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Monday, December 23, 2013

Pats are AFC East Champions Again but the Real Story is How Badly They Kicked Baltimore's Ass

So it turns out that nobody circles the wagons like the 2013 Patriots. Just when everyone (myself included) was starting to seriously doubt them this season, they turned in a vintage performance worthy of their past Super Bowl winners: they blew out Baltimore (8-7 overall, 6-2 home) 41-7 tonight at M&T Bank Stadium.

The Patriots (11-4 overall, 4-4 away) added two garbage time defensive TDs (fumble recovery by Chandler Jones and 74-yard interception return by Tavon Wilson) to help capture their 10th AFC East title in the last 11 years. It is the fifth straight year that they've won their sorry division but this means the No. 2 seed is still theirs to lose, they just have to beat Buffalo (6-9) in the regular season finale next Sunday (4:25, CBS) at Gillette Stadium.

We'll have to wait and see if this was a sign of bigger things to come or just a crazy set of circumstances, facing Baltimore's terrible offense and a hobbled Joe Flacco (sacked 4 times, threw 2 interceptions to Logan Ryan). The best part of this for the Pats is that their defense showed signs of life after being MIA for months. Of course, they had to suffer another serious injury (concussion to Devin McCourty).

This was such a big game for both teams that you kept waiting for the Ravens to make it competitive but they could never do it. LeGarrette Blount (16 carries, 76 yards) had a 1-yard TD run on New England's second drive and they cashed in on Flacco's first interception with a 4-yard TD pass from Brady (172 yards) to Shane Vereen, who later exited with a groin injury.

The Patriots led 17-0 at halftime after the lone points of the second quarter came on Stephen Gostkowski's 45-yard field goal. He added a 42-yard kick in the third quarter for a 20-0 advantage. Meanwhile, Baltimore got stuffed at the goal-line and continued to falter including a missed field goal by Justin Tucker (snapping a streak of 33 made in a row).

The Ravens avoided the shutout with Flacco's 1-yard TD run early in the fourth quarter but Blount's 7-yard TD run was more than enough to clinch it. Julian Edelman had another very solid game with seven catches for 77 yards.

Denver won 37-13 at Houston although that is somewhat misleading because the Texans hung around for a while. Still, it's hard to see anything but a Broncos-Patriots AFC Championship Game in around a month or so. Obviously anything can happen, the two best teams in the AFC can lose their first game but it's hard to see it happening. This win proved to Patriots fans that the next few weeks at the very least will be more interesting than we thought.

UPDATE 12/26: Marquice Cole was released for the second time this season. Keep in mind, the other time was when he was injured and then he got re-signed. I expect the same thing to happen this late in the campaign.

UPDATE 12/27: Austin Collie was released too, leaving New England with two open spots on the active roster. Sounds like two practice squad heroes will get the promotion for Sunday's game.

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