BALTIMORE – The New England Patriots weren't kidding that they aren't perfect, no matter what their record through 12 games shows.
They looked mighty vulnerable Monday night, needing a late touchdown drive and some penalties that both sides complained about to beat the Baltimore Ravens 27-24 Monday night.
New England pulled off its great escape to become the sixth team in NFL history to start a season with 12 victories. For the second straight week, it was a struggle against a losing team, but the incredibly resourceful Patriots got Tom Brady's 8-yard touchdown pass to Jabar Gaffney with 44 seconds left to win it.
The winning drive in the final minutes covered 73 yards and required two fourth-down conversions, one on a defensive holding penalty 6 seconds before Gaffney beat Dawan Landry in the left corner of the end zone.
"We made enough plays at the end," Brady said. "A lot of questionable calls and we made some plays.
"There's a lot of room to improve in the final four weeks. There's things we could've certainly done better ... we kept clawing back."
Driven to distraction by a Baltimore defense at times reminiscent of the 2000 unit that led the Ravens (4-8) to a Super Bowl victory, Brady came through late — as he always seems to.
"Most of it for three quarters didn't go in our favor," Brady said. "On the road, tough environment against a team that has won a lot of games in the last few years. It was tough."
Eight days after edging Philadelphia 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.
"We prepared to get their best," coach Bill Belichick 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."
As the biggest road favorite in a non-replacement game (19 points), the Patriots nearly laid a dud in swirling winds and occasional snow flurries. But Brady relentlessly guided them downfield for the winning score and his 41st touchdown pass of the season. He's eight short of Peyton Manning's record.
"I told him it was the best catch of his career and it was a great time to do it, " Brady said of Gaffney's only reception.
New England is four wins shy of the only 16-0 regular season ever. Remaining after home games with the Steelers, the weak Dolphins and Jets, then a visit to the Giants.
That the Ravens, losers of five straight, would test the Patriots so severely was stunning. Indeed, if not for untimely penalties and a fumble of an interception return by Ed Reed, the Ravens might have pulled off one of the biggest upsets in NFL history.
Baltimore got a brilliant effort from Willis McGahee, who rushed for 138 yards and a touchdown. The former Miami Hurricane was inspired by the memory of his teammate at the U, the recently slain Sean Taylor.
"I just played for him, basically, dedicated the rest of the season to him," McGahee said.
"The loss takes away everything. We played our hearts out tonight. We got some bogus calls."
Cornerback Chris McAlister was more emphatic about the officiating, particularly the late holding call on rookie safety Jamaine Winborne.
"It's hard to go out there and play the Patriots and the refs at the same time," McAlister complained. "They put the crown on top of them, they want them to win. They won."
"Everybody's coming out and giving us their best," Gaffney said, "so we've just got to be prepared to come out and give them ours."
Baltimore's Kyle Boller threw for two scores, and the Ravens managed three sacks. But they couldn't manage to hang on, although a 52-yard completion to Mark Clayton got them to the New England 3 as time ran out.
The Ravens went in front 17-10 as McGahee carried two defenders into the end zone on his 17-yard TD that lifted him over 1,000 yards rushing in his first season with Baltimore.
His score also woke up the Patriots' dormant offense, which went on a 72-yard drive capped by Randy Moss' 3-yard touchdown reception.
Brady joined Manning, Dan Marino and Kurt Warner as quarterbacks who threw for at least 40 touchdowns in a season, and Moss' 17th TD tied a career high for a season.
Yet back came the stunningly resilient Ravens, who rank 26th in total offense. McGahee contributed 40 yards of a 56-yard march to Daniel Wilcox's 1-yard TD reception, making it 24-17 with 35 seconds gone in the fourth quarter.
After Brady was sacked on consecutive plays, rookie Yamon Figurs returned a punt 33 yards to the New England 26, and things looked dire for the Pats.
But they quickly bounced back. James Sanders intercepted Boller's pass into the wind and returned it 42 yards. Maroney, who earlier scooted 36 yards with a short pass, this time went 43 with one. That set up Stephen Gostowski's 38-yard field goal.
The Ravens had more moments of brilliance Monday than the Pats, including their longest play of the season, a 53-yard completion by Boller to Devard Darling. That first-quarter surprise led to Boller's 4-yard TD pass to Derrick Mason for a 7-3 lead.
Moments later, Brady was sacked on a blitz by Corey Ivy and the Patriots, who had outscored opponents 107-24 in first quarters this season, trailed by four after one period.
They fell behind 10-3 on Matt Stover's 29-yard field goal. Were the Patriots getting nervous in such an unfamiliar position? Uh, not exactly.
Brady went to the no-huddle offense on a 60-yard drive helped by two defensive penalties inside the 15. Heath Evans surged in from the 1.
The Pats had a chance to break the 10-10 tie late in the half, but Brady's long pass to Wes Welker was tipped by the receiver to Reed. He took off on a 34-yard runback, but fumbled when hit by Patrick Pass and New England recovered — only to sheepishly run out the clock.
Notes: The previous high for a road favorite in a non-replacement game was 17 points, set in 1976 by the Cowboys, Patriots and Colts. ... Baltimore placed quarterback Steve McNair on injured reserve earlier Monday, ending his season. ... The other 12-0 teams were the 2005 Colts, '98 Broncos, '85 Bears, '34 Bears and, of course, the '72 Dolphins. The 1934 and 2005 teams did not win the championship. ... It was the 18th 100-yard rushing game in McGahee's five-year career.