By: Bob George/
October 02, 2007

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CINCINNATI -- On the play that turned the game, did Ocho Cinco run the wrong route or did his quarterback screw up the play?

It's pretty clear how Chad Johnson felt about it. As he and Carson Palmer walked off into the locker room at halftime trailing, 17-7, the loquacious wide receiver gave his quarterback an earful and looked like Terrell Owens in doing so. The conversation went something like "I know how to run the (expletive) pattern!" Instead of a late touchdown to make it a three-point game at the half, Asante Samuel picked off Palmer at the Patriots three-yard line thanks to a pass which came in behind Johnson. It more or less deflated the Bengals, who had played the Patriots tough in the first half.

Tom Brady put the Bengal defense in its place in the second half, leading the Patriots on three scoring drives and putting the game away. No, the Patriots did not score 38 points for the fourth straight game, but they came close with 34. The Patriots walked out of Paul Brown Stadium Monday night with a 34-13 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, and once again looked very convincing in the process.

With Laurence Maroney a scratch from the game thanks to a groin injury, Sammy Morris picked up the rushing slack very nicely, rushing for 117 yards on 21 carries, the third time in his career he has topped the 100-yard mark. Kevin Faulk added 22 yards on three carries, and Wes Welker chipped in with a 27-yard run on a reverse left. Patriot rushers averaged 5.1 yards per carry as a team while Maroney (who had 125 yards in this edifice last year) watched from the bench in street clothes.

The passing game, meanwhile, did not miss a beat despite some nice coverage from cornerbacks Deltha O'Neal and Johnathan Joseph in the first half. Tom Brady completed 25 of 32 passes for 231 yards and three touchdowns, and finished with a 115.0 rating despite throwing a first-half interception. Three Patriots averaged over ten yards per catch: Randy Moss (9 catches, 102 yards), Donte Stallworth and Kevin Faulk.

Moss again sparkled, catching two touchdown passes. The first one, in the second quarter to put the Patriots up 17-7, showed once again why he is one the finest receivers in the game, if not the finest. Joseph had terrific coverage on Moss, but Brady tossed the ball up towards the left side of the end zone, and Moss leaped both over and away from Joseph to haul in the seven-yard scoring pass. This is further proof that most of the time, Moss is undefendable. You simply could not cover Moss any better than Joseph did, and Moss was still able to use his athletic superiority to make the catch.

Samuel's interception late in the first half seemed to turn the tide towards the Patriots for good, but the defense of the Patriots kept constant pressure on Palmer all game long. Palmer threw two interceptions and completed only 21 of 35 passes for 234 yards. The Patriots kept a tight lid on Johnson all game long, such that T.J. Houshmandzadeh was the leading receiver for the Bengals with 10 catches for 100 yards. Kenny Watson, who was filling in for the injured Rudi Johnson, rushed for 55 yards on 13 carries. Palmer went to Watson quite often in the first half, staying away from the pass when it seemed that Palmer needed to do more to establish the pass.

Perhaps it didn't matter. Palmer was sacked only once by the Patriot defense (Adalius Thomas got it), but the Patriots were able to put enough pressure on Palmer all game long to throw him off whack and never get into a rhythm with Johnson. Basically, this is what the Patriot defensive game plan came down to: stop Chad Johnson and dare Palmer to beat you with all his other weapons, made easier with Rudi Johnson not playing.

Whereas Watson didn't provide enough of a bump to make up for the loss of Rudi Johnson, Morris flourished for the Patriots. At one point in the second quarter, Morris ran the ball on eight straight offensive plays for the Patriots. The next play following the eight straight runs was the aforementioned seven-yard touchdown pass to Moss. But Morris alone was able to take the Patriots from the Bengal 45 to the Bengal 7, and that sequence of plays was critical in the Patriots taking command of the game, that plus the Samuel interception which soon followed.

The debate will continue to rage as to whether or not the Patriots have what it takes to go 16-0, but they have made it 1/4th of the way there. Based upon what we have seen thus far, the Patriots have been able to make a lot of hay against some mediocre teams (you don't still think San Diego is an elite team, do you?) and have shown some astounding consistency in doing so. A five-yard loss by Morris in the fourth quarter which led to a Stephen Gostkowski field goal ended any chance of a repeat of 38 points, but it was again there to be had. Still, this was a bad Bengal defense on paper which played with a lot of emotion and energy in the first half, but in the end was worn down by a machine which is still operating with surgical precision.

But how long can it last? Next week, Cleveland comes to Foxborough, and they gave up 45 to Cincinnati a few weeks ago. Later on, the Patriots travel to Dallas, Miami and Indianapolis before the bye week. These are three losable games, even given how dilapidated the Dolphins are because the Patriots do not play well in Miami. If the Patriots can escape these three opponents and still remain undefeated, then you can start talking about running the table (the second half of the season has only two tough games, at home against Pittsburgh and at Baltimore).

Still, the Patriots came into Cincinnati on the national Monday night stage and continued to look like the Patriots. Nothing changed much at all, from the Week 1 win over the Jets to today. The Patriots still look invincible, efficient, and superbly devastating.

Meanwhile, we'd love to know what Palmer said to Johnson when Ocho Cinco wanted him to understand that he knows how to run his patterns. We'd appreciate Palmer a lot if what he said included something like "Shut the (expletive) up!"

The Patriots did a better job of shutting Ocho Cinco up more than Palmer did. Nothing at all wrong with that.