BALTIMORE - The New England Patriots are still perfect, but looking mighty vulnerable.
New England pulled off its greatest escape thus far - Tom Brady's 8-yard touchdown pass to former Eagle Jabar Gaffney with 44 seconds left - to beat the Ravens, 27-24, last night and become the sixth team in NFL history to start a season 12-0.
The winning drive in the final minutes covered 73 yards and required two fourth-down conversions, one on a defensive-holding penalty six seconds before Gaffney beat Ravens safety Dawan Landry in the left corner of the end zone.
The Patriots were driven to distraction by a Baltimore defense that was at times reminiscent of the 2000 unit that led the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory. Indeed, if not for untimely penalties and a fumble of an interception return by Ed Reed, the Ravens (4-8) might have pulled off one of the biggest upsets in NFL history.
Cornerback Chris McAlister criticized the officiating.
"It's hard to go out there and play the Patriots and the refs at the same time," McAlister said. "They put the crown on top of them; they want them to win. They won."
Patriots coach Bill Belichick was unimpressed by his team's effort.
"We prepared to get their best," he said. "A lot of things that we didn't do well that we need to do - you name it, we need to improve it. Offense, defense, special teams."
Baltimore got a brilliant effort from Willis McGahee, who rushed for 138 yards and a touchdown. Kyle Boller threw for two scores, and the Ravens managed three sacks.
But Brady threw two touchdowns passes to raise his total to 41 and become the fourth QB to throw at least 40 in a season.
"Most of it for three quarters didn't go in our favor," Brady said. "On the road, [in a] tough environment against a team that has won a lot of games in the last few years. It was tough."
Eight days after edging the Eagles, 31-28, the Patriots barely kept alive their pursuit of the only unblemished record in NFL history, Miami's 17-0 in 1972.
With Pittsburgh (9-3) up next, the Patriots must recapture some of their record-setting ways from earlier in the season to keep their flawless record intact.
Before the game, Baltimore put quarterback Steve McNair on the injured reserve list, ending his season. He will have surgery on his non-throwing (left) shoulder today, the team said.
Brett Favre's standout season for the resurgent Green Bay Packers has earned him the title of 2007 Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year, making him the fourth quarterback to win the award in its 53-year history.
The 38-year-old Favre joined Terry Bradshaw (1979), Joe Montana (1990) and Brady (2005) as recipients of the award, given to an athlete who symbolizes the ideals of sportsmanship.
Favre has started a quarterback-record 249 consecutive games, and this year surpassed Dan Marino for career touchdown passes and pass attempts. He is 450 yards away from breaking Marino's career record of 61,361 yards.
Favre has had one of the best seasons of his 17-year career, completing 67.4 percent of his passes for 3,412 yards with 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Wide receiver Roy Williams is expected to miss the rest of the regular season because of a sprained knee, coach Rod Marinelli said.
Miami safety Cameron Worrell suffered a torn knee ligament Sunday in the 40-13 loss to the New York Jets, coach Cam Cameron said.
Three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Marcus Stroud rejoined Jacksonville after completing a four-game suspension for violating the league's policy on steroids and related substances.
Tagliabue cashes in.