Entering this game, the Patriots were 4-1 coming off a strong victory against the Cleveland Browns. The Cincinnati Bengals were sitting at a surprising 2-3 and coming off a loss against the Dallas Cowboys in week five. Despite the record, the Bengals are still one of the better teams in the AFC and put up a strong fight in this game for the most part. This also marked New England quarterback Tom Brady’s home debut of 2016 after missing the first four games of the season with a suspension. Between the two teams, they both had relatively healthy teams with the Bengals only missing Tyler Eifert while the Patriots were missing Jamie Collins.
For the Patriots, their offensive strategy seemed to be built around Rob Gronkowski, James White and Martellus Bennett. Gronkowski had a career high 162 yards receiving on seven receptions along with a touchdown despite coming into this game with his troublesome hamstring injury and an illness that had kept him out of practice on Friday. Bennett was coming off a three touchdown performance in week five and was the team’s second leading receiver on Sunday with five receptions and 48 yards. White had a career game though with eight receptions, 47 yards and two receiving touchdowns to go with 19 yards rushing as well. As for their quarterback, Brady went 29 of 35 for 376 yards and three touchdowns on a nearly flawless day for him.
The Patriots running attack finished with 79 yards rushing with LeGarrette Blount leading the way with 50 yards and a touchdown on 13 attempts. Blount had a couple of plays in the receiving game actually with two receptions for 20 yards as well, finishing the day with 70 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown. Bennett, Gronkowski and White combined for 20 of Brady’s 29 completions and 257 of his 376 passing yards. Chris Hogan, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Blount combined for nine receptions and 119 yards, rounding out the Patriots receiving game. For the second straight game, the Patriots focused on dumping the ball off to White while focusing on their two starting tight ends.
As for the offensive line, there was some struggles. Marcus Cannon returned to the starting line-up following his absence in week five with a calf injury. The team as a whole had only given up nine sacks all season, averaging just under two per game. The Bengals managed to get three sacks on Brady as he dealt with constant pressure from the Bengals four man rush, including Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap. The Patriots managed 79 rushing yards in total on 23 attempts for a 3.43 yards per attempt average despite going up against a Bengals squad that had given up 4.4 yards per rushing attempt entering this game. It’s clear that the Patriots offensive line struggled but was able to right the ship at the right time as they scored 25 points in the second half (though two of those points came from a Dont’a Hightower safety). Overall, this was still another solid showing for the Patriots, who have scored 30+ points in two straight games after being shut out at home by the Bills in week four.
As for the Patriots defense, they did have their issues in the at points against both the pass and the run game. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton was 13 of 14 at one point during the first half and even had a rushing touchdown on a beautifully executed option play. A.J. Green was making plays what seemed to be every other snap against the Patriots secondary but finished with six receptions and 88 yards. Rookie Tyler Boyd did have a solid game against the Patriots with 79 yards on four receptions. And former Patriots wide receiver Brandon LaFell managed to score a touchdown as well.
Both Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan had solid games overall but both struggled at different points of the game. A lot of pressure was put on them after both Justin Coleman and Cyrus Jones were announced as healthy scratches for the game. Coleman and Jones had been operating as the team’s main slot and back-up outside cornerbacks. New Patriot Eric Rowe made his debut after missing the first five weeks with an ankle injury and ended up doing well against A.J. Green in the second half, including knocking a touchdown catch out of his hands in the red-zone. The Bengals only managed 254 yards and one touchdown against the Patriots secondary, which is a good sign considering they were top five in passing yardage per game coming in.
As for the run defense, the Patriots gave up 120 yards rushing on 32 carries for a solid 3.75 yards per attempt to the Bengals. Early on in the game, the Bengals and Giovani Bernard seemed to be having their way with the Patriots run defense before being slowed down in the second half. He finished with 49 yards rushing and 45 yards receiving for a total of 94 on the day. While the Patriots did not force a fumble or get an interception, they did managed to get two sacks. Hightower had 1.5 of those sacks and also finished with 13 total tackles and a safety. With Collins out, Hightower stepped up in a big way and was the leader of this defense.
The Patriots managed to stop the Bengals on seven of their 12 attempts on 3rd down for a 41% success rate for the Bengals. And while the Patriots had given up eight touchdowns on 10 red-zone visits by opposing teams, they did slightly better today by only giving up two touchdowns (one rushing, one passing) on four visits by the Bengals. The Patriots red-zone defense remains an issue for the team and is arguably their biggest flaw while being above average to proficient in run and pass defense. The Bengals managed to have five drives of seven plays or more and won the time of possession battle with 32:03. The Patriots struggled at points during the game in getting the Bengals off the field as well as they had 65 plays on the day.
There was times during this game, especially in the second half of the game where there were words exchanged by both teams that led to some hostilities. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict appeared at one point to dive at Bennett’s legs when he didn’t have the ball while there were some personal fouls on both teams during the game. Blount appeared to grab underneath the face-mask of one Bengals player during the game while Julian Edelman and Dre Kirkpatrick both grabbed at each other’s face-masks too. Gronkowski and Burfict were exchanging words for a good part of the fourth quarter that led to nearly to some physical altercations but kept hostilities on both sides. After a late fourth quarter touchdown run by Blount, he was assessed a penalty for pushing down Burfict. It was clear that neither team was afraid of the other and made for what some would say, an entertaining game.
Stephen Gostkowski had been struggling somewhat entering this game but overall had a decent one against the Bengals. He converted both of his field goal attempts but did miss one of his four extra point attempts. While clearly still one of the best kickers in the game, Gostkowski has appeared shaky at points early on this season. He didn’t miss any of his field goal attempts (though he just barely made his 31 yard field goal attempt) but did have the missed extra point, which is surprising for Gostkowski. The team hasn’t lost a bit of faith in their franchise kicker though, but this will be something to keep an eye on going forward.
Overall, the Patriots came away with a strong second half and secured the win against the Bengals. There was some animosity between the two teams and the Bengals were even leading at one point, but the Patriots put the game away in the second half with 25 points scored. Next up for the Patriots will be visiting Pittsburgh next weekend to face the Steelers, who are 4-2 after losing to the Jets today 31-13. Despite the loss, the Steelers are still one of the top teams in the AFC and the Patriots will want to make sure they bring their “A” game in what has the makings of being a tough, high-scoring game away from Gillette.