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Pats work on kick coverage, defense late in half

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Pats work on kick coverage, defense late in half

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) It's a bad time for the New England Patriots to allow points late in halves and long kickoff returns throughout the game.

Fix that fast or the Baltimore Ravens and speedster Jacoby Jones could run them right out of the postseason.

The Patriots advanced to Sunday's AFC championship game with a 41-28 win over the Houston Texans despite giving up kickoff returns of 94 and 69 yards - the longest against them this season. They won even though they allowed 10 points in the last 1:15 of the first half and 15 points in the last 12 minutes of the game.

The Ravens moved on with a 38-35 double-overtime win over the Denver Broncos after Jones caught a 70-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco with 31 seconds left in regulation.

That's the same Jones who led the NFL in average kickoff return yardage (30.7) and brought back two of them for touchdowns. Yep, the same guy who drew a defensive pass interference call at the Patriots' 7-yard line in Week 3, setting up Justin Tucker's 27-yard field goal on the final play. Baltimore (12-6) won that game, 31-30.

New England (13-4) can't afford another loss.

So coach Bill Belichick is emphasizing, as he does every week, the need to stop kickoff returners and keep teams from scoring with time running out in either half.

``We always think that the end of the half can get a little different than the rest of the game because of situational play,'' he said Tuesday. ``Also, sometimes offensively, teams change their method of attack and what they're doing and how they're doing it and that kind of thing. So you have to adapt and adjust to what they do.

``We have to do what we're doing better. It's definitely a point of emphasis and I'm sure it will be important in this game. We'll definitely work on it.''

The problem is one of poor execution rather than a lack of effort, Belichick said.

``We were trying to do the right things and we did some things that were good, but then we did some other things that weren't as good as they need to be,'' he said. ``Houston was able to take advantage of some of the things we were doing.''

The same problem of late scores surfaced in two of the Patriots four losses.

They led the Ravens 30-21 on Sept. 23 then allowed 10 points in the last five minutes. Three weeks later, they led the Seattle Seahawks 23-10 then gave up two touchdowns in the last 7 1/2 minutes and lost 24-23.

The Patriots won their next seven games before the twin troubles came together in a 41-34 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. The Patriots had rallied from a 31-3 deficit to tie the game at 31 with 6:43 left in the game.

But LaMichael James returned the kickoff 62 yards, Colin Kaepernick threw a 38-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree on the next play and the Patriots couldn't recover.

``We face good returners every week,'' Belichick said. ``It's always a huge point of emphasis for us but it will continue to be. (You) just can't put a team in that kind of field position consistently and that's what we did (against Houston).''

Those long runbacks against the Patriots are rare. They allowed the third fewest average yards (20.5) on kickoff returns this season. But against Houston, they gave up a 35-yarder along with the 94- and 69-yard runbacks, all by Danieal Manning. Those led to 17 points.

``Overall, that's been probably as consistent as anything we've done as a football team for the entire season,'' Belichick said. ``Of course, it's disappointing. Those are plays that you don't want to happen, certainly not three of them in one game.''

But the Patriots are confident they can recover in time for the game that stands between them and a second straight Super Bowl appearance.

``It's very important,'' unusually subdued special teams captain Matthew Slater said. ``We know we need to perform better. We can't put our defense in bad situations. ... We've got to prepare for Jacoby and we know how good he is and what he's capable of.

``So I'm confident we'll have it fixed.''

How, at this late stage in the season, can the Patriots do that?

``You go back to the basics,'' Slater said. ``Go back to the fundamentals and the rules that we have as coverage players, just doing our job better and doing our assignments better. It's been a strength for us this season.''

That season is more likely to end if they keep giving up long kickoff returns and late-game points. The Patriots would prefer to finish games the way they did in last year's 23-20 win over the Ravens for the AFC championship on the same field where they'll meet Sunday.

Baltimore took the ball at its 21-yard line with 1:44 left and made it all the way to a second-and-1 at the New England 14 with 27 seconds remaining. A field goal would tie the game. But the Patriots met the challenge as Sterling Moore broke up two passes before Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal attempt.

``There's a good history of the two teams playing against each other,'' New England defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said. ``You're going to try to analyze all that and take a look at it and see what you can come up with that will hopefully help put you in a successful situation for the weekend.''

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Sports Illustrated predicts Ravens defense will regress this season

Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Sports Illustrated predicts Ravens defense will regress this season

With training camp just eight days away, here is the latest news surrounding the Baltimore Ravens.

1. The Ravens are expected to have one of the best defenses in the NFL this season, but not the No. 1 ranked. Sports Illustrated's Andy Benoit says he predicts the Ravens defense will actually regress due to the loss of C.J. Mosely and Terrell Suggs in free agency. However, not as much as one would expect, he says.

2. Speaking of defense, Ravens outside linebacker Matthew Judon is entering his contract year. The Athletics' Jeff Zrebiec writes that this upcoming season should be a breakout year for Judon who could make a big impact on defense. 

3. Ravens Training Camp passes are now available. The Ravens have 14 different training camp practices open to the public this season. Claim your tickets and parking pass here or on the Ravens' mobile app.

Looking Ahead:

July 24: Ravens training camp begins. Rookies are set to report a week earlier on Wednesday, July 17. 

The 2019 NFL schedule is set! See the Baltimore Ravens defend the AFC North at M&T Bank Stadium this season. Get your tickets now at www.BaltimoreRavens.com/tickets.

Credit: Rotoworld and Baltimore Ravens for news points.

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Lamar Jackson organizes private workout with receivers

Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Lamar Jackson organizes private workout with receivers

With training camp just nine days away, here is the latest news surrounding the Baltimore Ravens.

1. Quarterback Lamar Jackson organized an off-site work out with Ravens wide receivers Chris Moore and Willie Snead IV over the weekend. The second-year quarterback followed through with his plan of working with his receivers on his own time before training camp begins next week. Backup quarterback Robert Griffin III was present as well.

2. With the addition of six-time Pro Bowler Earl Thomasthe Ravens secondary was ranked the deepest group in the NFL, according to NFL.com's Chris Wesseling. Pairing Thomas with safety Tony Jefferson creates one of the best safety tandems in the league, and Baltimore has a deep group of cornerbacks in Jimmy Smith, Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr, and Tavon Young. The Ravens defense allowed just 17.9 points per game a season ago, which was the second-best mark in the NFL.

3. Ravens Training Camp passes are now available. The Ravens have 14 different training camp practices open to the public this season. Claim your tickets and parking pass here or on the Ravens' mobile app.

Looking Ahead:

July 24: Ravens training camp begins. Rookies are set to report a week earlier on Wednesday, July 17. 

The 2019 NFL schedule is set! See the Baltimore Ravens defend the AFC North at M&T Bank Stadium this season. Get your tickets now at www.BaltimoreRavens.com/tickets.

Credit: Baltimore Ravens for news points.

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