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Bengals at Patriots: The good, the bad and the ugly

We sift through the ashes of the Bengals’ 35-17 loss to the Patriots and identify the best and worst from what happened on Sunday afternoon.

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

The Bengals had another big litmus test in their 2016 campaign as they traveled to Foxborough to take on the Patriots, but another failure has led them to a disappointing 2-4 record. Based on their lackluster performance in Week 5 against the Cowboys, there was actually a lot to like from the fight Cincinnati gave New England on their home turf.

But, losses of composure in the fourth quarter, self-inflicted wounds and other issues gave Tom Brady the path to another one of his trademark wins. Here are the best and worst aspects from the Bengals’ Week 6 loss to the Patriots.

The Good:

Andy Dalton: The Bengals’ quarterback continued his efficient campaign, and while it hasn’t been as flashy as 2015, he’s taking excellent care of the football. Pressure wasn’t as prevalent as it has been in some games, but Dalton continued to make nice throws while distributing the ball to eight different receivers (two more than Tom Brady hit). He finished 21 of 31 for 254 yards, one touchdown and zero turnovers, as well as one sweet rushing touchdown off of a read-option.

The Wide Receivers: Tyler Boyd and Brandon LaFell are gaining confidence in this offense and it showed on Sunday. A.J. Green made his usual share of good plays, finishing with six catches for 88 yards, while Boyd had four grabs and 79 yards, including a highlight-reel 30-yarder. LaFell didn’t jump out in the receptions or yards categories, but had one great touchdown catch against his former teammates. After a poor showing last week, Boyd especially made sure to change the narrative surrounding him.

A Solid 2.5 Quarters: Most believe this game was going to be a blowout in New England’s favor from the get-go, but the Bengals hung tough throughout most of the game. They held the lead with just five minutes left in the third quarter and seemed to have the Patriots on their heels, giving them protection issues early. The Patriots began to predictably pull away as the fourth quarter came and went, but it was an entertaining contest for quite a while.

Solid Rushing Defense: An opposing defense’s game plan when facing the Patriots isn’t to make Brady beat you with his arm, but the Bengals didn’t make it easy on the Hall of Fame signal-caller. Aside from sacking him three times and hitting him many more, the Bengals clamped down on the running game. LeGarrette Blount found the end zone late, but New England had just 79 rushing yards at 3.4 yards per carry on the afternoon as a team.

The Bad:

The Kick Return Game: Anyone missing Brandon Tate, yet? Well, maybe we shouldn’t go that far, but the trio of Alex Erickson, Rex Burkhead and Adam Jones are giving the team nothing in the return game. Erickson had one kickoff return for 21 yards and two punt returns for 12 yards, while Burkhead had one kickoff return for 15 yards.

Red Zone and Goal-to-go Efficiency: Weekly theme here, eh? The Bengals continue to find ways to keep themselves out of the end zone and it has been an issue in their four losses this season. Penalties and questionable play calls have been the norm in these areas of the field, but another game against a quality opponent with a 50 percent red zone efficiency (2 of 4) and 2 of 3 in goal-to-go situations just won’t cut it.

The Running Game: Another weekly theme with the Bengals is their inability to use their two former second round backs effectively on the ground. Poor blocking up front has been an issue, as has falling behind and needing to throw more. Regardless, Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill combined for 28 carries and 87 yards, good for just a 3.1 yards per carry average. The longest gain on the afternoon was 11 yards by Hill and that just isn’t exemplary of getting it done.

The Adjustment Game: One could put the Bengals’ inability to make proper switches in the second half in our “ugly” category, but it’s hard to truly fault Ken Zampese and Paul Guenther too much when they are going up against the master, Bill Belichick. After fighting their way through issues in the first three quarters, Belichick and Co. decided that Rob Gronkowski should be the focal point. After clamping down on the Patriots’ offense in the first half, the group of George Iloka, Karlos Dansby, Josh Shaw and Shawn Williams couldn’t cover the formidable tight end towards the end of the game.

The Ugly:

Letting Penalties Snowball and Missed Opportunities: Much has been made about the officiating this week, and the Patriots fans have definitely let me hear it—I have the tweets and emails to prove it. However, two questionable calls totally deflated the Bengals and directly led to 16 Patriots points.

On a third-and-18, Brady sailed a pass down the sideline to Chris Hogan and Dre Kirkpatrick was called for an illegal contact penalty. The Patriots scored a touchdown right before the half as their drive was allowed to continue. Cedric Ogbuehi was flagged for holding on a pass where Dalton hit Green for a first down and the very next play the Patriots nabbed a safety, only to follow up with a touchdown to Gronkowski.

It wasn’t just the penalties, though. A play like this from Dalton to Bernard got them in the red zone, but they were stuffed on fourth down four plays later instead of the back’s catch potentially being a touchdown with a better throw. There also could have been a touchdown on the fade to Green on a 3rd and goal, had Dalton put more air under the pass.

Domata Peko and the Goal Line Stand: After the Bernard catch put the Bengals in business, Zampese and Dalton combined to give everyone four disastrous plays. On two of them, Cincinnati decided to get cute and use Peko as a fullback. If it worked, it would have been awesome, but two total whiffs on blocks that would have sprung backs into the end zone and the witnessing of Ryan Hewitt and his big offseason contract on the sideline was puzzling.

Emotional Explosiveness: Whether it was two questionable issues with Vontaze Burfict, Gronkowski continuously taunting the Bengals or Blount retaliating, it got pretty bad at the end of the game. Obviously, Cincinnati’s players were fed up because of calls against them and another impending loss, but the hotheadedness from the 2015 Wild Card game began to surface once again.