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Patriots get calls and a win

Times Staff Writer

BALTIMORE -- 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.

“That’s football,” Brady told reporters when it was over. “I’ve been in a lot of games on the other side. [There were] a lot of questionable calls out there, and you just keep playing and make plays when you need them. We made a lot of plays under pressure, and that’s what we needed down the stretch.”

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It wasn’t supposed to be close. The Patriots came into the game 11-0, seeking to become the first team since the 1972 Miami Dolphins to win all of their games on the way to victory in the Super Bowl. All season, they’d slammed opponents with a pass-first offense, scoring 52 points against the Washington Redskins, 56 against the Buffalo Bills, 48 against the Dallas Cowboys and 49 against the Dolphins.

In addition to near-perfect teamwork, the Patriots have received superior individual performances, primarily from Brady, who entered the game against the Ravens with 38 touchdown passes this season, nine away from the NFL season record. New England also has a retooled, stellar receiving corps, led by perennial All-Pro Randy Moss, who now has 17 touchdown catches, one shy of his career high.

But on this night, with the wind whipping around a frigid M&T; Bank Stadium and the crowd in a frenzy, it was close.

The game began well for the Patriots. Brady marched them downfield with precision, the key play a 43-yard completion to Donte’ Stallworth.

But the Ravens held the Patriots to a field goal, and Baltimore quarterback Kyle Boller found Derrick Mason for a four-yard touchdown. The Ravens followed with a field goal for a 10-3 lead, then Brady drove the Patriots 60 yards in 11 plays for a touchdown and it was tied, 10-10.

The second half unfolded with similar back-and-forth intensity.

Momentum shifted to Baltimore, and when the Ravens led, 24-20, with 8:37 left to play, both defenses tightened. The Patriots stopped the Ravens in three plays, but were forced to punt after four. Then Baltimore went three-and-out again.

Finally, with 3:30 left and their streak in jeopardy, the Patriots took the field knowing that if they were stopped short of a touchdown, the game, and their streak, would most likely be over.

Brady coolly snapped a 23-yard pass to Ben Watson. On a fourth down, with 1:48 left, Brady was stuffed on his sneak. But from the sideline, just before the snap, Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan had called the timeout.

The Patriots had a reprieve.

They called a running play and got stuffed again. But this time the Patriots saved themselves. Just before the snap, a referee called an illegal procedure penalty on Patriots offensive lineman Russ Hochstein.

That gave them another fourth down, this time with more than five yards to go. Brady stepped back to pass, saw no one open, and scrambled for 12 yards.

Next, Brady dropped back to pass on another fourth down, this time from the Baltimore 13. The pass fell incomplete, but out came a referee’s flag -- Baltimore’s Jamaine Winborne was called for defensive holding in the end zone.

On the next play, Brady threw to Gaffney for the winning score.

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kurt.streeter@latimes.com


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