Will it come down to turnovers? Pats hope so

FOXBORO — Their offense has been adequate, their defense young

and wild.

But the

Patriots are solidly 3-1 thanks to

two monotonous clich?s that have conspicuously played out: They

have won the turnover battle in each of their three victories

(they’re plus-4 overall) and have showcased the importance of

special teams.

Two coaches’ clich?s that normally make fans roll their

eyes.

Roll on.

“They’re getting tipped balls. They’re getting balls thrown to

them sometimes. I’ve seen a couple of balls overthrown. They’re

just in position and catching it,” Baltimore coach John Harbaugh

said of the

Patriots’ seven interceptions (two

returned for TDs), which are six interceptions more than

Baltimore’s renowned defense has in five games.

In their 41-14 victory in Miami thirteen days ago, the

Patriots became the first team in

NFL history to score touchdowns five different ways in the same

game (kickoff, interception, blocked field goal, rushing, passing).

The average age of their five TD-makers: 24 years. Youngsters are

exciting and often get better, Pats fans may eventually be thrilled

to find out.

Today at Gillette Stadium, the

Patriots will play the 4-1 Ravens,

who are minus-6 overall on the turnover ledger, but have been

turnover-free in two of their past three games.

The Ravens’ special teams also have been on heightened alert

already this season before facing Cleveland’s Joshua Cribbs and

Denver’s Eddie Royal, two dangerous returnmen who did no end-zone

dances on Baltimore’s watch. New England’s Brandon Tate already has

run back two kickoffs for touchdowns this season. Depending on

which way the wind blows, and whether New England’s defense

prevents Baltimore from scoring like the Ravens did in their 33-16

playoff victory here in January, Tate’s coast-to-coast chances on

kickoffs could be limited. Baltimore kicker Billy Cundiff has 11

touchbacks, tied with Indianapolis’ Pat McAfee for the league

lead.

While the world waits for Ravens third-year quarterback Joe

Flacco (5 TDs, 6 INTs) to sustain his flashes of greatness, the

Ravens continue to lean on Ray Lewis and his guys.

Without uber-safety Ed Reed (PUP list — hip injury) back there

making opposition QBs panic, the Ravens’ defenese has just one

interception so far this season. Baltimore’s defense has a

league-low three takeaways through five games, but ranks third in

the league in total defense based on yards allowed, including No. 2

against the pass.

“The thing that stands out about Baltimore is just their team

defense,” said

Patriots coach Bill Belichick. “I

don’t think you can just isolate it to one guy. They play well as a

team. Everything is well-coordinated.”

As for attacking that defense, with Randy Moss gone to

Minnesota, the assumption is that New England has been reduced to

“dink and dunk,” which is OK with quarterback Tom Brady so long as

“it’s dink and dunk and score touchdowns.”

But yesterday never comes back. Deion Branch wasn’t an elite

receiver even while helping the

Patriots win titles, but was

fearless in big games (the anti-Moss). “(He was) reliable,

consistent, tough competitive … so I wouldn’t think he would

forget how to do those things,” Brady said of Branch.

But nothing during his four-plus seasons in Seattle indicates

Branch’s return to Foxboro this past week deserved all the

attention it received, other than to provide New Englanders a

nostalgic joyride.

Rather than Branch, it’s the young guys like Tate, Aaron

Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski and BenJarvus Green-Ellis who will

determine whether the

Patriots’ tomorrows resemble their

yesterdays.

“You know, you say Moss isn’t there,” said Ravens cornerback

Fabian Washington. “But I think (Brady) won three Super Bowls

without Moss, something like that. So he’s going to find the open

guy.”

Prediction

Patriots 21, Ravens 20