BALTIMORE — It had been more than two weeks since the Patriots had generated a defensive turnover. That might not seem like a long drought, but this was a group that had a long streak of getting at least one takeaway snapped earlier this season.
They made up for lost time against the Ravens, forcing four turnovers in Sunday’s 41-7 win at M&T Bank Stadium. The first two takeaways led to 10 Patriots points, scored by the offense and special teams. The final two were brought back by the defense for touchdowns, capping an unexpected cakewalk against a team that had won its last four home games and controlled its playoff fate.
Rookie Logan Ryan had the first two interceptions, leapfrogging Aqib Talib for the team lead. Ryan has five, which is also the most interceptions this year by a rookie.
Ryan was actually responsible for three consecutive defensive turnovers. His interception in the Dec. 1 win at Houston had been the most recent takeaway.
“It’s always a point of emphasis for us, we always want to generate them because it helps us win games,” Ryan said.
The other two turnovers came in the final two minutes. Chandler Jones recovered a fumble in the end zone, and Tavon Wilson returned an interception 74 yards for his first career touchdown.
Linebacker Dont’a Hightower got the assist on Ryan’s first pick, tipping the pass from Joe Flacco that was intended for Jacoby Jones. It came on Baltimore’s second offensive series, and led to a short touchdown catch by Shane Vereen that pushed the Patriots’ lead to 14-0.
The Patriots recovered a fumble the week before at Miami, but that came on a field goal attempt. Ryan’s first interception was just as much Hightower’s play, with the linebacker leaping high to get his hands on the ball.
Ryan’s second interception came in the third quarter. Flacco’s pass this time was intended for Dennis Pitta, who got just enough of the ball to deflect it to a waiting Ryan.
“It was a great team play: great call by the coaches, great job, both tipped. Dont’a Hightower on the first one, getting up there and tipping the ball and I was able to make a play,” Ryan said. “And then on the second one, I believe a [deflection] also. Total team effort.”
All five of Ryan’s interceptions have come in the final nine games. The rookie from Rutgers doesn’t mind the flashy plays, but is also focused on something else.
“It’s great to have interceptions, but you’ve got to be consistent 50 other plays of the game,” he said. “Ever since the first game I always want to be prepared. Whatever my opportunity is I want to make the most of it, so whether it’s starting or coming in as a sub, I want to make an impact.”
“I’m very fortunate, very blessed, I get put in a great opportunity, and I’m able to make the plays.”
Wilson was in the right spot to make a play late in the game, long after things had been decided and most of the Ravens fans were already gone. Wilson stepped in front of the intended receiver near the Patriots sideline and intercepted the pass from Tyrod Taylor cleanly, with nothing but green turf and two lumbering offensive linemen in his way.
“Every time you get the ball on defense you try to think touchdown,” Wilson said. “We just took advantage of their mistakes.”
There were a few of those, but a defensive unit that has been maligned and injury-prone produced one of its best efforts of the season. The Ravens were just 5 for 14 on third-down conversions, and failed on all three of their fourth-down attempts, one coming inside the Patriots’ 5-yard line. Turnovers and a goal-line stand? On a day with quite an unexpected outcome, it made perfect sense.Michael Whitmer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.