FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Mark Clayton got open and waited for the fourth-down pass that could keep the Ravens’ chances alive.
Joe Flacco reached his target inside the Patriots 10-yard line and beyond the first-down marker, but Clayton didn’t hold on with 28 seconds left. New England did – eking out a 27-21 win over Baltimore on Sunday.
“Flat out drop,” Clayton said. “It was a perfect ball. Joe put it on the money. To not come up with it is tough. It cost us the game.”
The Ravens lost left tackle Jared Gaither after a collision that put him on his back for about 10 minutes before he was taken off the field on a stretcher midway through the second quarter. X-rays at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he had tests on his neck and shoulder, were negative.
Flacco fell onto Gaither’s back as the quarterback was shoved by defensive end Ty Warren.
“We knew it wasn’t serious,” Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said. “We’ll see how long he’ll be out.”
The Ravens failed on another fourth-down play on their next-to-last series as they tried to overcome the first scoring pass of the season from Tom Brady to Randy Moss and a one-yard touchdown sneak by the quarterback.
On that fourth-and-one at the Ravens 45-yard line, Warren stopped Willis McGahee for no gain with 5:09 remaining.
“That was quite a finish,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “Stop them on fourth down twice in the fourth quarter, that’s when you’ve got to be there. Luckily, we were.”
But Ravens players thought McGahee had made the first down.
“The spots were terrible,” Baltimore safety Ed Reed said.
Moss’ touchdown made it 24-14 late in the third quarter, but Flacco’s 13-yard scoring pass to McGahee cut that to 24-21. Stephen Gostkowski’s 33-yard field goal gave the Patriots (3-1) a six-point lead midway through the fourth quarter.
After McGahee came up short, the Patriots punted and the Ravens (3-1) got the ball back with 5:09 left then moved to a fourth-and-four at the 14.
“We thought we had them down, but they started coming back,” Patriots running back Sammy Morris said. “It was just one of those tough slugfests.”
The game was decided when Clayton dropped the ball and the Patriots ran out the clock as they kept their unbeaten record against the Ravens with their fifth win.
“We were confident,” Baltimore wide receiver Derrick Mason said. “The defence did a great job of holding them and giving us the opportunity to put some points on the board.”
Trailing 17-7 at halftime, the Ravens made it 17-14 when Terrell Suggs hit Brady for a sack and knocked the ball out of his right hand. Dwan Edwards recovered in the end zone for a touchdown with 6:19 left in the third quarter.
“We kind of had control of the game and then Suggs turned it around,” Belichick said.
But Brady led the Patriots on their next possession, a 79-yard drive ending with his 14-yard touchdown pass to Moss.
Moss caught 23 scoring passes in 2007, his first season with Brady, who was sidelined for all of last season except for the first half of the first quarter of the opener.
The Ravens responded with an 80-yard drive, 50 on a run by Ray Rice, who finished with 103 yards on 11 carries, and the final 13 on the pass to McGahee.
“We gave up too many big plays and couldn’t get off the field on third down,” Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather said. “We did a lot of things that good defences don’t do.”
The Patriots struck quickly after Brandon McGowan recovered Chris Carr’s fumble as he returned the opening kickoff. That led to a 32-yard field goal by Gostkowski.
Flacco then led the Ravens on a 15-play, 81-yard drive capped by a 20-yard scoring pass to Mason, who had six catches for 77 yards on the series.
The Patriots went ahead 10-7 on the next series with a one-yard sneak by Brady.
“Head-to-head with Ray Lewis, I certainly wasn’t thinking of that one going to bed last night,” he said.
The Patriots made it 17-7 with 3:57 left in the half on Morris’ 12-yard run.
Lewis complained about rushing the passer penalties that helped the drives on which Brady and Morris scored.
“Without totally going off the wall here, it is embarrassing to the game,” Lewis said. “Brady is good enough to make his own plays, let him make the play.”
The Ravens then drove from their 20 to the Patriots 17 with a chance to cut the deficit to 17-14 at halftime. But Leigh Bodden intercepted Flacco’s pass at the 9.
Notes: Brady completed 21-of-32 passes for 258 yards, one TD and no interceptions. Flacco went 27-for-47 for 264 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. … Moss’ touchdown was his 137th, breaking a tie with Marshall Faulk and moving into sixth place in NFL history. … Suggs set a club record with 437 sack yards on the sack that resulted in a touchdown. … Baltimore held its 39th straight opponent without a 100-yard rusher, the longest current streak in the NFL. … Patriots WR Wes Welker returned after missing two games with a knee injury and had five catches.