Now we know the last ingredient in an unbeaten season.
Luck.
That's what the New England Patriots had Monday night as they became just the sixth team to start 12-0,
It was most notable on the final drive that ended with Tom Brady's touchdown pass to Jabar Gaffney that beat the Baltimore Ravens. The Patriots even had the good fortune of having a penalty called against them that negated a stop by Baltimore that would have beaten them.
In any case, the Patriots are in a funk, 12-0 or not.
If they play against Pittsburgh this week the way they did against the Ravens on Monday night, they'll be 12-1.
That's not necessarily a bad thing because it probably won't cost them in the standings - they've just about clinched home-field advantage in the playoffs. It will also relieve some of the pressure that's been building since the season's start and the spying episode that left Bill Belichick $500,000 short in the wallet.
After winning their first 10 games by an aggregate 411-157, the Patriots have squeaked by Philadelphia and Baltimore by three points each and were in serious jeopardy of losing both games. In fact, they should have and they would have lost Monday night if not for a bizarre sequences of plays and penalties at the end.
Start with 1 minute 53 seconds left, the Patriots trailing 24-20 and facing a fourth-and-1 at the Baltimore 30. The ball was snapped, Brady tried to sneak and was stuffed. But the whistle had blown before the play because Baltimore defensive coordinator Rex Ryan had called time out before the ball was snapped.
Baltimore defenders jumped up and down outraged, but the mistake was on their bench.
So, the Patriots lined up to try it again and Heath Evans was stuffed. But there was no play, because Russ Hochstein had jumped early and was called for illegal procedure.
``The false start saved our life. Every now and then you win one,'' said Matt Light, the left tackle.
Indeed. On fourth-and-six, Brady scrambled for 12 yards and a first down.
The Patriots faced another fourth down at the Baltimore 13 with 55 seconds left. This time, Brady's pass to Benjamin Watson was incomplete, but Jamaine Winborne was called for defensive holding. That led to the winning TD pass.
The Ravens complained loudly afterward that the officials - meaning the NFL - was trying to help the Patriots to an unbeaten record. After Gaffney's touchdown, Baltimore's Bart Scott, normally a very solid citizen, was penalized twice - a total of 30 yards - for complaining, then picking up the first flag and throwing it.
``You can crown them champions now,'' cornerback Samari Rolle complained. ``It's a travesty when you go out there and play that hard and the refs decide the outcome.''
Attribute that comment to the heat of the moment.
Attribute the close game to the pressure that builds on any winning team, especially in today's media atmosphere.
``Every great team gets into a funk,'' Steve Young, who played for several big winners in San Francisco said on ESPN after the game. ``It's just the way teams work.''
Indeed.
That's why it's so hard to go unbeaten, even when a team is as dominant as the Patriots have been and their opponents have mediocre records or worse. Given the parity in the league, those mediocre teams can be better than their records.
The Eagles, for example, came into Foxborough two weeks ago at 5-5, although they were the NFC East champion last season and one of the consensus favorites in the conference before this season. The Ravens, now 4-8, have lost six in a row but were 13-3 last season and have one of the toughest and most respected defenses in football, an attribute that showed itself Monday night.
That's why no one has gone unbeaten since the 1972 Dolphins and why the Patriots would be 11-1 if they hadn't gotten the breaks Monday night.
You don't have to buy the Ravens' complaints about the officiating - the Patriots complained, too.
You simply have to note two breaks that had nothing to do with the zebras. One was the fourth-down timeout call by the Ravens; the other the illegal procedure on Hochstein which automatically stopped play before Evans was stopped short of a first down.
And calls work both ways.
On the final play of the game - a ``Hail Mary'' thrown 52 yards by Kyle Boller and caught by Mark Clayton at the New England 3-yard-line - it appeared from replay that a Baltimore player had pulled away a Patriots defender, clearly offensive interference. There was no call.
Imagine what the Patriots would be saying if Clayton had squirmed into the end zone for the winning TD.

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