This is the week of Eleven. The Patriots punched their ticket to the postseason with a 34-13 win over Cincinnati and won their 11th game of the season for the 10th straight season. This is also their 11th straight playoff appearance.
The defense picked off Andy Dalton four times and the Special Teams recovered a fumble as once again those units carried the team to an easy victory. But none of the questions about the offense were answered, despite putting up 34 points.
Some of our observations include:
The offensive line had a very mixed day, on one hand they did very good in run support as the team rushed for a season-high 175 yards on 32 carries. Of course, Cincinnati has the worst run defense in the NFL and came into this one allowing over 150 yards per game. But the pass protection for Tom Brady was terrible for virtually most of the game. Brady was sacked twice and pressured on half of his dropbacks.
Sony Michel had a good, solid day and ran for 89 yards on 19 carries. He displayed good vision and followed his blocks well. He was able to break a few tackles and was getting some nice yards after contact.
Brady was clearly bothered by his elbow injury. During the warmups, Mike Giardi of NFL Network said he was having trouble throwing the ball. He sailed several throws including one to Mohamad Sanu in the end zone.
He also short-armed a throw to Sony Michel on a perfectly designed play that should have been a touchdown. Brady finished 15 – 29 for just 128 yards with 2 TDs and 0 Interceptions.
Edelman and Sanu are both hobbled, Edelman especially so. He looks like he can barely move at this point. He finished with just two catches for nine yards on five targets. Sanu had just two catches for 13 yards on eight targets. He had another key drop on fourth down,
Josh McDaniels said earlier this week that they were planning on getting N’Keal Harry more involved with the offense. He had two carries in the running game for 22 yards and two catches for 15 yards including a nice 8-yard touchdown pass reception where he cut across the back of the end zone.
Harry also had the Patriots best play of the day, he beat his coverage down the right sideline where Brady dropped a perfect pass to him where he made a nice catch for a 36-yard gain. Unfortunately, it was wiped out by a false start by Edelman.
The offense continues to struggle especially in the passing game. On their opening drive where they went 75 yards in eight plays where James White hit a very nicely executed screen pass for a 22-yard touchdown. It was keyed by an excellent block by Joe Thuney, however, they didn’t put together another long drive for the rest of the game. Fortunately, the defense and STs set them up with short fields.
The run defense was gashed early, on Cincinnati’s opening drive, Joe Mixon was proving very hard to bring down and the Bengals ran the ball on every play all the way to the Patriots eight-yard line. There Andy Dalton threw his first pass, an eight-yard TD to TE Cethan Carter with Jonathan Jones falling down in coverage. It would be the only TD that the Bengals would score.
Although the defense stiffened and allowed only two field goals after that, they never really figured out stopping Mixon who had a very good day on the ground, gaining 136 yards on 25 carries.
With the score tied at 10-10, the game flipped with one big special teams’ play. Jake Bailey skied a punt and Matthew Slater racing downfield stripped the ball away from Alex Erickson. Justin Bethel recovered at the Cincinnati 23. Although the offense moved backward with a sack on 3rd down. It allowed them to kick a field goal and go into the half with a 13-10 lead.
That’s when the wheels came off for Dalton and the Bengals. On the third play from scrimmage in the 3rd quarter, Stephon Gilmore picked him off, cradling the ball in his right arm while holding off Tyler Boyd with his left.
Brady moved them 43 yards on a short field for a touchdown with Harry making the catch at the back of the end zone. Dalton moved the Bengals to the Patriots 41 when he was too late throwing an out route and Gilmore jumped the route and picked it off going 64-yards for another touchdown making the score 27-10 and the rout was on.
The Bengals kicked a field goal making it 27-13 and then tried an on-side kick that went only five yards. The Patriots took over at the Cincinnati 40 and cashed in again. After a two-yard pass from Brady to Matt LaCosse and a five-yard penalty on the Bengals, Rex Burkhead took a handoff up the middle, juked the safety Bates and raced 33 yards for a touchdown making it 34-13.
The secondary once again was stellar, besides Gilmore’s two interceptions, J.C. Jackson had two of his own, both were outstanding plays. The first he went up high and after corralling the ball, he was able to come down with both feet inbounds. On the other Dalton tried to go deep down the left sideline and Jackson turned and tracked the ball, getting inside leverage, picked it off easily.
Dalton finished 17-31 for 151 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions. His QB rating was just 39.2. While the pass rush didn’t record a sack, they did bring some pressure on Dalton and did influence some of those picks.
But scoring 34 points on short fields against the 1-13 Bengals is one thing. With a passing game averaging 4.4 yards per play? That isn’t going to cut it. With awful pass protection and wide receivers again dropping more passes (New England now leads the league in that dubious category), it hardly appears they’ve found an identity. And the Bills defense is coming to town next week.
The defense and special teams will always give them a chance to win but the play of the offense remains a huge red flag with two games left on the regular-season schedule. If they can win those next two games, they’ll get an all-important bye until the divisional round. They can use the rest of the bye, but first, a huge game for the division awaits against the Bills.
Prior to the game, social media was abuzz at the film that the Bengals released of the Patriots filming their sideline in Cleveland. This was just a short clip that was gotten by Jay Glazer. We’ll learn more later when the entire film is released but contrary to what Patriots fans are saying, this…if it is indicative of the entire film (and a big if), then it is damning evidence.
It doesn’t show the field, the plays or the Cleveland sideline, it is focused on the Cincinnati bench. Of course, since the Bengals released this, could it be that they want to release something more beneficial to their side? Of course, but that tape, again, if it is indicative of the entire film, will result in a stiff penalty… No reason for being that dumb to leave a large monitor in the press box showing what you’re doing. Dumb, dumb, dumb.
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