BALTIMORE — The New England Patriots have accomplished their first objective: Winning the AFC East.
The plan now is to garner some momentum for the playoffs, a task they inititiated quite effectively Sunday with a 41-7 rout of the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.
New England (11-4) earned its fifth straight division crowd before stepping onto the field, the result of Miami’s loss at Buffalo. Regardless, the Patriots didn’t let that stand in the way of putting on a show at the expense of a Baltimore team that came in with a four-game winning streak and a 6-1 record at home.
“This was a great win against a very good team on the road,” quarterback Tom Brady said. “To come in here in one of the toughest places to play in the league and win all three phases of the game means a lot to us.”
New England forced four turnovers, sacked quarterback Joe Flacco four times, led 17-0 early in the second quarter and added insult to injury by scoring three touchdowns in the final 125 seconds.
“We worked to put ourselves in position to have a chance to compete at the end of the year, and we did that,” coach Bill Belichick said. “We’ll see what happens going forward.”
Baltimore’s position is far more precarious.
The loss eliminated the Ravens (8-7) from contention in the AFC North and dropped them into a tie with Miami and San Diego for the final AFC wild-card slot. Baltimore closes the regular season at Cincinnati, which displaced the Ravens as division champs.
“We lost the game, putting it behind us and moving on,” coach John Harbaugh said. “We have a lot at stake next week. That’s what we’ll be looking forward to prepare for.”
Five things we learned from the Patriots-Ravens game:
1. SIXTY-MINUTE MEN: The Patriots have seen their share of close games this season, but Sunday’s wasn’t one of them. Where some teams might have coasted to the finish, Belichick noted how his team kept its foot on the accelerator until they had finished off an unlikely blowout.
Maybe that explains the whoops and hollers that were coming from the Patriots locker room. Not everyone had the same reaction — Brady briefly slapped hands with owner Robert Kraft as both entered the dressing room — but there was certainly reason for satisfaction.
“It was a great feeling,” Belichick said. “It’s nice to be in a game that didn’t come down to the very last second of a game. We actually had a lead there with a couple minutes to go. … When you can win in this league, win on the road and beat a good football team, they deserve to be excited.”
2. WIDE LEFT: Six days after connecting on a team record 61-yard field goal with 4 seconds left to win the game over Detroit, Justin Tucker hooked a 37-yarder in the fourth quarter to end his streak of consecutive three-pointers at 33.
It was the longest current streak in the NFL and six shy of the team record set by Matt Stover.
“I felt like I hit it pretty solid. I probably just turned on it a little bit,” Tucker said.
With the Ravens down 20-0, Tucker’s miss added to the team’s misery and left Baltimore’s run of five straight playoff appearances in jeopardy.
“That’s just one of those things you just bounce back (from),” Tucker said. “The focus now is on Cincinnati.”
3. TURN, TURN, TURN: Every team emphasizes the importance of turnovers. It’s another thing to go out and make them happen.
New England rookie cornerback Logan Ryan had two interceptions, and the Patriots turned two takeaways into touchdowns late in the game.
“It’s always a point of emphasis for us,” Ryan said. “We always want to generate them, we always want to generate more. It helps us win games and it’s something we stress in practice all week.”
Once the Patriots started forcing the Ravens to make mistakes, things started to roll in the right direction.
“That was great,” Brady said. “You can get a lot of confidence. One good play led to another.”
4. IT NEVER GETS OLD: Brady has 11 division titles, most ever by an NFL starting quarterback, and Belichick’s 11 titles is tied with Don Shula for most since the 1970 merger.
“They’re all special,” Brady said. “It’s hard to come by and this team’s really fought hard all year. We’ve earned it. Eleven wins in the NFL’s not easy, and to win a division title’s not easy.”
5. FLACCO’S KNEE: Flacco went 22 for 38 for 260 yards with two interceptions. Wearing a brace on his left knee after being injured last week in Detroit, Flacco had difficulty escaping the unyielding pressure applied by New England’s defensive front.
“I don’t think he played well,” Harbaugh said.
Refusing to use the brace as an excuse, Flacco said, “I would have liked to play better. The brace had nothing to do with anything.”