Their latest opponent, the Baltimore Ravens, are convinced the Patriots have more than destiny on their side.
After losing to New England 27-24 Monday night, the Ravens complained bitterly about several calls that went against them during the Patriots' final drive, which ended with a Tom Brady touchdown pass to Jabar Gaffney with 44 seconds left.
"It's hard to go out there and play the Patriots and the refs at the same time," cornerback Chris McAlister said. "They put the crown on top of them. They want them to win. They won."
New England (12-0) trailed 24-20 when Brady led the offense onto the field with 3:30 to go.
"As long as we have the ball and time on the clock, we feel confident that we can pull it out," Gaffney said.
Brady made it happen, although there were several frightening moments for the Patriots during the 13-play drive.
Brady was stuffed on a fourth-down quarterback sneak at the Baltimore 30, but the Ravens had called a timeout. Then Baltimore stopped Heath Evans, but New England jumped offsides and got another chance, which Brady converted with a 12-yard run.
Baltimore's Samari Rolle was called for illegal contact on the play, anyway. Then, on a fourth-and-5 at the 13, Brady threw incomplete. But Baltimore nickel back Jamaine Winborne was called for holding, giving New England new life.
"The flag didn't come out until the ball hit the ground," McAlister said.
"In a game of this magnitude, you don't make that kind of call," Rolle said. "You can crown them champions now. It's a travesty when you go out there and play that hard and the refs decide the outcome."
Brady hit Gaffney in the corner of the end zone on the next play, and a replay justified the touchdown call though the Ravens contended the receiver juggled the ball.
"I think the world, everybody's kind of cheering for them to go undefeated and break all the records," Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "If they're the best, make them prove it. Don't help them make a play, let them make it."
It was the second straight narrow win for the Patriots against a team with a losing record. Baltimore (4-8) came in as a 20-point underdog, but the game wasn't decided until the final play, when Mark Clayton was tackled at the 3 immediately after hauling in Kyle Boller's long, desperation throw.
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"It wasn't perfect, but the fact of the matter is we're 12-0," defensive lineman Vince Wilfork said.
Eight days after edging Philadelphia 31-28, the Patriots barely kept alive their pursuit of joining the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the only team to complete an undefeated season.
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.
"Tonight, the false start saved our life," tackle Matt Light said. "Every now and then, you win one."
The Patriots, of course, have won them all thus far. But lately they haven't looked that good doing it.
An offense that was averaging more than 40 points was held well below that figure by a Baltimore defense that had permitted more than 30 points in its past two games. Brady was sacked three times compared to 13 times in his first 11 games, and New England could muster only 90 rushing yards
-- 14 of them by Brady.
The defense, meanwhile, yielded 138 yards rushing to Willis McGahee and made the struggling Baltimore offense look rather efficient.
"Stopping the run, that's one thing we pride ourselves on and it didn't happen tonight," Wilfork said. "Willis McGahee is a good runner. When we get back to the drawing board, I don't think that will be a big problem to correct."
There will be plenty to work on during a short week before facing Pittsburgh.
"We have to execute better, run better routes, throw better passes, make better catches, block better," said Brady, who became the fourth quarterback in NFL history to throw 40 TD passes in a season.
Even Brady conceded that the final drive was not nearly as perfect as New England's season.
"A lot of those calls definitely helped us out," he said.
[Associated Press; By DAVID GINSBURG]
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