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Game Observations: Patriots tame Bengals with takeaways

20191215-GameObservations-PDC

The Patriots overcame a slow defensive start and an early deficit to break a two-game losing streak by defeating the Cincinnati Bengals 34-13. The Patriots move to 11-3 on the season and clinch a playoff spot for their 11th-straight season with two games left to play. They remain the second seed in the AFC with the victory.

The defense (four interceptions) and special teams (forced fumble takeaway) led the way once again, but the offense did their part with an opening-drive touchdown and by taking advantage of an early second-half takeaway by putting up a touchdown and making it a two-score game. The Patriots wouldn't look back after the two game-changing takeaways that bookended the halftime break and would pull away in the second half as the defense continued to pour on the takeaways, including a pick-six.

With N'Keal Harry getting more involved and Nick Folk making two more 40-plus field goals there were some positive non-defensive takeaways, but there's no secret who the 2019 Patriots are and that's a team led by their defense and special teams. Minor offensive developments are nice takeaways but they'll still need a lot more than they've shown thus far if they're to make a playoff run. Still, the offense had some nice moments in this one, including their longest run of the year.

Here's everything else that stood out in a bounce-back Patriots win.

-Josh McDaniels said this week he had to get N'Keal Harry more involved and that was the case on the opening drive as the rookie was a prominent part of the attack as a blocker but also got a carry on a jet sweep that he took for 10 yards. It wasn't a flawless first drive, as James White took a screen pass on third-and-10 into the end zone from 23 yards out, but they had a good plan and executed without having to resort to any major tricks.

-The Bengals responded on their first drive by riding the run, including a 29-yard broken tackle carry by Joe Mixon and a 17-yard run right up the middle by Giovani Bernard, all the way to the end zone. They'd finish it with their first pass of the drive for a touchdown to Cethan Carter. It was Carter's first reception in three seasons and a nine-play, 75-yard scoring drive. The defense was sloppy out of the gate.

-After a Patriots three-and-out that featured a James White drop, the Bengals continued their run-focused attack and again got results, moving them all the way down to the New England 16-yard-line before a false start and a third-down stop held Cincinnati to a 34-yard field goal. This drive went nine-plays, 49 yards as the Bengals came out with a good plan and good execution. The slow and sloppy start by the Patriots defense was surprising. The run defense had been good the last couple weeks but they were off in this one.

-Harry had a third-down catch and another nice end around carry on the next Patriots drive as he was involved early. That also didn't include a dynamic catch he had after an Edelman false start (the whistle had blown but still it was a pretty nice diving catch and this is where we're at with the offense). But on 4th-and-4, Brady rifled a pass that Sanu couldn't catch and the drive sputtered out like many before it this year -- another grinding drive that took 11 plays to go 40 yards and ended with no points.

-The Patriots defense finally woke up and got third- and fourth-down stops at their own 30 to keep it a three-point game midway through the second quarter and gave the ball back to the offense. It was still a seven-play drive as Cincinnati controlled the time of possession early in the first half.

-The offense took the ball after the fourth-down stop and went eight plays for a 47-yard, field-goal scoring drive. A Matt Lacosse seam catch for 14 yards and a Sony Michel run for 12 yards made up more than half the yardage as consistency continued to elude New England's offense, but a 40-yard field goal from Nick Folk inspired some confidence.

-The Pats defense forced their first three-and-out of the day on the next possession giving the Patriots the ball back before the half with just over two minutes to go, but the offense would go backwards, running Michel for one yard, then losing two yards on a pass behind the line of scrimmage to Edelman, followed by Brady taking a five-yard loss on a sack. In the past you'd be excited to see the two-minute offense with a chance to score points before the half but this is a different year.

-But as has happened so many times this season, the special teams would pick them back up, with Matthew Slater forcing a fumble from the punt returner and Justin Bethel recovering it. It set the Pats offense up on the Bengals 23-yard-line yet the Patriots continued to follow this year's script. They would gain just two yards on three plays and be forced to settle for a 46-yard field goal. Folk's second field goal of the half was one of the few early bright spots.

-The defense picked up where they left off, with Stephon Gilmore grabbing his fifth interception of the season on the first third down they faced of the second half, tying a career high. The Patriots offense wouldn't let the opportunity pass by them again, getting into the end zone on a third-down pass to Harry. The protection, which had been as spotty as ever until this point, was really good and Brady delivered six points late in the down. The Patriots offense won't be a juggernaut this season, but if they can simply capitalize on the opportunities the defense and special teams give them they'll have a fighting chance in every game they play.

-Gilmore wasn't done, jumping an out route on the next Bengals possession, picking it off and taking it to the house for his second career pick six. His first came in Week 2 this season against Miami. It would also put Gilmore atop the league in interceptions with six. Gilmore continues to put together one of the best seasons by a cornerback ever seen in New England and should be back in Defensive Player of the Year conversation, if he was ever out of it.

-The picks kept coming, with J.C. Jackson getting in on the turnover parade, grabbing an interception as the Bengals were putting together another drive into Patriots territory. It would make three-straight Bengals possessions that ended in an interception and they completely changed what was a close game in the first half.

-The Bengals would put together another 13-play drive for a field goal, but down by three scores it was more about the 5:38 of time the drive ate up than the amount of plays they were able to execute.

-Rex Burkhead would finish off the scoring with a 33-yard touchdown run that would put the Patriots over 30 points for the first time since Week 7 against the Jets. It was the longest run of the season for the Pats and a nice cap on the win.

-J.C. Jackson continued his underrated season by grabbing his second interception of the game late in the fourth quarter, his fifth of the season. He also had two interceptions against Miami in Week 2 and has made a case for an expanded role both this year and next.

The Patriots return home on Saturday December 21st at 4:30pm to face the Bills in a game that will have significant playoff implications.

The New England Patriots take on the Cincinnati Bengals in a regular season game at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday, December 15, 2019.

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