BALTIMORE (Reuters) - The New England Patriots pounded the Baltimore Ravens 41-7 on Sunday to leave the defending Super Bowl champions in a precarious tie for the AFC’s final wild-card spot.
Quarterback Tom Brady completed 14 of 26 passes for a modest 172 yards and a touchdown and LeGarrette Blount rushed for 76 yards and two scores in the Patriots’ lopsided victory.
In having their four-game winning streak snapped, the Ravens (8-7) conceded the AFC North title to Cincinnati and are tied with Miami and San Diego for the wild-card.
Even the Pittsburgh Steelers, at 7-8, have a prayer but need Baltimore, Miami and San Diego to lose next week.
The Ravens outgained New England 358-300 but were done in by four turnovers, four sacks and nine penalties.
“Offensively we were moving the football. We just couldn’t score,” said Ravens receiver Torrey Smith. “That’s been our Achilles heel. You can’t win games as an offense if you’re not scoring touchdowns.”
Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta agreed.
“You can point to a million different things but they just made the plays and we didn‘t,” he said. “This is football. Sometimes the ball doesn’t go your way.”
The Patriots (11-4) entered the game as AFC East champions because the Buffalo Bills had blanked Miami 19-0 earlier in the day.
Despite having earned a ticket to the playoffs while still in the locker room, it was New England that came out on fire, rolling to a 17-0 first-half lead.
A one-yard touchdown run by Blount, a four-yard scoring pass from Brady to Shane Vereen and a 45-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski to open the second quarter had Ravens fans sitting through a light rain wondering what was happening.
Things didn’t get any better for the Ravens, one of the toughest teams to beat at home.
”It’s a tough pill to swallow, definitely a frustrating loss,“ said Ravens safety James Ihedigbo. ”It doesn’t matter if you lose by one point in overtime or lose by 30, it’s still a loss and we need to move forward.
“Next week, it’s everything. It’s win or go home.”
The Patriots’ lead grew to 20-0 before the Ravens finally managed to score on a one-yard sneak by quarterback Joe Flacco with 9:24 left in the game.
New England, however, responded with a seven-yard touchdown run by Blount to hike the lead to 27-7 with 2:10 remaining and trigger a mass exodus by the 71,433 at M&T Bank Stadium.
Flacco completed 22 of 38 passes for 260 yards but was intercepted twice and replaced late in the game by Tyrod Taylor.
In the last two minutes, New England’s Chandler Jones scooped up a fumbled snap by Taylor for a score and Tavon Wilson picked off an errant Taylor pass and raced 47 yards to the end zone.
“There’s no statistic that correlates more to winning than turnovers,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. “Turnovers are huge. Taking care of the ball and getting the ball - that’s big.”
Even Ravens kicker Justin Tucker had an off-day, missing wide left on a 37-yard field goal attempt in the fourth quarter, ending his streak of consecutive successes at 33.
Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said he would have to look at the tape to see what went wrong.
“Actually, you could burn the tape,” he added. “It’s not even worth looking at.”
Editing by Gene Cherry