Patriots hold off Ravens, remain top seed in AFC
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With their playoff hopes on the line, the 7-5 Baltimore Ravens flew into Foxborough, Mass for a Monday night matchup at Gillette Stadium with the conference leading New England Patriots. With a 10-2 record the Patriots looked to retain home field advantage throughout the playoffs against their mid Atlantic rivals.
Starting from their own two yard line in the first quarter, Ravens rookie running back Kenneth Dixon got lit up by defensive tackle Malcolm Brown for a safety on the first score of the game. Dixon later made up for the blunder with a third quarter touchdown reception after a fumble by the Patriots. The fumble was the second on back to back plays after return man Cyrus Jones muffed his fifth on the season. Joe Flacco capitalized with a three yard touchdown to tight end Darren Waller on the ensuing drive.
Apart from the miscues by the special teams, the Patriots defense looked prepared to take on Head Coach Jon Harbaugh’s Ravens. Late in the first quarter, Linebacker Shea McClellin leaped over the offensive line on a blocked field goal, handing Justin Tucker his first and only missed kick of the season. Talking to the Comcast Sports Network after the game McClellin called the play a “split-second decision.” Tucker told reporters for the Herald “The guy (McClellin) made a hell of a play, I don’t know what happens in their meetings, but the guy made a good play on the ball.” Captain Devin McCourty snagged his first interception this season off Joe Flacco on a perfect pass that slipped through Kamar Aiken’s fingers.
Tom Brady bolstered his MVP resume after driving 89 yards down the field to take a 16 point lead in the second quarter. After a 61 yard reception by running back James White, Brady capped of the drive with a six yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell. The former Georgia standout has taken on a much larger role in the wake of Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola’s injuries, scoring his fourth touchdown over the last 4 weeks. In an interview with the Boston Herald after the game Brady said of his new target, “He’s done a great job for us. It says a lot for a rookie to be playing his best in December.” Mitchell has broken the mold of rookie wide receivers who typically don’t find success playing with Tom Brady.
Martellus Bennett caught all four of his targets including his fifth touchdown in a Patriots jersey on an incredible end zone grab while tangled up with a defender. Chris Hogan sealed the 30-23 win with his fourth touchdown of the season. Hogan burned Ravens superstars Eric Weddle and Jimmy Smith on the 79 yard catch and run, the longest of his career. Hogan led the Patriots with 129 yards on 5 catches.
LaGarrette Blount set a career high in yards eclipsing the 1,000 yard mark for the second time in the his career. He scored his 14th touchdown at the end of the first quarter, tying the Patriots all time record. His 14 rushing touchdowns also lead the NFL. Enjoying the finest season of his seven year career, Blount is looking to make his first Pro Bowl appearance.
New England picked up their 11th win of the season and at least temporarily knocked the Ravens out of the playoff picture. The Patriots travel to the Mile High Stadium on Dec. 18 for a 4:30p.m. date with reigning defensive player of the year Von Miller and the Denver Broncos.