The Patriots came out firing Sunday night, marching 80 yards in 10 plays to take a quick 7-0 lead they never relinquished. It was the kind of start that had been sorely lacking in New England all season, and it allowed the Patriots to play the game on their terms rather than having to slug it out with the Cincinnati Bengals.
While the quick start allowed the team to head to the locker room with a commanding 20-3 lead, it did not necessarily ensure victory. The offense did the bulk of its damage in the opening quarter and seemed to hit a snag in the second, mostly due to some undisciplined play that led to penalties.
Patriots team photographer, David Silverman, offers his best photos from the Patriots game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, October 6, 2014.
That malaise continued early in the third quarter. The Patriots picked up a first down with a pass to James Develin to open their first series of the second half, and then went backward in a hurry. A 3-yard loss by Stevan Ridley was followed by a false start on Bryan Stork and another 3-yard loss on a screen to Shane Vereen. Even Tom Brady's 7-yard pass to Rob Gronkowski on third-and-21 featured a declined holding penalty on Nate Solder.
So, Cincinnati soon had the ball back and made its only really threat to get back in the game. Using a 47-yard Adam Jones punt return to set up great field position, the Bengals soon scored on a 37-yard touchdown pass from Andy Dalton to Mohamed Sanu to cut the lead to 20-10.
That's when a key drive unfolded for the Patriots. With more than half of the third quarter still remaining, there was plenty of time for a comeback. Starting at their own 14, the Patriots moved into Cincinnati territory when Stork was called for holding to push the ball back to the 35 – right at the edge of Stephen Gostkowski's field goal range. Brady failed to hit Gronkowski on second down and now it appeared the Patriots were content to pick up a few yards to make it an easier field goal.
That's when our play took place.
Facing third-and-16 from the 35, Brady fielded an errant shotgun snap and handed off to Vereen. As they did most of the night, the Bengals rushed only four and dropped everyone else in coverage. This left plenty of room for Vereen once he hit the second level, who wasn't touched by a defender until he was about 3 yards short of the first down.
He easily managed to scoot through that minimal contact and picked up the first down with a 19-yard run.
Two plays later, Brady hit Gronkowski for a touchdown and the game, for all intents and purposes, was over.
Had the Bengals stopped Vereen for no gain Gostkowski would have been forced to boot a 53-yard field goal – which would have been no sure thing. (Bill Belichick may have even decided to punt). Even if he made it the Bengals would have remained in the game down two scores at 23-10. Instead, Vereen's run made sure no comeback would be forthcoming.