The Bengals are now 2-4 after a tough matchup with the New England Patriots. And though most people anticipated Cincinnati to lose this week, the team’s performance was encouraging despite the loss. Both the offense and defense looked great for large portions of the game (with some exceptions), but both units were also fairly inconsistent and failed to capitalize on the opportunities presented to them.
The Patriots got off to a quick 3-0 start, but don’t be mistaken — the Bengals had the better first quarter of the two teams. A 32-yard pass from Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski on a broken play gave New England a 3-0 lead, but apart from one or two plays, Cincinnati’s defense was near-flawless, forcing a punt and limiting the Patriots to three points in the first quarter of their home opener.
On offense, things ran through Giovani Bernard, who tallied 27 total yards on four carries and two catches. Through one quarter, Andy Dalton was 7-for-7 for 39 yards, getting everyone involved in the passing game with passes to six different players.
Bernard and A.J. Green caught two huge passes to help Cincinnati recover from a prior holding penalty, but the Bengals’ offense couldn’t capitalize. After Dalton started the game with 10 straight completions, his first came on a fade route to Green, in which he placed the ball too low for his star receiver. And with a failed run to Bernard on fourth-and-goal, the Bengals’ deficit remained 3-0 despite a 16 minute, 89-yard drive which took 8:52 off the clock. Clearly, Jeremy Hill’s health is not 100 percent after he originally injured his chest against the Dolphins and aggravated it against the Cowboys.
But the Bengals made up for the drive, as Cincinnati’s defense quickly returned the ball to its offense and Dalton got right back to work. A seven play, 60-yard drive by Dalton and the offense resulted in a two-yard rushing touchdown by the quarterback. After three drives, the quarterback was 13-for-14 with 143 yards and a rushing touchdown.
But as every NFL fan knows, Brady responds better than any quarterback in the NFL. When Vontaze Burfict shot out of a cannon on an inside blitz to sack Brady, it appeared as though the Bengals would get the ball back yet again. However, an illegal contact penalty on Dre Kirkpatrick lengthened the ensuing Patriots drive. Running back James White ultimately caught a 15-yard touchdown pass to give New England a 10-7 halftime lead.
But as alluded to earlier, the great quarterbacks are the ones to respond. The Patriots are 77-0 when leading at halftime at home, but that didn’t seem to matter to Dalton and the Bengals.
Dalton continued his brilliance, orchestrating a nine play, 80-yard drive to open the second half, resulting in a five-yard touchdown pass to Brandon LaFell in the receiver’s first game back at Gillette Stadium. With the touchdown, Cincinnati took a 14-7 lead.
But as time progressed, familiar issues began to plague the Bengals. After the defense made yet another stop, with thanks to a Michael Johnson sack, Dalton was sacked for a safety after a holding penalty on Cedric Ogbuehi pushed the Bengals’ offense back 10 yards.
Soon after, long passes to Martellus Bennett (26 yards) and Gronkowski (38 yards) led to a four-yard touchdown pass by Gronk. And as the Bengals quickly gave the ball right back to New England — their ensuing drive lasted all of 26 seconds — another 38-yard catch by Gronk set up a four-yard touchdown pass, this time back to White. With a missed extra point, the Patriots took a 25-14 lead.
But while this signaled a potential end of the game, Dalton and the Bengals’ offense continued to push. A 12 play, 68-yard drive, highlighted by Tyler Boyd’s 30-yard catch led to a Mike Nugent field goal, putting the Bengals down 25-17 in a one-score game.
From there, things escalated very quickly. Burfict got into it with Gronkowski after the tight end taunted his teammate, Adam Jones. Jones and the Bengals tried to bait Gronk and his teammates into penalties, but the clock continued to count down.
Here’s the play which had Patriots fans so enraged:
My take: if the linebacker goes high, people say he’s a headhunter. It’s not an unnecessary play, as the ball was thrown towards the tight end — and when you’re facing a big player, you need to go low. Heck, even commentator Ian Eagle thought the play was completely fine.
LeGarrette Blount eventually cashed in on a late touchdown run to make the game appear like a blowout, as the Patriots eventually ended the Bengals’ hopes of a potential comeback.
The Bengals are now 2-4, in third place in the AFC North and will face the Cleveland Browns next week, followed by a London matchup with the Washington Redskins. It’s not time to panic, yet — the Bengals stayed in the game against the best team in the NFL — but another loss in the next two weeks would be very concerning. The Bengals’ record isn’t indicative of the team’s talent level, but something needs to give if this team is going to make a sixth consecutive playoff run.