](/node/46631)CINCINNATI – The weather in southwest Ohio was ugly, but the play on the field in Cincinnati was even uglier. New England dropped its first game of 2013 with a mostly solid performance on defense that couldn't overcome a miserable outing on offense.
Here's what stood out from our vantage point in the Paul Brown Stadium press box Sunday afternoon:
...Leon Washington finally returned kickoffs for the Patriots after being limited since the late summer with a thigh injury. He returned the opening kickoff, but suffered an ankle injury on the play and did not return. It's been that kind of start to 2013 for the veteran who was second in the NFL in kickoff returns last season in Seattle. And a tough blow for a New England offense that could use a boost from that aspect of the special teams. But rather than go with LeGarrette Blount, who had been handling the chores this season, the Patriots allowed safety Devin McCourty to reprise the role he played part-time last season. The results were average, if unspectacular, in terms of field position.
...Bill Belichick talked last week about the disruptive force that is Cincinnati's Geno Atkins. The d-tackle made an immediate impact by sacking Tom Brady on the second play of the game, which contributed to a 3-and-out for New England on the opening drive of the game.
...The Bengals wasted no time testing New England's thin defensive tackle front. They ran the ball up the middle their first four plays, but eventually had to punt. New England responded by running more traditional "base" defense looks than they've shown in the previous four games.
](/node/46631)...The dreaded "double-clutch" is something rookie WR Kenbrell Thompkins needs to phase out of his repertoire. Too many of his grabs are made on the second effort, particularly when there is no defender getting an arm in the way of the ball. He had another double-clutch in the final minute of the first half, which was reviewed and overturned because it hit the ground. The pass was a tough one, no doubt. Brady forced Thompkins to dive for the ball, but still, the rookie needs to do a better job of getting his hands on the ball first. That second one hit his arm initially.
...Left tackle Nate Solder had a tough start to the Bengals game, being at least partially responsible for sacks of Brady on the first two drives, both 3-and-outs.
...The Patriots defense continues to experiment successfully with Chandler Jones sliding from end to tackle in 3-defensive-end personnel sets. Against Cincy in the first quarter, for the first time I can recall this season, he lined up as the left tackle next to Rob Ninkovich, rather than next to rookie Michael Buchanan on the right. A slight wrinkle to keep the Bengals off-balance.
...The running game also seemed to be an emphasis for the Patriots in the early going, as it was a week earlier in Atlanta.
...Running back Brandon Bolden dropped a sure screen pass from Brady in the first quarter that would have at least been a huge gain, if not a score. Replay indicated he took his eye off the ball before he'd fully secured it.
...Rookie Duron Harmon took Steve Gregory's place at safety late in the first quarter. Gregory returned on the next series. It did not appear to be an injury-related move.
...On their third drive, the Bengals tried a little read-option offense with QB Andy Dalton. The play went for a decent gain, but we didn't see that again from Cincinnati the rest of the day.
...A terrible decision by Dalton led to a Brandon Spikes INT on the last play of the first quarter. Scrambling to his right to find an open receiver, Dalton threw across his body – something very few QBs can do at this level with success – and Spikes was in perfect position to make the easy pick in the red zone. The better choice would've been to throw the ball away.
...Brady had a brain cramp on the very next series when he elected not to throw a pass in the flat to a wide-open fullback James Develin. Instead, TB12 threw the ball away long downfield to a double-covered Julian Edelman. Poor choice by Brady, who was looking Develin's way initially before changing his mind.
...The Patriots worked wide receiver Danny Amendola back slowly from his right groin injury that's kept him out since opening day. He didn't start, and was used sparingly throughout the game. However, he was clutch whenever Brady threw him the ball, with the exception of a drop late in the 4th that would have helped extend a Patriots drive when they needed it most.
...A great play by Bengals DE Carlos Dunlap caused LeGarrette Blount to fumble just outside the Cincy red zone in the second quarter, as New England was mounting its best drive of the first half. He came from behind and swatted the ball out of Blount's right arm. The ball carrier never saw it coming. Cincinnati recovered.
...Spikes made a nice tackle-for-loss on the ensuing Bengals drive.
...Dalton didn't throw to one of his receivers until the 6-minute mark of the second quarter. It was a completion on a nice lofting pass to A.J. Green, who'd gotten separation from CB Aqib Talib.
...Coming off his best-ever performance as a Patriot, Talib had an up-and-down day vs Cincy's top receiver, A.J. Green (mostly down). He surrendered a couple of first-half passes to Green, but started the second half with a very nice pass defense along the Patriots sideline.Talib jammed Green at the line, disrupting the pass route and giving Talib better position on the ball. He then made a diving effort to knock the ball away. Great job all around by Talib. Despite that play, Green got the better of Talib on the afternoon. Talib seemed to concede as much in the locker room afterward. Green caught five of eight passes thrown his way for 61 yards against Talib.
](/node/46631)...Rookie defensive tackle Chris Jones, rotating in the interior with fellow rookie registered his first sack as a Patriot late in the second quarter. The play helped hold the Bengals offense to just a field goal attempt.
...Continuing a recent trend, the first half transpired at a rapid pace, thanks to a focus on rushing the ball by both teams.
...What started as a washout with heavy, steady downpours all morning turned into a relatively pleasant afternoon in Cincinnati. Thankfully, the weather was not as much of a factor as had been forecast. The play of the two offenses, however, was lousy in the first half. The Bengals and Patriots punters were the first-half MVPs for their respective teams. The rains returned in the final minutes of the contest, and may have contributed to some of the dropped passes by Patriots receivers in those latter stages.
...Brady's indecision led to yet another Patriots punt on their first drive of the second half. Facing a 3rd-and-9, Brady had at least two receivers open, but held onto the ball, backed up in the pocket, and was eventually sacked. Very uncharacteristic of him. He was not himself most of the day, throwing passes too high, too low, or too far behind his receivers too often.
...The already-thin d-tackle spot took a big hit when veteran Tommy Kelly suffered a right knee injury at the start of the 4th quarter. He walked off under his own power, but received treatment on the sideline before returning a couple plays later. Major crisis apparently averted. The only other true d-tackles on the roster are rookies Chris Jones and Joe Vellano. However, the team later announced that Kelly's return to the game was "questionable."
...Really surprised the Patriots didn't challenge an Amendola catch midway through the fourth quarter that looked at first like a touchdown. Amendola made a tremendously athletic move to contort his body to snag a pass thrown behind him, then rolled into the end zone. A Bengals defender tapped him on the helmet, but it looked like Amendola might have gotten across the goal line beforehand.
...The Bengals took advantage of Kelly's absence late in the game by running directly into the middle of the New England defense, challenging the two rookies on the line. Cincy fumbled to give New England a chance late, though.
...Kevin Huber, the Bengals punter, may have saved the game with his 57-yard punt from deep in his own territory late in the 4th. It backed New England up to its own 35-yard line and put New England farther back than they'd hoped with time dwindling.
...Brady and his receivers appeared not to be on the same page on the final drive, which ended in No. 12 throwing an interception. It looked, on at least two plays, like Brady was expecting one type of route and his receiver read another. The result was Brady throwing into an area that had only Bengals defending and making an easy interception to end the game.