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Bengals fend off Patriots, win 22-18

WHEW. Merry Christmas Bengals!

A week after pulling out a second-half miracle, the Cincinnati Bengals nearly fell victim to a blown lead of their own. But the win streak continues as they squeaked out 22-18 win over the New England Patriots.

Joe Burrow had one of his busiest games of the year, throwing for 375 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions on 40-52 passing. Tee Higgins had a productive day as well, hauling in eight receptions for 128 yards and a score. But we’d be talking about a loss without the defense’s last stand in the fourth quarter. Vonn Bell’s clutch forced fumble with a minute remaining stopped the Patriots from completing an improbable comeback.

Burrow came out blazing hot, completing nine of nine passes for 121 yards in the offense’s first two drives. Higgins and Trenton Irwin closed out each drive with receiving touchdowns to make it a 12-0 outing in the game’s first 10 minutes. The Bengals’ defense matched that energy out of the gate, stumping a constipated Patriots offense to two-straight three-and-outs.

The only thing that wasn’t working was Evan McPherson’s leg on extra points, as the second-year kicker missed his first two attempts. He would redeem himself a drive later, drilling a 28-yarder to make it a 15-0 game.

Cincinnati’s first sign of adversity came late in the first quarter when La’el Collins took an ugly hit to the knee. The veteran right tackle left the field on his own power, but was soon carted off to the locker room. That head coach Zac Taylor was sprinting down the sidelines trying to call a timeout before the play only makes it more tragic.

New England’s defense found some life despite its offense showcasing none of it. Matt Judon and Josh Uche notched their first sacks of the day, and Burrow threw an interception over the middle to long-time Patriot Devin McCourty, who stepped in front of Tyler Boyd after the receiver appeared to stop his route. It was Burrow’s first red zone interception since Week 13... of last season.

With no Sam Hubbard and Trey Hendrickson limited, the Bengals needed their depth at defensive end to step up. Cam Sample answered the bell with his second sack of the season to give the ball right back to the Bengals before the two-minute warning. The Bengals took almost exactly two minutes off the clock before Burrow and Irwin connected for their second touchdown of the half.

The Bengals shutout the Patriots 22-0 in the first half, as Burrow completed 28 of 36 attempts for 284 yards and three touchdowns, which got him to 34 on the season. That’s the most first-half completions a quarterback has had this year, and a career-high for the MVP candidate. The 34th touchdown through the air tied his season total from 2021. Here’s how lopsided the first two quarters were:

  • Cincinnati produced 22 first downs to New England’s three.
  • Cincinnati was 7-9 on third down, New England was 0-4.
  • Cincinnati’s success rate was at 54%, New England was at a measly 25%.

But hey, the Patriots had 41 rushing yards to the Bengals’ 25, so there’s that.

The Bengals’ defense didn’t let up to start the third quarter. Strong plays from Cam Taylor-Britt in coverage and Vonn Bell as a blitzer continued to keep the Patriots on life support, but the Pats got their own shot of adrenaline.

Rookie Marcus Jones intercepted Burrow and took it 69 yards for a pick-six to give the home team representation on the scoreboard. Jones took advantage of a miscommunication between Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase as the Patriots sent a blitz on third down. It was the Patriots’ sixth defensive touchdown of the season, which tied the franchise record.

While the Bengals’ offense didn’t quickly fix itself, the Pats started finding some success through the air. Mac Jones hadn’t converted a third down all day until the end of the third quarter. He would then convert three-straight, with the third being a touchdown to Kendrick Bourne to cut the Bengals’ lead even more. A failed two-point conversion kept the game at 22-12.

Needing a momentum shift, Burrow went back to how the game started and hit up Higgins down the right sideline for a 31-yard gain. But it was the deep ball Burrow couldn’t connect with Irwin later in the drive that would matter more. The pass went off Irwin’s fingertips, and McPherson missed the south goal posts again, this time from 43 yards.

Bourne may as well have turned into Jason Bourne as he hauled in another deep pass from Jones over Vonn Bell to get the Patriots back in striking range, but Bell nearly saved the day by forcing a Jones fumble that was ruled an incomplete pass.

Jones got another Christmas miracle the next play as a Hail Mary to Scotty Washington fell incomplete—until Jakobi Meyers grabbed it out of the air for a touchdown to bring the score to 22-18

New England would get the ball back just minutes later thanks to a Ja’Marr Chase fumble on third down, which gifted the Patriots tremendous field position. A screen pass to Marcus Jones got the Pats inside the red zone with just two minutes to play, and the Patriots were mere yards away from taking the lead.

On their last leg, the Bengals stuffed Rhamondre Stevenson at the line of scrimmage and Bell popped the ball loose. Cincinnati recovered with 59 seconds remaining in the game.

The offense could only take 11 seconds off the clock before punting the ball back to New England. Drue Chrisman booted a line drive to Marcus Jones, who bobbled it out of bounds at his own 24-yard line. The Patriots couldn’t muster a game-winning drive with no timeouts remaining, and fell just short of the comeback victory.

Now winners of seven-straight, the Bengals move on to 11-4 with a huge Monday Night Football showdown at home against the Buffalo Bills on the horizon.

Box Score