Patriots stand firm

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:48 AM ET

The boundaries of the mud pit extended between the two hashmarks, striping the Gillette Stadium field with a pool of slop between the 20-yard lines.

It was the perfect image for the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, a cue it is the time of the season to get down and dirty.

There certainly was little that was pretty about yesterday's 24-3 slapping of the purportedly tough Baltimore Ravens in front of a sellout crowd of 68,756 here in Foxboro.

It was a slugfest that turned ugly, not in the Ron Artest sense, but in the way the best team in football has a way of humiliating the latest thugs trying to claim their turf.

"Once they get control of a game, they are very hard to beat," a contrite Ravens coach Brian Billick said afterward.

"That's they're M.O. and they are very good at it."

Not that the Patriots were claiming anything but another victory to push the NFL-best record they share with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles to 10-1.

"I'm not really into statements," linebacker Tedy Bruschi said, inadvertently making one anyway.

"We're not into rankings. We're into winning football games."

The Pats neither seem to need nor want the trimmings that come with an NFL victory.

They don't put up 58 points like the Cincinnati Bengals did yesterday against the Cleveland Browns.

They don't care about the fantasy world of statistical categories -- save for the ones in the biggest, boldest numbers.

Instead, they methodically find an opponent's strength, and with equal precision beat them at their own game.

You want to play defence, Ray Lewis and the Ravens?

Bring it on.

You want to keep quarterback Tom Brady from throwing a touchdown for the first time in more than a year? No biggie.

A week ago, it was the offence that was called upon to trade punches with the prolific Kansas City Chiefs, much as they had done two weeks previous with the St. Louis Rams.

In preparing for the Ravens, they heard all about the opposition's vaunted defence. Lost in all the bluster, though, was the fact the New Englanders can smash as well.

"We like to play to a team's strengths," said Patriots safety Rodney Harrison, whose unit has allowed an average of just 5.3 points in its past three home games.

"We did our duty. Every time we step on the field it's a different challenge. We want to show people what we can do. Get after the quarterback and try to force some turnovers."

The quarterback in question, the Ravens' Kyle Boller, felt that heat, getting sacked four times and coughing up a costly fumble leading to a backbreaking New England touchdown.

This is the time of year when the Patriots tend to get as serious as the weather. In both of their Super Bowl winning campaigns -- last year and 2001 --the Pats mopped up with momentum-building 6-0 runs.

As they have an NFL record 16 times, New England opened the scoring yesterday early in the second quarter with Adam Vinatieri's first of three field goals.

They let the Ravens cling to a 3-3 tie after a gruesome first half, which had as many combined punts as first downs -- 12.

When the break was over, the champs went for the jugular, scoring on their next three possessions, two field goals and a one-yard Corey Dillon touchdown run.

POINT TAKEN

Then, with the game as good as over, the defence made its ultimate statement when Bruschi punched the ball loose from Boller and Jarvis Green collapsed on it in the end zone.

With the weather and the field and the slippery, slimy football, it was a classic D-Day -- the defence and Dillon, who rushed for a grimy 123 yards on 30 carries.

"It's the mark of this team," Brady said. "I like the way our attitude is. I like the way we fight, I like the way we prepare for any situation."


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