Not perfect, but dominant and most importantly victorious. The New England Patriots put the rumors and criticism behind them, led by a much improved Tom Brady to beat the last of the undefeated teams in the 2014 NFL season, the Cincinnati Bengals, 43-17.
Just like last week’s loss to the Chiefs was slightly misleading, this wasn’t a game in which the Patriots were better by 26 points. Dropped passes, fumbles and above all some ridiculous officiating decisions made it possible for the Patriots to make it look like an easy day at home. Yet it doesn’t take away from the much improved performance from the offensive line, the running game, all making it much easier for Tom Brady to do his thing.
Brady had his best game of the season with 23-of-35 for 292 yards and a couple of touchdowns. He completed seven passes travelling for 10 yards or more, but thanks to the excellent running game, all the Patriots needed was focusing on the short routes as the Bengals defense quickly lost confidence and focus in their attempts to slow down the Patriots, who entered the half time break leading 20-3, and didn’t let Mohamed Sanu’s touchdown to open the second half or A.J. Green’s touchdown reception at the end of the third quarter push them out of their zone.
This was a devastating performance by the running backs, gaining 220 yards on 46 carries, including 156 before any contact. Great and easy running means plenty of opportunities for the play action, and Brady finished with 6-of-9 for 98 yards and a touchdown off those play fakes. Stevan Ridley led the way with a touchdown and 113 yards, followed by Shane Vereen with 90 yards. One more touchdown was scored by Kyle Arrington off a fumble return, one of three turnovers by the Bengals, and the rest was finished off by Stephen Gostkowski, scoring five field goals, two from longer than 47 yards.
This wasn’t a bad game for Andy Dalton. He didn’t turn the ball over once. The fumbles came from Tate, Green and Sanzenbacher. But he wasn’t too special either, although this loss will be on a defensive unit that simply couldn’t contain the run despite looking good at almost every aspect going into this game. Maybe the Bengals underestimated the Patriots? Hard to believe. More of a case of having a bad game, combined with being made to look bad by a smart game plan.
At 3-2, the Patriots are tied for the lead in the AFC East. Suddenly, the “wise” words of ESPN don’t seem to make a lot of sense. Maybe Tom Brady isn’t the player he was and the Patriots aren’t out of a troubling season yet, especially when it comes to their performances on the road. However, things are far from the reality some people are trying to force on this team. Things might not be as good as before, and yet there’s still plenty to respect about them.
For the Bengals, this was something of a wake up call. Maybe they are the best team in the NFL, but it’s rare to see someone supposedly that good making so many mistakes and getting beaten so badly. The Patriots are the masters of putting losses and bad performances behind them quickly, and for the Bengals to show they’ve evolved beyond their ceiling of the last few seasons, it’s going to take a showing of resiliency and short memory when they suit up for their next game.