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Patriots having fourth quarter problems

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Patriots having fourth quarter problems

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) When the fourth quarter starts, the New England Patriots stop.

From last season's Super Bowl to last Sunday's loss, they've been outscored 47-21 in the final period in six of their seven games. They've lost their touch for finishing strong.

``The end of the game is the most critical part of the game,'' offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said, ``and we need to do better.''

The Patriots led the New York Giants 17-15 going into the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl but lost 21-17. This season, two of their three losses came when they led after the third quarter. The only game in which they were clearly superior in the fourth was a 52-28 win over Buffalo when they outscored the Bills 31-7 in that period.

In that fourth quarter alone, they scored four touchdowns and one field goal.

In their other five games, they have just one touchdown and four field goals in the final 15 minutes.

They hope to change that Sunday against the New York Jets in a meeting of two of the four AFC East teams tied for first place at 3-3.

``There's no magic formula or plays to call,'' quarterback Tom Brady said. ``It's just a matter of doing it and doing it well. Football requires 53 players to all be on the same page and that's why we practice and talk about things and that's why we meet all day. I think we've been presented with some situations where we haven't done that.''

Like last Sunday in Seattle.

They led the Seahawks 20-10 after three quarters but lost 24-23 with the offense, defense and special teams all failing in critical fourth-quarter situations. Brady threw an interception in the end zone and later was penalized for intentional grounding, the secondary allowed two touchdown passes and Zoltan Mesko's line-drive punt allowed Leon Washington's 25-yard punt return that helped set up the deciding touchdown and extra point.

``When you get down to the end of the fourth quarter, then the whole game really now hinges on just a handful of plays or sometimes just one play,'' Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. ``Then it really becomes an awareness thing and certainly an execution thing.

``Mental toughness, I think, is part of it, awareness is part of it, basic execution is part of it, conditioning is part of it, scheming and actual technique of the play, the way the play is set up, all those things are part of it.''

The Patriots have thrived in the fourth quarter during Brady's career. Entering this season, he led them to wins 34 times after trailing or being tied in the fourth quarter.

He just hasn't been the same this year.

In his last possession against the Seahawks, he got the ball at his 20-yard line with 1:14 left and a one-point deficit and couldn't get a first down. On the two series before that, the Patriots punted after advancing only to their 46 and 43.

They weren't much better in the fourth quarter of a 31-30 loss to Baltimore that they led 27-21 after the third. They had to punt on their last two possessions and the Ravens won on a 27-yard field goal by Justin Tucker on the final play.

``We've just got to keep working,'' running back Stevan Ridley said. ``It's a 60-minute football game. You can't play 40 minutes. You can't play 45. You can't play 50. You've got to play it all the way out to the end.

``So, for us, whether it's finishing games, starting off fast, whatever, it has to be a complete football game and that's what coach (Belichick) has been stressing to us. ... If we don't play all four quarters, all 60 minutes, the chances of us finishing with a win in the way that we want to do it is not high.''

In three of their last four games, the Patriots didn't score a fourth-quarter touchdown despite reaching their opponent's territory on eight of their 12 possessions. They did kick a field goal in two of those fourth quarters, but that left them short and they lost each game by one point.

``We just haven't done a good enough job,'' left guard Logan Mankins said. ``It would be nice to get out there in the fourth quarter this week and have a really strong finish to the game and score some points in the fourth.''

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Joe Flacco, Lamar Jackson made Ravens quarterback change as low-drama as a move like that could be

Joe Flacco, Lamar Jackson made Ravens quarterback change as low-drama as a move like that could be

Lamar Jackson has every reason to have a big ego.

In the past two years he's won a Heisman Trophy, was a first-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft and just beat out a Super Bowl MVP in the middle of the season for the starting quarterback job.

Who wouldn't have a bit of extra confidence after all of that? 

On Wednesday, the 21-year-old took to the podium at the Under Armour Performance Center to answer questions as the Ravens' newest leader in 11 seasons. He was the exact opposite of cocky. 

 “It’s ‘our’ team – all of us together," Jackson said on if he's able to call the Ravens his team now. "It’s our team. I don’t go out there and block. I don’t go out there and catch the ball. I don’t make tackles. I just do my part. It’s all of our team.”

The response should be of no surprise. Since arriving in Baltimore and slowly earning his way to the starting job, Jackson has been appreciative as has let his performance on the field do all the talking. 

“I pretty much didn’t really have a reaction to when [coach Harbaugh] was telling me. All it made me do was … I know I have to focus on everything a lot more – just bettering myself and trying to join with everybody around me even more. That’s about it.”

Since filling in for an injured Joe Flacco, Jackson is 52 of 89 for 600 passing yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions in addition to 67 rushing attempts for 336 yards and two touchdowns. He's also led the Ravens to a 3-1 record in those starts and back into playoff contention. 

The decision to switch starters mid-season could have led to an uncomfortable locker room. Each player who spoke on the matter gave off the vibe that it was no big deal.

And when Flacco spoke to the media on Wednesday for the first time in five weeks, the 33-year-old faced what every starting quarterback fears with nothing but kind words about Jackson. 

“I thought he’s done a great job," Flacco said on how Jackson is handling himself. "I’m really happy for what he’s been able to go out there and do. We’re winning football games. He and this team have put themselves, and ourselves, in position to go out there and do some big things for the rest of the year, and that’s definitely exciting.”

“Joe’s been handling it great," wide receiver John Brown added. "He’s been in Lamar’s corner. I’ve seen him the whole time. Every time he comes off the sideline, Joe is talking to him, telling him what he sees, trying to help him out. He’s been a great teammate.”

Jackson refraining from calling the Ravens "my team" is a rarity in a league where players are constantly trying to prove their authority, and even more so  for those with a title that only 32 guys hold. 

Possibly the class Flacco has had for 11 seasons as the leader of the Ravens has projected itself onto the rookie now in control. 

"Joe [Flacco] is still part of the team," Jackson said. "It’s his team still – just like it’s mine. It’s all of our team. We’re brothers. We’re here together, each and every day. We’ve been here since camp putting our life on the line. It’s still his team, man – nothing [has] changed.”

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Joe Flacco disappointed about losing starting job, but decision wasn't a surprise

Joe Flacco disappointed about losing starting job, but decision wasn't a surprise

It's been a lingering question around the Under Armour Performance Center over the last five weeks as rookie Lamar Jackson has filled in for an injured Joe Flacco.

At some point this season we knew that Flacco would be healthy enough to get back to football.

We also knew at some point this season the Ravens would have to make the tough decision on who their starting quarterback would be in the aftermath of Jackson leading the team to three straight wins.

That question was finally answered Wednesday when head coach John Harbaugh announced Jackson would be starting Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Flacco would be the backup for the first time in his 11 NFL seasons.

"Obviously disappointed that I can't be apart of this team in the same capacity that I have been for a long time," Flacco said Wednesday on learning the news.

"It's out of my hands. I got hurt. They drafted Lamar in the first round. At some point something was going to happen between the two of us. Who knows what that was going to be. This is just what it is at this point. I've obviously had five weeks to think about it and prepare myself for this situation and the possibility of it. I'm disappointed that, like I said, I can't be in that locker room in the same capacity that I've always been. But this is my situation right now and I'm going to do my best to handle it the right way."

The news, however, shouldn't come as a surprise to many.

In his first four games as the starter, Jackson is 52 of 89 for 600 passing yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions in addition to 67 rushing attempts for 336 yards and two touchdowns. His 30 rushing first downs ranks second among NFL QBs behind Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton (33), and his 475 rushing yards in 2018 ranks second behind Buffalo Bills' Josh Allen (490).

Prior to suffering the hip injury in their Week 9 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Flacco was 232 of 379 for 2,465 yards, 12 touchdowns and six interceptions. The Ravens had lost their last two games under him and it looked like another playoff-less season could be on the horizon for the fourth year in a row.  

When the weeks continued to pass without Flacco and the Ravens record continued to improve with Jackson, the writing to many was already on the wall. 

"It's part of the game," Flacco said on losing the starting job after his injury. "I've talked about it plenty of times. Every time you take the field, there's obviously the risk of something like that happening and it just is what it is."

"I can't say I was surprised. The bigger thing is just even though I'm disappointed, like I said about I guess my different role and all that, is just trying to stay excited about what my role is and the possibilities that they bring."

The leader of this team for 11 years, Flacco had missed just six games and started in his last 41 appearances before Week 10. While Flacco is admittedly not a sentimental guy and many have criticized him for his lack of emotion over the years, standing on the sideline the last four weeks has not been easy.

"It was really tough for me," Flacco said. "It wasn't even about the possibilities of something like this happening, you know, as a starting quarterback — which I've been for a long time for this team— you play through things throughout a course of a 10-year career. I definitely wanted to get out there and be there for my guys that next week, and it's definitely one of the hardest things I've done in my career is standing on the sidelines, being inactive and not being apart of it the way you want to." 

There was no denying the resurgence the Ravens experienced under Jackson. His 336 rushing yards in his first four starts is the most by a quarterback in the Super Bowl Era and his running back-like speed continues to be tough for defenses to stop.

What Jackson offers in speed Flacco can compliment in the passing game. Ever since the first-round pick rushed for 119 yards in his first start against the Cincinnati Bengals, the narrative has been that Jackson will never be able to sustain that in the NFL. Now with two quarterbacks to use at their discretion, the Ravens' last three games could get very interesting even though Harbaugh would not divulge how much the team would utilize the Super Bowl MVP in Sunday's game. 

"Anything can happen in this league very quickly and were right in the middle of a really good playoff run and we have a lot of important games ahead of us," Flacco said. "I'd firstly be doing my team a big disservice by not preparing the same way I always do, and after that I would be doing myself a big disservice, too, because you never know what's going to happen and when you're going to have to be called on."

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