By JIMMY GOLEN, AP Sports Writer
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The New England Patriots shredded the NFL’s No. 1 defense early on, opening up a 20-point halftime lead.
That’s when the Ravens’ special teams got them back in the game.
Baltimore forced fumbles on back-to-back return plays early in the third quarter and twice took advantage of a short field to turn the halftime deficit into a one-score game. But Tom Brady connected with Chris Hogan on a 79-yard touchdown pass and the Patriots held on to win 30-23.
“Our special teams stepping up and making those plays. They were huge plays,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s always a play here or a play there that makes the difference.”
The Ravens entered the week with the NFL’s top-ranked defense, allowing an average of just 296.1 yards per game. But Brady threw for 406 yards and LeGarrette Blount ran for 72 to surpass 1,000 yards for the season.
Blount also collected his franchise record-tying 14th touchdown of the season on a 1-yard run in the first quarter that gave New England a 9-0 lead .
Baltimore fell behind 16-0, and it was 23-3 when the Ravens went three-and-out and brought on Sam Koch to punt. Returner Cyrus Jones let the ball land, and it nicked his foot as it bounced toward the goal line; Jones and Chris Moore chased after the ball, but Moore got to it first and recovered at the 3.
Two plays later, Joe Flacco connected with Darren Waller for the touchdown.
On the ensuing kickoff, Patrick Onwuasor stripped the ball from returner Matthew Slater for another fumble . The Ravens took over at the Patriots’ 22 and needed just four plays to get into the end zone, making it 23-17 on Flacco’s pass to Kenneth Dixon from the 8.
“Tonight, we had two turnovers that were really crucial. That can make the difference in the game,” Ravens return specialist Devin Hester said. “Sometimes you have control of it, and sometimes you don’t. The one that hit his foot, he couldn’t get to it in time and he tried to move out of the way.”
It wasn’t all good from the Ravens’ special teams, though.
Justin Tucker’s 34-yard field goal attempt was blocked when Patriots linebacker Shea McClellin jumped over the center and landed in the backfield.
“I don’t know what happens in their meetings, but the guy made a good play on the ball,” said Tucker, whose onside kick in the final minutes was easily recovered by the Patriots, enabling them to run out the clock.
Brady helped his stats with a 61-yard catch-and-run by James White and the 79-yard play-action that left Hogan wide open deep down the middle of the field .
“It’s something that we preach about, through the whole OTA’s, camp, preseason and all that. We want to eliminate big plays. We had a bust,” Ravens linebacker Zach Orr said. “If you miss an assignment, Tom Brady and those guys will exploit that to the max.”
But Brady also threw an interception in the end zone right before halftime, costing the Patriots a scoring chance.
“We turned the ball over three times tonight. Three situations that I would say were pretty preventable,” coach Bill Belichick said when asked about Jones’ fumbling problems. “We’ll work on it with everybody. It’s everybody’s job to protect the ball who handles it.”