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Can the Patriots defense carry it to a championship?

Plus, Ravens rolling, AFC South tightens and Cowboys surge -- on the road to Miami Gardens.
Eagles' Zach Ertz, right, tries to slip past the Patriots' Danny Shelton during Sunday's game. [MICHAEL PEREZ | AP]
Published Nov. 18

As the Patriots prepared for the Eagles and a Super Bowl 52 rematch, New England coach Bill Belichick didn’t suggest he would be seeking revenge, but he made it clear that the “Philly Special” loss to the Eagles remained in his craw.

“I mean, I remember games I lost in high school,” Belichick said. “I remember games I lost in pee wee football. I remember games I lost (when I was coaching with) the Giants and Cleveland. And I mean, yeah, those games — sure, they stick with you.”

How much Belichick’s memory factored in New England’s victory can be debated, but he could draw a bit of redemption from the Patriots’ 17-10 come-from-behind win. The Eagles surged to a 10-0 lead, but Tom Brady engineered a 10-play, 84-yard third-quarter drive to cap off a resurgent effort. Julian Edelman ended the drive with a trick play, a 15-yard touchdown pass to Phillip Dorsett. It wasn’t quite the Philly Special, but it counted.

New England’s defense did the rest, holding Carson Wentz and the Philadelphia offense scoreless in the final three quarters. The Eagles never seemed to recover from the loss of right tackle Lane Johnson, who exited after their third drive. The Patriots had five sacks. With the win, the Patriots clinch a 19th consecutive winning season. Only the Cowboys have had a longer streak, 20 (1966-85).

Whether the success can be parlayed into another Super Bowl appearance remains to be seen. While the Pats shut out the Eagles for most of the game, the Eagles also gave Brady and company fits. New England misses Rob Gronkowski and doesn’t have a legitimate deep threat. Defense wins championships, but the Ravens also have a good unit, and it has already shown it can handle the Patriots. And the Texans.

Seemed like a good suggestion

Ravens running back Mark Ingram believes his team has championship mettle. [GAIL BURTON | AP]

Apologies to anyone who read this space last week and decided to take the over in the Texans-Ravens game.

Oddsmakers put the over/under at 491/2, and with Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson facing off against Houston’s Deshaun Watson, it seemed like a wise suggestion. Watson entered the game ranked fourth in the NFL with a 107.1 passer rating, and Jackson was ninth with 101.7. Leave it to the Ravens’ defense to spoil the chances of the Texans (6-4). It harassed Watson (18-of-29, 169 yards) all day, sacking him seven times, forcing an interception and keeping the Texans off the scoreboard until midway through the fourth quarter. Houston was held to an average 4.1 yards per play, its lowest mark of the season.

Meanwhile, Jackson had another stellar day, completing 17-of-24 for 222 yards for four touchdowns, and rushing for 86 yards on nine carries. Final score: Ravens 41, Texans 7. Yes, 1½ points short of the over/under. How do they know?

Baltimore (8-2) has won six in a row, its longest streak since it won the Super Bowl for the 200 season.

“Any time you are 8-2, you have a special group of guys,” said running back Mark Ingram, who caught two touchdown passes. “We have a goal of being champions.”

No separation in AFC South

The Colts' Marlon Mack (25) has helped key a rushing attack that has Indianapolis contending in the AFC South. [MICHAEL CONROY | AP]

With the Texans losing and the Colts beating the Jaguars 33-13, the AFC South remains the most competitive division in the NFL. Houston and Indianapolis sit atop the division with 6-4 records. The Titans (5-5), idle this week, are a game back of the front-runners and a game ahead of Jacksonville (4-6).

The Colts picked up the key win Sunday thanks largely to their ability to run at will against the Jaguars. Former USF star Marlon Mack ran 14 times for 109 yards before leaving in the third quarter with a hand injury, and Jonathan Williams added 109 yards on 13 carries. Indianapolis rushed for a season-high 264 yards, and its only disappointment with the rushing attack was having a 1-yard touchdown run by guard-turned-fullback Quenton Nelson negated by replay review.

The Jaguars didn’t score much, but it didn’t appear to be the fault of quarterback Nick Foles, who went 33-of-47 for 296 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception in his first game back from a broken clavicle. Jacksonville has lost four of six, but each week Foles plays well makes backup Gardner Minshew a possible trade piece in the offseason.

The four teams in the AFC South may create some separation with the Texans hosting the Colts on Thursday and the Titans hosting the Jaguars next weekend.

Niners bounce back from loss

The 49ers, a relatively young team, could have shown their inexperience by watching their hot start dissipate after an overtime defeat against the Seahawks.

And San Francisco appeared to be headed in that direction when it fell behind 16-0 against Arizona. The Niners rallied, however, and after losing the lead late again, Jimmy Garoppolo threw 25 yards to Jeff Wilson for the winning score in the 36-26 victory. Remarkably, Wilson scored the touchdown on his first offensive snap of the game as he filled in for running back Tevin Coleman.

The win keeps San Francisco a game ahead of Seattle in the NFC West and potentially in line to gain a bye and host a division playoff game. But the key to achieving all that will be winning next weekend when the Packers visit.

Dallas surges in NFC East

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) in action against the Detroit Lions during an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski) [RICK OSENTOSKI | AP]

With the Eagles losing to the Patriots and Dallas winning in Detroit, the Cowboys find themselves a game ahead of the Eagles, but reaching the top spot in the NFC East didn’t prove easy.

Former Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel threw for 209 yards and two touchdowns, and former Alabama running back Bo Scarbrough rushed for 55 yards on 14 carries, but the SEC combination wasn’t enough for the Lions because of their defense.

Quarterback Dak Prescott took advantage of a comfortable pocket as he threw for 444 yards and three touchdowns, lifting the Cowboys to a 35-27 win. Prescott threw to seven receivers. Michael Gallup (nine catches, 148 yards) and Randall Cobb (four catches, 115 yards) led the way.

The Cowboys, however, have to shore up a secondary that have proven far too vulnerable. The next text comes Sunday at New England.

Philadelphia also has a pivotal game when it hosts Seattle. The Eagles have an advantage, with NBC using its flex option to switch from showing Seattle-Philadelphia to Green Bay-San Francisco. That means instead of playing at 5:20 p.m. Pacific time, the Seahawks will kickoff at 10 a.m.

Now you want to play well?

Falcons cornerback Isaiah Oliver (26) defends against the Carolina Panthers during Sunday's game. Said Oliver of the defense's resurgent effort: "We have the same players on the field, we’re calling the same calls we have been calling, running the same defense — it’s just working better, honestly.” [BRIAN BLANCO | AP]

The Falcons (3-7) produced their second consecutive victory with a convincing 29-3 win over the Panthers (5-5).

Last week Atlanta spanked the Saints 26-9. The defense keyed both wins, recording six sacks against New Orleans and five against Carolina. Atlanta’s 11 sacks in two games is all the more remarkable considering the Falcons had only six sacks in their previous seven games.

“This was the defense we expected to be playing from the start of the season,” cornerback Isaiah Oliver said. “Guys are communicating more and getting to the ball quicker. But in terms of the schemes, everything is the same.”

Meanwhile, the Panthers’ future at quarterback grows more murky with Kyle Allen at the helm. Allen, once deemed an heir apparent to Cam Newton, has thrown eight interceptions in the past four games after not throwing any in his first four starts after Newton went out with a foot injury.

He had four against the Falcons. The Panthers have lost two consecutive games and three of their past four, making the Saints the only likely NFC South team to make the playoffs. Atlanta, all but given up for dead, appears to be on a roll — just in time to host to the Bucs next weekend. Tampa Bay can’t catch a break.

Et cetera

Wharton High product Auden Tate, one of the few bright spots for Cincinnati, exited its game in Oakland on a cart after taking a blow to the head, but he signaled to players as he exited. “I’m good y’all,” Tate tweeted out on Sunday night. The Raiders won 17-10. … There were four London games this season, and the eight participating teams were all given a bye the following week — and then proceeded to go 0-8. The latest to flop after returning from overseas were the Texans and the Jacksonville Jaguars. … The Bills, 37-20 winners over the Dolphins, have allowed fewer than 400 total yards of offense in 22 consecutive games, the NFL’s longest active streak. … Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen, who has 13 passing touchdowns and seven rushing in 2019, joined Cam Newton (2011-12) as the only players with at least 10 passing touchdowns and seven rushing touchdowns in consecutive seasons in NFL history. … Legendary coach Don Shula made his first appearance at a Dolphins game this year. A number of former Miami greats, including Dan Marino, greeted Shula on the sideline as he sat in a golf cart. Shula, who recently returned to South Florida from California, where he lives for much of the year, holds the NFL record for most coaching victories with 347. … Washington scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter after going a franchise-record 16 straight quarters without a touchdown. The Jets still won 34-17. … The NFL launched a casting call asking parents and coaches of boys and girls ages 9-12 to submit videos of the kids’ best moves on the field for a chance to attend this season’s Super Bowl and to appear in a followup commercial to last year’s banquet spot. Parents and coaches, with parental permission, can submit their kids’ video at playfootball.com/next100.

Ernest Hooper, Times correspondent, compiled from Times news services

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