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Bengals defense starts strong, turns soft against Patriots

The Bengals’ defense got off to a much better start in New England than it did in Dallas, but, it didn’t hold up.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at New England Patriots Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Last week in Dallas, the Bengals dug themselves into a hole from which they couldn’t escape. After the defense allowed 28 points before the offense got any points the board, essentially all hope was lost. This week, the defense got off to a strong start against the Patriots and only allowed 10 points in the first half, while the Bengals’ offense scored 7. But, in the second half, the defense was much less polished, likely a bit frustrated, and allowed 25 additional points. This occurred while watching Rob Gronkowski go off as he finished the day with 162 yards and a touchdown on seven receptions.

“I feel like we came into today and started fast. We got after them and it was a real close game until the end of the third quarter. Then Gronk got going and I think he finished with over 160 yards or something and that is way too many yards for one person to have,” Bengals nose tackle Domata Peko said after the game.

Peko admitted the Bengals’ game-plan was to take away Gronkowski, and the defense did a good job at that in the first half, as only 41 of Gronkowski’s yards came in the first two quarters of the game, but in the second half, things changed.

“Especially in a week where we try and take their key players away,” Peko said. “They got after us in the second half and it is very disappointing because I thought we started the game really well today. Last week Dallas kind of got after us so we knew we had to come in here and start fast. I think we did and for the first half I thought we did really well as a group.”

The Patriots are coached by one of the top minds in football, Bill Belichick, the only head coach who has been with his current team for longer than head coach Marvin Lewis has been with the Bengals. You can’t expect the Patriots to come out in the second half of the game without adjustments made during halftime to help them polish their play. As expected, they did, but the Bengals weren’t able to plan accordingly for those changes, and as a result, they watched the Patriots’ offense become much more of a threat in the second half.

“They made some adjustments at halftime,” Peko said. “That’s what you do during the half... In the first half we were getting after him [Brady] and he was scrambling. He was throwing the ball away and that was what we were trying to do. We were trying to get pressure on him early and mess up his rhythm. They got us in the second half and it was a tough one. “

The Bengals controlled time of possession in the first half as the offense was on the field for 17 minutes and 51 seconds compared to 12 minutes and nine seconds for New England. As far as yardage goes, through the half, the Patriots accounted for 52 rushing yards and 136 passing yards. But, in the second half, that evened up as the game ended with the Bengals having possessed the ball for 32:03 and the Patriots for 27:57. As Peko alluded to, Brady was more effective after halftime as he added 240 yards passing and two touchdowns in the final two quarters.

One of the weakest points for the Bengals in New England was the linebacker play. The unit was beaten badly all afternoon and Karlos Dansby was one of the worst offenders.

“Some of the things they did, we were anticipating them doing it in the first half, but they didn’t do it until the second half,” Dansby said of the Patriots. “We were out of position and we had a couple of technique errors and they got open. We know what we have to do now to finish games.”

If the Bengals were expecting it in the first half, what happened to make them unprepared in the second half? Did it take four losses to learn how to finish games? Is that not something you learn after more than a decade in the league, as Dansby, as well as Peko, both have? Dansby’s remark leaves me with more questions than answers.

But, Dansby isn’t down on the Bengals’ potential looking forward this year, especially with the winless Browns coming to Paul Brown Stadium.

“I’m not frustrated,” Dansby said. “There is a lot of football left to play. We have to buckle down and make the corrections. We have another hungry team coming into our home next week and we still have opportunities.”