There was no doubt coming in that Cincinnati could put up points and they didn't disappoint.
They also turned the ball over three times and that made a huge difference in this game as both defenses had trouble stopping their opponent. On the Bengals side, Carson Palmer left the game with 18 completions for 202 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He left with an injury and his replacement, Jon Kitna, had 126 yards of his own with 9 completions a touchdown and a pick. T.J. Houshmandzadeh had 12 catches for 145 yards -- his career best -- and outspoken Chad Johnson had 5 grabs for 80 yards.
But the New England offense once again scored when it needed to. Brady was good for 260 yards and 2 touchdowns on 18 of 26 passing while David Patten had 107 yards receiving with 5 catches.
"Like we expected, we got a very explosive game out of Cincinnati and it was one of those back and forth, up and down the field type of games," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. "Fortunately, we were able to get some turnovers and make the most of our scoring opportunities. And that was probably all the difference in the game. I certainly didn't think it was our best game. We had a lot of things that didn't go very well that we need to do a better job of. Give them credit, they are a good football them. They caused some problems and we caused some problems too. But hopefully, we can get some of that stuff ironed out."
Both Tyrone Poole and Asante Samuel returned to action at their cornerback positions. Inactive were Daniel Graham and David Givens, two losses that could have hurt the running game as much, if not more, than the receiving game because of their blocking skills.
That certainly wasn't the case on the Patriots first drive of the game that resulted in a touchdown on a 1-yard Dillon dive. The Bengals had just had their opening series stopped cold when Rodney Harrison knocked the ball loose from Rudi Johnson after the Bengals had driven to the Patriots 12. Willie McGinest recovered to give his offense the ball and New England immediately began to pick up chunks of yards.
Brady hit Branch for 23 yards on New England's first play. Then Dillon busted a 16-yard run off left tackle. After a 16-yard completion to Patten, the Patriots chipped their way downfield, converting a fourth and one with a Dillon 3-yard run in the process. All told, Dillon had 28 yards on the drive on six carries including the touchdown.
As the first quarter ended, Cincinnati was on New England's side of the field at the 33. Rudi Johnson was running well with 39 yards on seven carries to that point and T.J. Houshmandzadeh had already caught four passes for 40 yards. The Benglas were showing they could move the ball on the Patriots defense and it paid off with a 2-yard touchdown pass from Carson Palmer to Matt Schobel. Between Johnson's running and Palmer's distribution of the ball through the air, the Bengals looked impressive on their 11-play scoring drive.
If Cincy made it look impressive on that drive, the Patriots made it look downright easy on their next. A pass to Jed Weaver for 9, a dump-off to Kevin Faulk for 13 and a 48-yard bomb to David Patten down the middle for the score was all it took for Brady to give New England its second touchdown on the day.
Asante Samuel then made his presence known when he picked off Palmer on the Bengals next play from scrimmage. Palmer was looking to the right sideline and Houshmandzadeh but Samuel read it perfectly and took the pass 34 yards the other way for the defensive score.
Being down by two touchdowns didn't stop the Bengals from coming right back with another score of their own. A huge third and 12 completion to Houshmandzadeh for 33 yards brought the ball to the New England 38. From there Johnson's runs and an 11-yard pass to Kevin Walter set up a second and goal from the Patriots 5. In single coverage with Randall Gay, Chad Johnson was wide open in the end zone and Palmer found him for the score.
The shootout was on as New England went into the two-minute warning with great field position after a Bethel Johnson kickoff return for 38 yards started the precedings on the New England 47. Dillon ran twice for 17 yards and Patten (4 catches for 97 yards in the first half) caught two passes from Brady for 13 and 20. On the 3-yard line, Faulk scooted in for the score and the 28-14 lead to end the first half production for both teams.
New England opened the second half with another scoring drive, this one going 75 yards on 11 plays. The play of the drive had to be Brady connecting with Patrick Pass from the seat of his pants. Brady had tripped during his drop back, sat up and immediately threw to Pass for a 7-yard gain instead of what would have been a 7- or 8-yard loss.
Pass caught another ball later in the drive for 15 yards, coming just before Brady's 17-yard touchdown pass to Christian Fauria.
"Basically, we had the ball for two possessions because we scored to open the third quarter as well," Brady said. "It is big. It is a big momentum swing."
Down 35-14, the Bengals used some trickery to get within two touchdowns. Twelve plays resulted in Cincinnati being on the Patriots 11 on fourth down. Cincy lined up for a field goal but holder Kyle Larson took the snap and then took off up the middle with the ball for the touchdown.
Palmer was beginning to look to his best receiver in Chad Johnson more often. Johnson had three catches on the drive for 48 yards. Unfortunately for Cincy, Palmer left the game after the scoring drive with a knee sprain, forcing backup quarterback Jon Kitna off the bench.
Despite the change, the Bengals continued to move the ball. On Kitna's first opportunity behind center he dumped off to Houshmandzadeh for 18 yards and then hit Rudi Johnson for 30 more. Two Bengals penalties helped the Patriots cause but on third and 10 from the 16, Kitna hit Houshmandzadeh for 11 yards to the 5.
Solid red zone defense stopped two Bengals attempts but it sure looked like Cincy would pull to at least 10 points until Troy Brown intercepted Kitna's pass in the end zone intended for Chad Johnson. Brown took his third pick of the season out to the 3-yard line to preserve the 14-point lead.
Brown's instincts may have gotten the better of him as he should have taken a knee in the end zone rather than running the interception out. Working from its 3, New England was stopped in three plays and Josh Miller had to punt from deep in his own end zone.
Luckily for the Patriots, Miller boomed a 69 yard punt that was returned only 18 yards. Even though the Bengals had the ball right back, at least it was on their own 35 with 10:46 left to play.
Even better was that the Patriots defense stiffened and three plays later, Cincy was in punt formation.
New England used up around two and a half minutes and even atempted a fake of its own when on fourth down, Miller sprinted out wide from his punter's position and Larry Izzo took the snap trying to pick up the 1 yard needed for the first down. The shenanigans failed and Cincy took over on its own 39 with 6:37 left.
The Bengals made the most of it with a 27-yard touchdown pass from Kitna to Kelley Washington. Between Kitna and Palmer, the Benglas had 338 yards passing to that point and over 100 yards on the ground between all runners.
With 3:44 remaining, the Patriots needed to move the ball and eat clock because it was clear that even Kitna was finding the favorable matchups in the Patriots secondary. Of note is that even though Poole was active for the game, he only played sparingly in the first half and not at all in the second. Dexter Reid also left the field in the fourth quarter with an arm injury.
Move the ball is exactly what the Patriots did. Just as the two-minute warning sounded, Brady hit Brown for 20 yards to the Bengals 34. With Cincy out of timeouts, once again, the Patriots were able to end a game on Brady's knee.
"I would like for us to be at our best and that is all," Belichick said. "That is my objective. And I just didn't think we were there today. But I am glad we won. I am glad the players made the plays that we needed to make. We were able to do enough things to win. It is hard to win in this league. I will take it, but I think we are going to need to play better. I think we can play better and I think we can coach better."