Patriots-Bengals engage in defensive struggle
Sunday, October 06, 2013
If defense wins championships, then the Patriots and Bengals could still be contenders for the ultimate prize.
In a game that started as a slugfest, with defense dominating play on both sides of the ball...Cincinnati managed to score just enough to enhance a strong defensive game plan and beat back New England 13-6 Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium. New England falls to 4-1 on the season, while the Bengals improve to 3-2.
Bengals' DT Geno Atkins made his presence felt early, with a sack of Tom Brady on the Patriots' opening drive. On the second NE drive, Wallace Gilberry whipped Nate Solder with an outside rush and took Brady down again, stopping another drive in its tracks. The Patriots' defense joined the sack attack with Rob Ninkovich finishing off Andy Dalton on Cincinnati's second drive, halting a march that began with good field position. With less than five minutes to play in the first quarter, Cincinnati began a drive that looked very similar to NE possessions of the recent past - with two TE's involved and a strong running game up the middle. Dalton then threw a pass intended for TE Tyler Eifert that Brandon Spikes stepped in front of for an interception at the Patriots' five yard line...bringing the first period to a close with a 0-0 score.
With their first four possessions ending with punts, a promising NE drive ended at the Bengals' 24 after Carlos Dunlap forced a LeGarrette Blount fumble. Dalton then began to track down 6-4 WR A.J. Green, who was able to position himself for two big receptions in front of CB Aqib Talib. The Patriots' defense, however, came up big again, with rookie DT Chris Jones breaking through for a sack of Dalton at the NE 32. Mike Nugent salvaged the drive with a 39-yard field goal, and with 3:12 to play in the half, Cincinnati scored first for the 3-0 advantage.
Ugly offense, or pretty defense? It depends on the point of view. The Patriots could not come up with a 3rd down conversion on a drive into Cincinnati territory late in the period, but when the defense stopped the Benglas cold in their tracks deep in their end of the field, Brady had one more chance to get something on the board. After a completion to Danny Amendola for 21 yards from the Bengals' 49, another to Brandon Bolden set up Stephen Gostkowski with a 42 yarder that tied the score 3-3 at the half.
With their second possession of the 3rd quarter, Dalton began a Bengals' drive at his own 10...and began to find his range with Green, Eifert and WR Mohamad Sanu. At the Patriot 25, Jerod Mayo sacked Dalton for an eight yard loss, and Talib nearly came up with an over-the-shoulder interception in the end zone...forcing Nugent to kick a 50-yard FG to put the Bengals back up by 6-3, with 5:43 to play in the period.
Where the offense might have been firing blanks, the defense managed to keep the Patriots close...until a Cincinnati drive that began late in quarter got two big plays - a Dalton completion to Marvin Jones for 28 yards, and a Giovani Bernard 28-yard run put the Bengals at the NE 42. Patriots' DT Tommy Kelly went down with an apparent knee injury trying to chase Dalton down...although he managed to walk off the field without help, returned for a brief time and left again. Immediately, Cinci attacked the wounded middle of the "D," Dalton found Green with a superb outside move on Talib, and on 4th and goal from the one, old friend BenJarvus Green Ellis pushed the pile forward into the endzone for the game's first touchdown. With 9:21 to play, Cincinnati went up 13-3, thanks to a 7:48 drive that covered 93 yards.
Now with a significant deficit on his hands, Brady hit Aaron Dobson for 53 yards to the Bengals' 17, then found Amendola at the one...but the Patriots' offense could not punch it into the endzone on the Cinci defense. Gostkowski connected on a 20-yard FG to make it 13-6 with 6:30 to play...keeping the game within a single-score margin. With Cincinnati threatening to pound away and not give the ball back to NE...that's exactly what they did. Bernard fumbled near midfield, where it was recovered by Mayo at the Bengals' 44. But the Cincinnati defense, once again, came up with big plays, helped by an Amendola drop and a sack of Brady...forcing a punt with 2:34 remaining.
With the skies opening up and the rain pouring at this point, CIN pushed the Pats to the two-minute warning before having to punt it back. 65 yards away, with 1:48 to play...NE got one first down thanks to an off-sides call, another on a Bolden run up the middle, and a third on a hit to the helmet by Gilberry on Brady...but the rain - and the Bengals defense - was too much to overcome at this point. From the 27, Brady was intercepted by Adam "Pacman" Jones at the four with :16 second left.
Cincinnati's defense was just a bit stronger - maybe even championship strong - on this day.
Post Game Notes
For one of the few times in recent memory, the Patriots won an opening coin toss and elected to receive, rather than defer to the second half...LB Brandon Spikes played just six snaps last week in the win at Atlanta, but played the first six snaps of the game against the Bengals with Vince Wilfork out of the lineup...the Patriots came into the game tied for 2nd in the NFL with the most drops by receivers (with at least five more Sunday)...New England's defense has now forced at least one turnover in 32 straight games, with Spikes' pick of Dalton at the end of the first quarter...the last time NE played a scoreless first half came on December 24, 2011 in an eventual win 27-24 over Miami in Foxboro...Cincinnati had not scored a TD in seven quarters, before Green-Ellis crossed the goal line in the 4th quarter...Brady's streak of 52 games with at least one TD pass started - and ended - with Cincinnati. The 52 straight games with a scoring pass is the second longest in NFL history...for the second time this season, Brady finished below 50% in pass completions...the Bengals rushed for more than 150 yards against a softened NE defense, missing Wilfork's (and for a time Kelly's) presence...the last time the Patriots were held to six points in a game came almost 17 years ago, 12/15/96 at Dallas...the Patriots were held out of the end zone for the first time since a 16-9 loss to the Jets on Sept. 20, 2009, and their lowest point total since 12/10/06 in a 21-0 loss to Miami...