Patriots get big win, continue to inch toward playoffs
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) By the time the Patriots took the field Monday night against the Ravens, they knew they'd have to wait at least another week to wrap up their eighth consecutive playoff berth.
It didn't stop New England from producing a postseason-quality effort.
The Patriots overcame a pair of miscues on special teams and provided some timely offense late to beat the Baltimore Ravens 30-23 on Monday night .
New England enters its final three regular season games in great position for an eighth straight AFC East crown.
''We just gotta keep it rolling,'' Patriots safety Devin McCourty said. ''That's whether you want to call it a playoff game, must-win, or any of that stuff. Once you get into December and toward the end of December, every game is important. There's really no rebounding and trying to fix things. You want to try and play your best ball every time you go out there and play.''
Of course, that kind of consistency is common practice for New England's 39-year-old quarterback.
Tom Brady carved up the NFL's top-ranked defense for 406 yards passing and three touchdowns, saving his best for last with a 79-yard strike to Chris Hogan in the fourth quarter.
He became just fourth NFL quarterback with at least 450 career touchdown passes.
''We weren't clicking early, but that happens in football,'' Brady said. ''I'm glad we found a way to make some plays. A lot of guys contributed. ... It was a big win for us.''
For the Ravens, it will be a short turnaround as they try to salvage their playoff hopes over the final three weeks. It begins with their final regular season home game against the Eagles on Sunday, followed by road tests at Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.
Baltimore is currently one game behind the Steelers in the AFC North.
''It doesn't really matter what our record is,'' quarterback Joe Flacco said. ''We've just got to win our games.''
FOCUSED ON PHILLY
Coach John Harbaugh said coming up short against the Patriots won't deter the Ravens from doing all they can to stay in the division hunt. That begins, he said, with putting all their focus into the matchup with Philadelphia.
''We know where we stand and the situation we are in. And that we basically have to win three games, you know, and (we are) certainly fully capable of doing that. That's what we intend to do, but all the focus goes to the next game,'' Harbaugh said.
Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount picked up a pair of milestones in the game, topping 1,000 yards for the season and collecting his 14th touchdown. A 1-yard TD run in the first quarter gave the Patriots a 9-0 lead and tied the franchise record set by Curtis Martin in 1995 (and matched by Martin in '96).
Blount ended the game with 1,029 yards this season, topping the 1,007 from his rookie season with Tampa Bay in 2010. He's the first 1,000-yard rusher for the team since Stevan Ridley had 1,263 in 2012.
Cyrus Jones continues to have problems returning kicks.
After dancing away from the football in the first half to avoid a fumble, he touched a bouncing punt with his foot in the second and allowed the Ravens to recover at the New England 3. Two plays later, the Ravens scored to make it 23-10.
It was the fifth fumble of the season for Jones, who sat out four times in six weeks as a healthy scratch because of his earlier struggles to hold onto the ball.
''We turned the ball over three times tonight. Three situations that I would say were pretty preventable,'' Belichick said. ''We'll work on it with everybody. It's everybody's job to protect the ball who handles it.''
New England's defense was the first unit to get on the scoreboard Monday night. Patriots punter Ryan Allen pinned the Ravens at their own 1, and on the next play, Kenneth Dixon was swarmed in the end zone and brought down by Malcolm Butler for a safety.
It was the Patriots' third safety of the season - a franchise record. They also had one on Oct. 9 against Cleveland when Browns quarterback Cody Kessler fumbled the ball out of the end zone, and the following week when Dont'a Hightower sacked Andy Dalton in the end zone.
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AP Sports Writer Jimmy Golen contributed to this report.
Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter a http://www.twitter.com/khightower