Turnovers by Pats’ defense fuel rout of Ravens
Something important was missing from the New England Patriots
defense besides some of its best players.
The Patriots’ injury-filled defense ended a two-game takeaway
drought by grabbing four in a surprising 41-7 rout of the Baltimore
Ravens on Sunday.
”We really put a lot of emphasis into it (last) week,” coach
Bill Belichick said Monday. ”We have to continue to do that.”
The defense had at least one turnover in 36 consecutive
regular-season games until that streak ended in the 10th game this
season, a 24-20 loss at Carolina.
It produced four the next week in a 34-31 overtime win over
Denver. In the next three games, though, it had only one, although
the Patriots got another on special teams after a fumbled snap by
Miami on a field goal attempt in a 24-20 loss to the Dolphins.
But the defense was back in form a week later in Baltimore.
The Patriots (11-4) clinched their fifth straight AFC East title
earlier in the day when Miami lost to Buffalo.
Then they tied their season high of four takeaways.
”There’s no statistic that correlates more to winning than
turnovers,” Belichick said.
Rookie cornerback Logan Ryan intercepted two of Joe Flacco’s
passes, backup safety Tavon Wilson returned Tyrod Taylor’s throw 74
yards for a touchdown and end Chandler Jones recovered a fumble in
the end zone.
”We’ve been working on (turnovers) all week. They gave us some
opportunities and we took advantage of them,” Wilson said. ”Every
time you get the ball on defense, you’re looking to return it for a
Wilson is just the latest substitute to contribute. The Patriots
have needed plenty of them.
Their injured reserve list includes some of their best defensive
players. One starting tackle, Vince Wilfork went there after the
fourth game. The other, Tommy Kelly, played only five games before
joining him, and linebacker Jerod Mayo went on the list after the
The secondary also has been battered with Aqib Talib missing
three games, Alfonzo Dennard sitting out three of the past six and
Steve Gregory being sidelined for two.
On Sunday, safety Devin McCourty didn’t return after suffering a
head injury early in the third quarter.
So rookies and young free agents have had to learn on the
”It’s not Week 1 anymore,” defensive coordinator Matt Patricia
said. ”Obviously, we’re far enough along that everyone that is
active and ready to go in the game we expect to understand what
Turnovers aren’t the only big plays his defense is making. It
sacked Flacco four times and had a big stop on fourth-and-1.
The Patriots were leading 20-0, but the Ravens needed just 1
yard from the New England 4-yard line with 3:03 left in the third
quarter. Flacco started in the shotgun formation, then went under
center, took the snap and handed the ball to Ray Rice.
But defensive end Rob Ninkovich and safety Duron Harmon, who
replaced McCourty, stopped him for no gain.
”That was huge,” Belichick said. ”It was definitely a
heads-up play from our guys up front.”
Ryan’s two interceptions also had a big impact.
”He’s got good ball skills and good hands,” Belichick said.
”It’s that awareness and instinctiveness that’s obviously so hard
to teach, but it’s something that he just naturally does.”
On his first interception, linebacker Dont’a Hightower tipped
the ball and Ryan caught it. That led to the first touchdown of the
On the second interception, the pass deflected into Ryan’s hands
off tight end Dennis Pitta. That set up a field goal that made it
17-0 midway through the third quarter.
The last two turnovers – Jones’ easy recovery of a botched snap
and Wilson’s interception – drew huge smiles from Tom Brady on the
But they came in the last two minutes, after the outcome was
decided, so Belichick isn’t getting carried away.
”The evaluation of a unit or a team has to extend a lot farther
than one game,” he said.
The Patriots can clinch a first-round playoff bye Sunday at home
against the Bills (6-9), who were tied for the eighth-most
giveaways in the NFL after their 19-0 win Sunday over Miami.
Another big day for the Patriots defense?
”Let’s see if we can play with this kind of consistency
consecutively,” Belichick said. ”I think then we’ll have a little
better gauge of how things are coming along.”
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org