All the headlines are going to once again go to the ageless wonder Tom Brady and the New England Patriots’ offense, and rightly so.`
Brady was 29-of-35 for 376 yards and three touchdowns. His tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett were the team’s top two receivers again, combining for 12 catches, 210 receiving yards and a score. Gronkowski set a new career-high with 162 receiving yards.
But the Patriots’ defense deserves equal credit in New England’s latest demolition. Their defense made a key goal-line stop that shifted momentum in the first half, and a safety early in the third quarter turned the tide towards New England for good. From there, the Patriots’ offense did its thing, as New England defeated Cincinnati, 35-17.
The Bengals began the second half with the ball, and actually stormed down the field for a touchdown. That gave Cincinnati the lead back, 14-10. New England’s first possession of the third quarter resulted in a punt after just four plays, so all of a sudden, it seemed like a Bengals upset was possible.
But a great punt from Ryan Allen pinned Cincinnati deep in its own territory. Bengals returner Alex Erickson managed 11 yards on his return, so Cincinnati began the drive on its own 16-yard line. However, a Patriots stop for no gain and then an offensive holding penalty pushed the Bengals back to the eight.
New England recorded just two sacks, but Donte Hightower’s takedown of Andy Dalton on the next play was the most crucial play of the game. The Patriots moved within two points on the scoreboard, and Brady drove the offense down the field after the free kick in about two minutes to retake the lead for good.
After that sack and safety, momentum clearly shifted. The Patriots scored on their final four possession, three of which were touchdowns. Their defense allowed just 87 yards and three points the rest of the day.
The Cincinnati red-zone struggles also continued against New England. The Patriots yielded two touchdowns on four red-zone possessions for the Bengals. No stop was more impressive than New England’s goal-line stand.
Cincinnati had the ball first-and-goal at the Patriots’ 6, and on the first run, Giovani Bernard gained five yards to get down to the 1. But on the next three plays, the Patriots stuffed Bernard, Dalton threw an incomplete pass and then the Patriots stopped Bernard for no gain again. Defensive tackles Alan Branch and Anthony Johnson hit Bernard behind the line of scrimmage on fourth down to keep him from the goal line.
Even though Cincinnati would score on its next possession, the stand was a deflating moment for the Bengals. They drove 89 yards in 16 plays and controlled the ball for 8:52. It was probably their most impressive drive of the year, yet they had nothing to show for it.
New England will need strong defensive play again next week when they visit the Pittsburgh Steelers, who really struggled on the road against Miami on Sunday. The Steelers rebounded nicely from their other loss this season, and they play much better at home, so despite the lackluster effort from Pittsburgh in Week 6, the Patriots will need their defense to make key plays again to capture a key road victory that could potentially decide home-field advantage in the AFC.