The New England Patriots signaled to the rest of the NFL that they are not a club in crisis after a dominant 43–17 win against the league’s last remaining unbeaten team, Cincinnati, on Sunday night.
After a 41–14 pounding the prior Monday night in Kansas City with quarterback Tom Brady getting pulled, it seemed New England had lost its mystique.
The Patriots had struggled the week before against the lowly Oakland Raiders at home winning 16–9. New England opened the season with a 33–20 loss in Miami after leading by 10 points at halftime.
The 37-year-old Brady had some doubts about his sub-par play to clear up. From the opening drive, he dispelled them exhibiting his ultra-competitive spirit—bordering on all-out rage. The Patriots jumped all over the Bengals, scoring touchdowns on their first two possessions. Brady even made some rare runs with the ball, taking matters into his own hands.
This was a statement victory for New England (3–2). Cincinnati was flying high, allowing the fewest points per game (11.0 through the first four weeks of the season), but less than 12 minutes into the first quarter, the Pats had 14 on the board.
“We’ve always done a great job putting losses behind us quickly and trying to move forward,” Brady told reporters after the game.
Brady knows what he’s talking about as the Pats are pretty good at bouncing back after bad losses. After Week 1’s second-half debacle in Miami, they came back the next week and beat Minnesota by 23 points.
In fact, the Patriots have only lost two games in a row four times in the last 12 seasons.
All the elements of the classic Bill-Belichick-led Patriots were on display.
As Brady goes, so goes tight end Rob Gronkowski. “Gronk” had his best game of the season with 6 catches for 100 yards and a TD. Gronk was fired up and at his boisterous best.
“I knew he was going to bounce back and that just shows what a great leader he is,” Gronkowski told NFL.com about Brady.
Brady, Gronkowski, and the New England offense’s fast pace was too much for the Bengals who were without linebacker and emotional leader Vontaze Burfict.
Brady became the sixth player in NFL history to pass for 50,000 yards. He should pass John Elway for fifth place before the season is done.
Cornerback Darrelle Revis won his battle against A.J. Green and was denied an interception due to a penalty call in the opening quarter. This was a marquee matchup where Revis played Green 1-on-1 in bump-and-run coverage.
New England ran the ball for 220 yards, didn’t turn the ball over and, created three turnovers of their own in an uncharacteristically poor display from Cincinnati.
One worrying sign for the Patriots is their lack of discipline. New England leads the NFL in penalty yards and is fourth in penalties taken. Over the prior seven years, New England has always ranked in the bottom quarter of the NFL’s 32 teams in penalties taken. The penalties nearly allowed Cincinnati to hang with the Patriots in the first half.
Incidentally, the Patriots’ lopsided Sunday night win added to the developing trend of blowouts in primetime. Eight of the last nine Thursday, Sunday, or Monday night NFL games have been won by 18 points or more.
Up next for New England is a battle for first place in Buffalo next Sunday. The Bills have the NFL’s best run defense and are coming off an overtime victory in Detroit.
While it’s too early to tell how the AFC East division will shape up, the Patriots look again like the team to beat, not just in the division, but even within the conference.
Follow Rahul on Twitter @RV_ETSports