The New England Patriots take on the Cincinnati Bengals during Sunday Night Football at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, October 5, 2014.
All the football world seemed to be questioning Bill Belichick's football team last week.
Whether the coach and his players heard it, the Patriots did their best to answer many of those questions Sunday night in a 43-17 win over the previously unbeaten Bengals for what was easily New England's best victory of the still-young season.
Us against the world made a return to Gillette Stadium and once again it was a successful motivational tool. Unlike the days when Rodney Harrison drummed up that motivational angle – this time the former safety was a lesser part of the show as an NBC analyst – there actually was a lot of doubt swirling around the Patriots.
One performance doesn't necessarily wash away concerns of the first month of struggles, but there certainly were lot of areas that showed improvement against the Bengals. New England's offensive line made solid strides in protection and run blocking. The passing game put up production more in line with expectations. Darrelle Revis brought his trademark ability to the field.
There is still a long way to go. The 3-2 Patriots sit in a tie atop the AFC East with the Bills, the team New England will face off with next Sunday afternoon in Buffalo.
But less than a week after an embarrassing, ugly loss in Kansas City the Patriots made far more plays than they gave up in an emotional bounce-back victory.
Here's a look at some of the individual highs and lows from the win over Marvin Lewis' overmatched Bengals:
Darrelle Revis – This just in, Revis is really good when he's asked to take away an opponent's top target. He also seems to really enjoy the task. That was on full display Sunday night when Revis was asked to run with and take away A.J. Green. Revis held Green to just two catches for 19 yards in the first half. He also forced a fumble on one of the catches and had a potential interception wiped away by penalty. Revis looked like the All-Pro cover man we all expected when he signed with the Patriots this spring. He gave Patriot Nation a scare when he left with a hamstring issue, but returned to finish the game. Revis Island made its true New England debut.
Rob Gronkowski/Tim Wright** – The Bengals had some key injuries at linebacker and the Patriots took full advantage in the middle of the field. Gronkowski had a game-high six catches for 100 yards and a touchdown. Wright caught all five passes thrown his way for 85 yards and a score in by far his most active performance to date. Wright is a unique athlete who brings intrigue to his growing role, while Gronkowski is becoming a more aggressive, physical presence by the week.
Tom Brady – No. 12 has been less than stellar to open the season and was beginning to be the focus of external criticism. That was quieted on the night he became just the sixth quarterback to surpass 50,000 yards passing. Brady completed 23 of 35 throws for 292 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 110.7 rating. He got better protection – he was sacked just once – and unsurprisingly his play improved. Brady even had four runs for 13 yards, including a 6 yarder in which he jumped up with his prototypical energy.
Dominique Easley – Easley continued to be a non-factor on the defensive line in the first half. He also picked up a cheap penalty for hitting Giovani Bernard in the back on a would-be fumble return that was actually blown dead. The first-round pick then capped it all off by leaving with a shoulder injury that kept him sidelined for the entire second half. Not exactly an impressive night for the rookie as he tries to find his youthful niche on the defensive line.
Logan Ryan** – The second-year corner was relegated to reserve duty once again with the return Alfonzo Dennard. But he had to replace Revis in third quarter and immediately gave up a touchdown to Green in the back of the end zone. Sure Ryan was thrown to the fire, but he's struggled the last couple weeks and seems to be falling down the depth chart, which may continue with Brandon Browner's expected return.
Jamie Collins – The second-year linebacker's biggest mistake came in the kicking game where he earned a 15-yard penalty for blowing up punt returner Brandon Tate after the former Patriots draft pick called for a fair catch. Collins was very fortunate that his struggles in coverage never cost the defense. The linebacker let Bernard get behind him deep down the left sideline early, but Andy Dalton overthrew his running back. Later, Collins allowed end Jermaine Gresham to get behind him in the end zone, but the tight end dropped the pass.
On a very impressive night for the Patriots, what do you think of our list? Who else should be included? Let us know with a comment below!