FOXBOROUGH – They were shouting his name all through the night.
"Brady! Brady! Brady!" came the calls from the sell-out Gillette Stadium crowd.
He was the center of attention all week, too, but for all the wrong reasons. Tom Brady faced pointed questions like never before in his weekly press conference, with reporters virtually salivating to ask him in various ways why he was playing so poorly to start this season. Not just his team. Him, personally.
The New England Patriots take on the Cincinnati Bengals during Sunday Night Football at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, October 5, 2014.
Brady and his team looked like they took it personally.
The opening drive was a clinic in precision and enthusiasm. It took five games, but the Patriots finally had an opening drive that lasted longer than three plays, and it resulted in the first touchdown of the night for New England.
On both sides of the ball, Brady and the Patriots seemed to take out all their frustrations from the first month of the 2014 season on the Cincinnati Bengals. Last week was a particularly challenging one for the Patriots, after they were embarrassed on national television by the Kansas City Chiefs.
The schedule makers did the Patriots an unwitting favor by making their next game a prime time affair as well. It was the perfect opportunity for New England to prove that reports of their demise had been greatly exaggerated.
It started up front, with an offensive line that has been the team's biggest problem this season. Brady was sharp largely because his line gave him plenty of time to throw.
On defense, despite losing starters before (Dont'a Hightower) and during (safety Devin McCourty) the game, New England was aggressive from the outset. Bengals QB Andy Dalton tried to test cornerback Darrelle Revis with deep throws to A.J. Green. The receiver made a handful of catches, but Revis, who has garnered his share of criticism thus far as well, proved equal to the challenge. He actually intercepted a Dalton pass intended for Green, but it was called back because Revis was flagged for a penalty.
No matter. The tone had been set early by New England, and when Patriots penalties began mounting and it looked like Cincy was poised for a comeback, the Patriots just amped up their intensity. Even special teams got in the act, scoring a touchdown on a fumbled Bengals kickoff return.
They simply refused to lose this game. Not only that, they were determined to win in memorable fashion.
"We got back to business after [last] Monday night," co-captain Vince Wilfork said. "A lot of us understood that wasn't the team that we wanted to be. It wasn't us. It started with a good week of practice. Started fast: offensively, defensively, turnovers, special teams. You name it, this is a great team win against a real good football team.
"Best way to answer anything is to win. If we were undefeated, everybody would be blowing smoke up us, how great we are. That's why we don't pay attention to anything outside of here."
Ah, but they did hear the criticisms. They paid very close attention to them and took them to heart. The Patriots were motivated Sunday night to prove each and every doubter wrong.
"It was great seeing all the Brady chants," an emotional Rob Gronkowski admitted afterward. "After the first couple of games, we were a little shaky. It's great to come back strong. He's shown that he's still a young buck. He has a lot in his tank left.
"I told my brother before we came to the game, 'I'm going to make 12 look like Tom Brady again today, baby.' And I went out there with my teammates, and we made Tom Brady look like Tom Brady after you guys were criticizing him all week – the fans, everything.
"And it feels so good," Gronkowski added, "he's such a leader, and he went over 50,000 yards [passing for his career] today. He's an unbelievable player and I'm so glad to play with him."
"We knew what we had to do," Wilfork continued. "Even rookies. We executed well. That's something we've been lacking. Been inconsistent. It's a good start. Hopefully, we can keep it going. Being on Sunday night on national TV, everybody watching, you've just seen two different teams, from Monday night to tonight. Just goes to show you, we're capable of doing it."
"Yeah, it was a bad taste Monday night against the Chiefs. It was embarrassing for our team," Revis told reporters. "We feel that we're a better team. This game was a great start for us to show how we really play football and how good of a team we are, especially against a great team."
It was a great team win, for sure.
But it was particularly sweet for one individual. The man who's name had been singled out over and over and over again since last Monday night. The man who was more fired up in this game than he's been in a long, long time.
"That was awesome," Brady acknowledged in his post-game comments. "I mean, I've been here awhile, so it's – we have great fans. We get great support. It's great to play well and play in this environment. I'm a very lucky guy."