The Patriots bounced back in a big way in their 43-17 demolition of the previously unbeaten Cincinnati Bengals. Here are some random thoughts from Sunday night's game:
Flashback win – There was a time in the not-too-distant past when the Patriots would routinely post victories like Sunday's. On those rare occasions when the deck appeared to be stacked against New England, generally the team would respond with a resounding victory. That didn't happen last Monday when the Chiefs took the Patriots to the woodshed, but a week later it certainly was the case. Tom Brady was taking heat, an erroneous report indicated Aaron Dobson mouthed off to the coaches and there was a general feeling that the team was in turmoil. Just the kind of recipe the old Patriots relished, and for one night the current version seemed to embrace it as well. The Patriots made a statement Sunday night against a solid Bengals team.
Added protection – It's been the top story line in every game this season and for the first time it was a positive one for New England. The starting group of Nate Solder, Dan Connolly, Bryan Stork, Ryan Wendell and Sebastian Vollmer performed exceptionally well, both protecting Tom Brady and opening up running lanes for Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen. Marcus Cannon even spelled both tackles at times and there was no noticeable drop-off. Dave DeGuglielmo's troops have been under siege all season long but on Sunday night they kept the Bengals pass rush at bay and paved the way for the decisive victory.
Permission granted –** Listening to Darrelle Revis talk in the locker room each week it became apparent that the corner desired more one-on-one coverage assignments against the opponents' top receiver. Sunday night he got his wish and not surprisingly he did not disappoint. He blanketed the Bengals A.J. Green wherever he went, at times seemingly willing to follow him to the huddle if need be. Revis was up to the challenge early on a pair of deep fades, showing tight coverage and forcing throwaways. He actually came up with an interception on the first one but it was negated when he was flagged for illegal contact on the play. He did notch a turnover later when he stripped Green following an 18-yard catch late in the first half on a play that led to a field goal. About the only negative of the night came in the third quarter when Revis injured his left hamstring and briefly went to the locker room, but he was able to return and finished the game.
Tempo time – The Patriots offense was in gear right from the start and the plan seemed to include getting to the line as quickly as possible. This appeared to keep the Bengals off balance and after the game defensive tackle Domata Peko said he and his teammates were still waiting for calls when the Patriots were already lined up over the ball. New England took its first two drives the length of the field for touchdowns and set the tone for an easy victory, and the up tempo approach definitely had an impact in that early success.
Penalties – One of the negatives on an otherwise flawless night was once again penalties. The Patriots were called for 12 penalties for 114 yards, several of which were mindless personal fouls. Jamie Collins lit up Brandon Tate despite the fact that the Bengals punt returner had called for a fair catch. Dominique Easley was called for a blindside hit during a would-be fumble return that was completely unnecessary. Dan Connolly also picked up a chop back penalty when he cut a player already being blocked by Bryan Stork. Penalties are going to happen but the Patriots need to cut back on preventable ones like these.
The New England Patriots take on the Cincinnati Bengals during Sunday Night Football at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, October 5, 2014.
McCourty absence –** Devin McCourty left the game in the first half with a rib injury and did not return. His absence was noticed when Mohamed Sanu got behind Alfonzo Dennard and Duron Harmon was nowhere to be found providing deep help. There were other occasions when Bengals receivers got behind the coverage and the safeties were late with their help. McCourty is a steady presence along the back end of the defense and the secondary can ill afford to lose him for any length of the time. The good news is various reports indicated that the rib injury was not believed to be serious and should not keep the safety out of the lineup for long.
Crowd control – It's been a while since the Gillette Stadium crowd had a real impact on a game from start to finish. Sunday night was one such occasion. From the moment the Patriots took the field it appeared as if the entire lower bowl was standing and never sat down throughout. When the offense began to click from the outset, the crowd began chanting "Bra-dy, Bra-dy" and did so several more times during the night. It was a raucous atmosphere that has been all too uncommon in Foxborough and it definitely had an adverse effect on the visiting Bengals, who often appeared shaken and unsure of themselves during a game dominated from start to finish by the Patriots.
Gostkowski on target – While the Patriots offense has struggled to score points prior to Sunday night's explosion, Stephen Gostkowski has not. He's been perfect this season including a perfect 5-for-5 against Cincinnati and now has made all 13 of his attempts this season including 6 of 6 from beyond 40 yards. Against the Bengals he nailed kicks of 47 and 48 yards while continuing to boom the majority of his kickoffs into the end zone, three of which resulted in touchbacks Sunday night.
Extra points – The Patriots improved to 36-4 following a loss since 2003. … It was also the team's 11th straight victory at home, which is tied with Cincinnati for the longest current streak in the league. … New England won for the 69th straight time at home when leading at the half. The team hasn't lost a game it was leading at the half was Dec. 24, 2000, against Miami. … The Patriots had a 100-yard rusher and receiver in the same game for the first time since Week 1 of 2013 when Shane Vereen (101 yards) and Danny Amendola (104 yards) turned the trick at Buffalo. Stevan Ridley (113 yards) and Rob Gronkowski (100 yards) reached triple digits, and Vereen (90 yards rushing) and tight end Tim Wright (85 yards receiving) almost gave the Patriots a pair of each. … Brady became the sixth quarterback to reach 50,000 yards passing on a 27-yard completion to Gronkowski. … Brady and Gronkowski hooked up for a touchdown for the 45th time, matching Drew Bledsoe and Ben Coates for the second most between and a quarterback and tight end in NFL history. They trail San Diego's tandem of Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates (65). … Ridley's 43-yard run was the longest of his career.