Turnovers by Pats’ defense fuel rout of Ravens

Something important was missing from the New England Patriots

defense besides some of its best players.

Turnovers.

Not anymore.

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

touchdown.”

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

sixth game.

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

fly.

”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

we’re doing.”

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

game.

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

sideline.

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