Coming into Sunday’s game there were plenty of question marks for the Patriots on both sides of the football, with the biggest one being how New England’s secondary would hold up against the Bengals offensive attack of Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco, who were matched up against Darius Butler and rookie Devin McCourty.
It worked out pretty well, with the Pats defense shutting down Cincinnati in the first two quarters of play and taking a 24-3 lead in at the half. Taking another look back at Sunday’s game, here is a weekly feature where we highlight who had a good day on the field, and who will be hoping for a better performance next week as we break down New England’s 38-24 win over the Bengals.
Positives From the Game:
Tracy White - The newly acquired linebacker made a good first impression with his new team on Sunday, getting off to a good start by making a big hit on the opening kick return.
Devin McCourty – The Bengals wasted no time testing him and went right at the rookie, throwing deep to Owens on the first play of the game but McCourty got his hand in there and knocked it away. They went right back at him with Owens on the next play, this time gaining 14-yards on the completion. But other than that one big gain, things were fairly quiet on his side of the field. He made some noise of his own later on when he put a big hit on Carson Palmer to knock him out of bounds as Palmer tried to run it in for a touchdown. He was also in on a tackle on special teams.
Gary Guyton - Quite a few people were surprised that Guyton got the nod over rookie Brandon Spikes, but he delivered. After not having an interception made by a linebacker all last season, Guyton made a great read on Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham coming accross and picked off Palmer, running it all the way back 59 yards for the touchdown. Palmer was the last guy to try and bring him down, but Guyton pulled away and scored.
Wes Welker – Quarterback Tom Brady went to Welker on the first play from scrimmage, picking up 5-yards on the play and getting the veteran’s feet wet right away. It worked well because he later caught a touchdown on that drive to give the Patriots the early 7-0 lead, with both rookie tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski blocking downfield on the play, which opened up the way for him to get into the endzone.
He later caught another touchdown but got drilled at the goal line right as he caught it, which lead to a challenge by Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. After review it was ruled that Welker had the ball at his chest and that it broke the plane, so the play stood and it put New England up 17-0.
Fred Taylor - Got the start carrying the football Sunday, finishing with 14 carries for 71-yards (5.1 avg) on the afternoon. He also had a great blitz pickup which helped on a big gain by rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez.
Aaron Hernandez – The rookie had a decent first game, with his first regular season NFL catch gaining him 45-yards. He could have also had a touchdown reception, but couldn’t quite haul in a pass from Brady as he was falling on his back.
Patrick Chung – Chung made a lot of big hits during the game, and also made a great read where he came up and stopped Bengals runningback Cedric Benson cold for a loss on Cincinnati’s second drive. He lead the team with 16 tackles on the afternoon.
Brandon Tate – Tate handled the majority of punt and kick returns on Sunday, including one where he stutter-stepped and then took off for a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to start the second half, putting them up 31-3. It was the Patriots’ first kickoff return for a touchdown since Ellis Hobbs did it back in 2008.
Rob Ninkovich – Forced a fumble, and even made a good heads up play by getting back up and helping gain some extra yards after recovering the football. It should have lead to a field goal, but Stephen Gostkowski missed a 47-yard attempt wide left.
Tully Banta-Cain - Was in on quite a few blitzes, and had a tackle for a loss on Cedric Benson on the first play from scrimmage on the Bengals fourth possession. He finished the afternoon with 4-tackles, half-a-sack, and 2 quarterback hits. He was also part of a great start by the defense on the opening drive, with Vince Wilfork pushing the middle and getting to Palmer, with Banta-Cain also helping Myron Pryor bring him down on 3rd and short – forcing a punt.
Darius Butler – Played really well opposite McCourty, and up until late in the game when New England was up by a large margin he did a good job against both Owens and Chad Ochocinco – although there will be some trash talking on Twitter after the Bengals veteran receiver beat him on a 28-yard touchdown grab.
Rob Gronkowski - He had a great day with Hernandez blocking, and also made a nice leaping touchdown grab in the corner of the endzone where he actually twisted around in mid-air to make the catch which put New england up 38-17. It also capped a 14-play scoring drive and essentially sealed the win for the Patriots.
Negatives From the Game:
Kevin Faulk – Mixed reviews for the veteran, who had a tough break on their second drive when he was unable to haul in a pass where he was wide open on third down, which stalled the drive and forced them to instead kick a field goal. Faulk later had another drop as the Patriots were trying to pick up the first down on a 3rd and long play, but not only couldn’t he come up with it, he also got drilled on the play. New England then missed the 47-yard field goal.
Stephen Gostkowski – It was an off day for the veteran placekicker. He missed two field goals on the afternoon, including that 47-yarder along with one from 56 yards out just before the half.
James Sanders - Sanders seemed to struggle Sunday and a couple of times seemed like he was out of position. To make matters worse, on one of the times he was actually where he needed to be it still didn’t matter, after he was simply at a height disadvantage and gave up a touchdown grab to Gresham. Palmer put the pass right where the 6’5″ Gresham could easily outreach Sanders, who at 5’10″ had no chance of stopping him.
Dan Koppen - He was called for a holding penalty which nullified a 15-yard completion on third down to Alge Crumpler. Not a great time for a mistake like from a veteran, and it would end up leading to a New England punt.
GAME NOTES: Stephen Neal left Sunday’s game with an apparent injury, with Ryan Wendell replacing him. Luckily Neal would end up being O.K. and later returned and finished the game…Welker didn’t have a TD catch in the last nine games last year, and had two today….BenJarvus Green-Ellis replaced Taylor at one point and filled in nicely, carrying 5-times for 22-yards (4.4 avg). Taylor later came back and finished the game….Zoltan Mesko’s first punt of the game came with just over 5:00 left in the third quarter, and was for 44-Yards…Tom Brady had a solid first outing, finishing the afternoon 25-of-35 for 258 yards, 3 TD’s and a QB rating of 120.9….Tate continued to have success on kick returns, finishing the afternoon with four kickoff returns which totalled 184 yards, 97 of which came on his touchdown return…New England finished 9-of-13 (69%) on third down Sunday, and were 3-of-5 (60%) in Red Zone efficiency.