the contest.

“Our offensive line did a really great job, and it was really cool to watch our running backs reading their cuts,” Brady said of the ground game, which picked up 142 yards on the afternoon. “We did a great job on that drive (and) showed how well we could play.”

It has been a memorable year for Brady and the Patriots (11-4), but with the division title now wrapped up, they can focus on securing the No. 2 seed, which they can capture with a win over the Bills next Sunday in Foxboro.

“Every year is special, but we’ve really earned it this year,” said Brady. “The NFL has a lot of stiff competition. Winning 11 games is very hard, We have faced adversity all year. Of course, other teams have too, but our mental toughness has really gotten us through this.

“We’ve shown that we can hang together all year. Everyone did a great job today.”

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Snap Judgments: Patriots crush Ravens, 41-7

12.22.13 at 7:57 pm ET
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BALTIMORE — The Patriots are in the postseason.

New England dominated the Ravens Sunday afternoon, suffocating the Baltimore offense and putting up 17 first-half points on the way to a 41-7 win over the Ravens in front of a packed house at M&T Bank Stadium.

Thanks to Buffalo’s win over Miami, the Patriots (11-4) clinched the AFC East even before they took the field. But the victory over the Ravens means New England holds steady at the No. 2 spot, and with a week to go (and only the Bills left in next week’s regular-season finale), the Patriots have to feel good about their chances to come away with the second seed in the conference and a first-round bye.

Tom Brady went 14-for-26 for 172 yards and a touchdown, while LeGarrette Blount had 16 carries for 76 yards and a pair of touchdowns, with one coming late in the fourth quarter. His second touchdown came at the end of a drive that squeezed the life out of the Ravens, and ended with Blount bursting into the end zone from seven yards out — he punctuated the score with the Ray Lewis dance. In addition, Julian Edelman had seven catches for 77 yards.

As for the Ravens, they struggled to maintain any sort of offensive consistency all afternoon. Joe Flacco had major issues against New England, and ended his day 22-for-38 for 260 yards with four sacks, no touchdowns and a pair of interceptions, while Torrey Smith had three catches for 69 yards.

Here are a few quick notes:


– For a team that has struggled at times with slow starts, the Patriots were really impressive from the jump. New England had an excellent start, putting 14 first-quarter points on the board for the first time since Oct. 20 against the Jets and taking a 17-0 lead at halftime. New England played excellent complementary football — the Patriots assembled a pair of really nice drives, reaching the end zone quickly (both drives took less than 3:30) and going 2-for-2 in the red zone (Blount finished one from a yard out, while Shane Vereen caught a four-yard pass on another). The Patriots were 3-for-3 in the red zone against one of the best red-zone defenses in the league. On defense, New England was equal to the challenge — the Ravens were 1-for-5 on third down over the first two quarters, and Flacco was 5-for-10 for 52 yards, one interception and three sacks in the first half for a passer rating of 25.8. And special teams was solid enough to the point where Baltimore’s average starting field position over the first two quarters was its own 16-yard line. Read the rest of this entry »

Devin McCourty will not return with head injury

12.22.13 at 6:36 pm ET
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BALTIMORE — Devin McCourty suffered a head injury early in the third quarter on a tackle on Ravens tight end Ed Dickson and will not return.

On the play, McCourty went low to take out the bigger tight end and appeared to bend his neck awkwardly upon contact. He went to the ground and tried to get up but nearly fell over as he made it to his feet. The Patriots medical staff rushed onto the field and ushered him off to the locker room. Only a few minutes later, the Patriots confirmed the injury and that he would not return.

McCourty has been the most dependable safety in the Patriots secondary this season and a key component of the secondary.

The game, completely dominated by the Patriots, has taken a physical toll as Shane Vereen left with a groin injury in the first quarter while Dont’a Hightower and Steve Gregory both left with injuries before returning later.

Then, on the play before Stephen Gostkowski‘s 42-yard field goal, starting center Ryan Wendell appeared very wobbly coming to the sideline.

Read More: Baltimore Ravens, Devin McCourty, New England Patriots, nfl

Patriots capture fifth straight AFC East title as Dolphins lose in Buffalo

12.22.13 at 4:10 pm ET
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BALTIMORE — The Patriots were winners in warmups.

New England captured its fifth straight AFC East division crown before taking a single snap at M&T Bank Stadium Sunday as the Buffalo Bills shutout the Miami Dolphins, 19-0, Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

It is the fifth straight division title for the Patriots, the ninth in 10 seasons and 11th in 13 years for Bill Belichick. The 11 division titles ties Belichick with Don Shula for the most division titles since the 1970 merger. It also marks the 15th playoff berth in 20 years of ownership by Robert Kraft.

Tom Brady also captured his 11th division title, extending his NFL record by any starting quarterback.

With the division sewed up, the Patriots are guaranteed of a home playoff game for a fifth straight year.

The Patriots were able to soak in the satisfaction while watching the video board inside M&T Bank Stadium, which was showing the Bills-Dolphins games on one half of the scoreboard while featuring the Bengals-Vikings on the other half.

Both games had direct impact on the Patriots and Ravens.

With the Dolphins losing, the Patriots weren’t the only ones punching their playoff ticket as the Bengals clinched their third straight playoff berth with a blowout 42-14 win at home over the Vikings.

Read More: AFC East, Baltimore Ravens, Bill Belichick, Miami Dolphins

Inactive analysis: Dane Fletcher absence means more time for Steve Beauharnais

12.22.13 at 3:24 pm ET
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BALTIMORE — The Patriots have announced their inactives for Sunday’s game against the Ravens: left tackle Nate Solder, tight end D.J. Williams, linebacker Dane Fletcher, wide receiver Josh Boyce, wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins, defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga, defensive end Jake Bequette. Here’s a quick look at what some of those personnel moves mean, and who will benefit when it comes to playing time.

Solder: The left tackle was downgraded Saturday because of a concussion issue. Expect the Patriots to go with either Logan Mankins or Will Svitek at the left tackle spot.

Williams: The new tight end, who was picked up after Rob Gronkowski went down, was a depth addition. This means more playing time for Michael Hoomananwanui and Matthew Mulligan.

Fletcher: The linebacker has struggled with a groin issue over the course of the week — he was limited as a result, and was getting stretched on the field before the game. Expect rookie Steve Beauharnais to see playing time in his spot as a result. This is just the fourth time Beauharnais has been active this season. He has seen action in just one game, playing in the Jets game at MetLife Stadium on Oct. 20. Beauharnais only saw one special teams snap in the overtime loss to the Jets and has yet to see the field this season on defense.

Sopaga: Sopoaga, who was acquired in a deadline deal with the Eagles, has seen his playing time dip over the last few weeks, as youngster Sealver Siliga has surpassed him on the depth chart. Expect a healthy dose of Siliga again Sunday.

Bequette: The second-year defensive end has been on the shelf for most of the season, having slipped behind Andre Carter on the depth chart when it comes to backing up Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones.

Thompkins and Boyce: Thompkins is missing his third straight game with a hip injury while Boyce is missing his first game with a hip injury suffered on a kickoff return in the fourth quarter last week. This will be the sixth time Boyce has been inactive this season.

Read More: Dane Fletcher, New England Patriots, nfl,
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