FOXBOROUGH – Apologies to Dennis Green, but the Patriots offense is who we thought they were.
Dynamic, versatile, potent, balanced, and, most importantly, high-scoring.
Showing no ill effects from his Thursday morning car accident, QB Tom Bradywas frighteningly efficient. His stats: 25-for-35, 258 yards, 3 TDs, no INTs, no sacks.
If not for the bulky left knee brace, you'd never know All-Pro Wes Welkerunderwent reconstructive surgery seven months ago: 8 catches, 64 yards, 2 touchdowns.
Rob Gronkowskiand Aaron Hernandez, the rookie tight ends, continue to exhibit the pass-catching prowess they displayed in the preseason. Veteran Alge Crumpler, meanwhile, and Gronkowski are also proving their mettle as blockers, having helped spring Welker on his first score.
Brady was never in any real trouble from the Bengals pass rush, as the reshuffled offensive line – featuring Dan Connollyat left guard and Sebastian Vollmerat right tackle – kept the Cincinnati defense at bay. They also helped Fred Taylorrush for an impressive 5.1-yards per carry on 14 tries. Other Patriots backs also found wide lines through which to carry the football.
After jumping out to a 17-0 first half lead, New England's offense had the Bengals right where they wanted them, which helped the Patriots defense take some chances. Linebacker Gary Guyton's59-yard interception return for a touchdown was one such example.
"I was reading my responsibility," he explained. "Once I looked back the quarterback, the ball was in the air, so I decided to make a play on it. I was just thinking, 'Squeeze it and run.' There was nothing but green grass, so I kept on running."
But, to their credit, the Bengals didn't necessarily abandon their game plan. In fact, Cincinnati insisted on running the ball even after second-year man Brandon Tatereturned the second-half kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown that put the Patriots up 31-3. The strategy appeared to pay off, as Cincy knocked off its rust and put together back-to-back scoring drives to close out the third quarter. The Bengals had life left in them, down just two scores with 15 minutes to go.
In the end, though, the obstacles New England placed before Cincinnati were just too much to overcome. And the Patriots offense milked half the fourth quarter in their final scoring drive, ending in Gronkowski's first NFL touchdown catch.
The most troublesome aspect was seeing the Patriots defense allow the Bengals to stay within striking distance. As bad as Cincinnati QB Carson Palmerlooked in the first half, he made up for it in the second, hooking up with receiver Chad Ochocinco12 times for 159 yards and a score. By day's end, Palmer had completed 34 of his 50 throws for 345 yards. He was sacked just once by New England, which pressured Palmer very little throughout the game.
So, it came down to two plays. Two big plays. Guyton's INT and Tate's kickoff return. For both players, it was their first scores ever in the NFL, and they wound up being the margin of victory on a day of mostly positive results for the Patriots.
"That was a good start for us today. I'm really proud of the team … made plays in all three phases of the game," said head coach Bill Belichickin his post-game remarks. "That was a big drive for us [in the fourth quarter] after Cincinnati came back, went 80 yards, took a lot of time off the clock. We made some plays when we needed to make them."
"The celebration after the game is what it's all about," Brady said afterward. "We have a lot of new faces in here, we've been working pretty hard the entire offseason. Coach said a lot of really meaningful things last night, said, 'You know guys, this is what we work for.' … we started really fast, the defense made some really big plays, two returns for touchdowns, that really sparked us."