The Bengals built up a 21-0 lead early in this one by running when they wanted to and finding wide open receivers when they chose to pass. On defense they mauled Corey Dillon and pressured Tom Brady to the tune of two sacks (both by Duane Clemons) and an interception.
It was an unfamiliar performance – albeit a preseason one – by the Patriots.
"They obviously played great tonight," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. "They did everything outstanding in every phase of the game. We didn't do much of anything well, and I thought that they totally dominated the game, obviously, every phase of it - offensively, defensively and special teams, and all the situations within them."
The Bengals wasted no time, getting immediate production out of their first team offense. Carson Palmer connected with Chad Johnson for a 48-yard pick-up on the second play of the game with Rodney Harrison in coverage, perhaps a result of a secondary mix-up. Rudi Johnson then went up the middle for 13 yards down to the Patriots 5 yard line. Two runs later, Johnson was in the end zone.
For New England, the game started on a sloppy note. Bethel Johnson let the Bengal's subsequent kickoff bounce off his hands at the 6-yard line (Patriots went three and out). On their next try at defense, the Patriots replaced Keith Traylor with Vince Wilfork at nose tackle, and Rosevelt Colvin went in at right outside linebacker with Mike Vrabel moving over to the left side in place of Willie McGinest, but fared no better than the opening drive. This time, Palmer hit Tony Stewart from 13 yards out after Tedy Bruschi was flagged for roughing the passer on a would-be incomplete a couple of plays earlier.
More ugliness. On the Bengals next drive, Asante Samuel was caught with his hands on a receiver on third and 11. Samuel was on the opposite side of the pass by Palmer that fell incomplete and would have forced a punt. Instead it was a first down for Cincinnati.
By this time New England had made wholesale changes to its defensive line-up. Bengals running back Johnson was already at 14 carries for 71 yards almost in a statement of how little they miss ex-teammate Dillon who was at 3 carries for 6 yards.
As the second quarter began, Cincinnati looked to add to its 14-0 lead and they did so with a 9-yard Palmer to T.J. Houshmandzadeh score. What made the 21-0 score just a little more scary was the fact Bill Belichick had said his team might spend a little more time preparing for the Bengals than they would for a normal preseason opponent since they play them later in the season.
The Patriots as a whole finally showed signs of life with their third offensive try of the game. With the ones still in the game, Brady began the drive hitting Daniel Graham down the middle seam for 24 yards. Then it was Deion Branch with catches of 24, 10 and 28 yards. After an 8-yard pass to Dillon, New England was second and 2 from the Bengals 6 but Dillon was hit for no gain to make it third down. Dan Klecko came in the game at fullback and cleared the way for a 3-yard pick-up and first down by Dillon. Two more runs by Dillon were stuffed by a pumped up Bengals defense and New England faced another third down on which Graham was flagged for a false start knocking his team back to the 7-yard line. Brady underthrew Graham and Adam Vinatieri was good on a 25-yard field goal attempt.
That was followed by the Patriots first defensive stop of the game after Cincinnati had gone three drives for three touchdowns.
With 1:36 left in the first half, Brady tried to salvage something good out of the first half but was picked off by Kevin Kaesviharn as he looked to Branch. The pass deflected off Rogers Beckett into the Kaesviharn's hands and instead of the Patriots scoring last in the half, it was Cincinnati scoring a fourth touchdown on a 9-yard Palmer to Kenny Watson dump pass.
Halftime numbers looked like this: Brady, 8 of 13 for 126 yards and a pick; Palmer 12 of 19 for 179 yards and 3 TDs; Dillon 10 yards on 7 carries; Johnson of the Bengals, 76 yards on 16 carries. The worst set of numbers -- Bengals 28, Patriots 3.
"It was a terrible performance all the way around," Brady said. "If you don't play well this is what happens. We just didn't get any momentum. Before you know it, we look up and it was 14-0, then it was 21-0, then 28-3 at half. And you're just reeling at that point. You're so far out of the game; your game plan is done. We just played terrible."
Dillon stayed in the game as the second half began while Rohan Davey replaced Brady and the starting offensive line took a seat. But on defense, the Patriots first team re-entered the game against Jon Kitna and the rest of the Bengals backups.
Dillon ran better until the Patriots second drive of the third quarter when he caught a screen from Davey and fumbled after picking up around 15 yards. Cincinnati recovered and despite going against the Patriots starting defense, drove down to the New England end on a big Kitna to Patrick Johnson 42-yard completion. Like earlier in the game, Harrison was in coverage with Ty Law coming over late.
Cincinnati wound up with a 38-yard Shayne Graham field goal to make the score 31-3. That would be how this one would end.
"We have to understand that when we come out here people are going to want to kick our butts," Rodney Harrison said. "They're going to get excited, they're going to get pumped up, they're going to play their best football."
Dillon finished the game with 11 carries for 31 yards, hardly the night he was hoping for. Mike Cloud replaced him late in the third quarter and had a 39-yard gain as he continued at running back later in the game.
"If you're looking for excuses from me, you're not going to get it," Dillon said. "We just have to go back in and work hard and turn it around. And we will."
As the fourth quarter began, the Patriots starting defenders were still in the game with the exception of Ted Johnson who was back at his inside linebacker spot after missing most of training camp.
The aforementioned Cloud run was part of a Patriots drive that looked hopeful until Davey was leveled by linebacker Frank Chamberlin tearing in from behind. Patrick Pass recovered the loose ball and the Patriots had to punt.
Davey was picked off with seconds left to play from his 17-yard line to end a dismal night for the second stringer. He finished 10 of 24 for 86 yards and the pick.
It was pretty bad all around.
"I'm disappointed to play like that," Belichick said. "When we have our team perform like that, we obviously have more work to do. Clearly they're the better team. We got crushed in every phase of the game."
Notes: Benjamin Watson made his first appearance in live action. He had two catches for 28 yards and a false start penalty. … Rosevelt Colvin got extended reps, playing a good portion of the game. … Rookie Guss Scott left the game and did not return with a knee injury. … Brady's interception ended a streak of six consecutive preseason games without a pick. The last one came on Aug. 3, 2002 against the Panthers. … Belichick kept his starting defense in the game until there was 8:07 left to play. ... Josh Miller had a good night with a 52.7 average on three punts.