December 4, 2007

The Patriots Stay Unbeaten With Baltimore's Help

It looked as though the New England Patriots would lose their perfect season in Baltimore last night. On a desperation fourth-down play, Tom Brady couldn't execute the sneak to get the final yard, and the Ravens took over on downs -- except that their bench had called a time out just before the play to ice the Patriots. That one misstep encapsulated a quarter in which the Ravens gave the game back to the Pats in a nailbiter that kept New England perfect for at least another week:

The New England Patriots, pushing for the first undefeated season by an NFL team in 35 years, marched into Baltimore on Monday night and nearly ended up with a bruised ego and an embarrassing loss.

Thanks to willpower and sheer luck, the Patriots defeated the Ravens, 27-24, and walked off with their 12th straight victory.

Behind, 24-20, with less than three minutes left, Tom Brady methodically marched the Patriots into a bind. With the ball just past midfield, the Patriots ran into a fourth and one. Brady tried a quarterback sneak and got stuffed. The game should have been over.

Instead, the Patriots got lucky. A Baltimore coach called timeout just before the snap, allowing the drive to continue. After two more game-saving fourth-down plays, and a crucial defensive holding penalty on Baltimore, Brady found receiver Jabar Gaffney for an 18-yard touchdown pass that sealed the victory and kept the Patriots' streak alive.

The Pats looked very beatable last night, struggling for most of the first half. The second half started to look the same, but somewhere in the last quarter, Baltimore looked like it just couldn't handle success. For some reason, with a one-touchdown lead and a drive looking like it might put the game out of reach, Kyle Boller decided to crank up a bomb -- to a section of turf with five Patriots and not a Raven in sight. The return gave the Pats great field position and allowed them to score a crucial field goal -- the difference in the game.

New England has run on fumes the last two games. Philadelphia, not exactly a tough team this year, nearly beat them with an aggressive defense. Baltimore would have beat them with the same kind of defense if the offense had been just a little better. Next week, they play Pittsburgh at home. Pittsburgh has also struggled a bit against poorer competition, but they play the kind of physical defense that has stymied New England of late, and they have an offense that can put points on the board. The Steelers also know how to play in cold and sloppy weather, which Foxboro will likely provide next week.

Here's my prediction: The Steelers will upset the Pats, 27-21. You read it here first.


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