Depending on your job requirements, the Patriots either got off to a great or terrible start in Sunday afternoon’s trip to Cincinnati to take on the bungling Bengals.
Fortunately for Bill Belichick’s squad, things leveled out a bit over four quarters against a one-win foe as New England clinched a playoff berth with the 34-13 victory at Paul Brown Stadium.
Tom Brady’s offense marched right down the field for a 7-0 lead on the opening possession, a drive filled with chunk plays on the way to a James White 23-yard score on a well-executed screen play.
Unfortunately for New England, minutes later the Bengals tied the game running the ball down the throat of the Patriots poor-tackling defense on eight straight plays before Andy Dalton found tight end Cethan Carter for an easy 8-yard touchdown.
While New England went three-and-out on its second possession, Cincy drove down the field yet again to a short field goal for the 10-7 lead as the first quarter expired.
After the teams swapped turnovers on downs in the second quarter, New England drove to a 40-yard Nick Folk field goal to tie the game at 10 late in the second quarter.
The Bengals then gave the Patriots the halftime lead 13-10 thanks to a gift muffed punt that turned into a Folk 46-yard field goal.
Another Bengals turnover to open the second half gave Brady a short field on the way to a 7-yard touchdown throw to N’Keal Harry for the 20-10 lead early in the third quarter.
New England then started to pull away from the Bengals on Stephon Gilmore’s 64-yard pick-six of an Andy Dalton throw for the 27-10 lead midway through the third quarter.
It wasn’t always pretty or easy, especially for the Patriots’ offense, but it was more than good enough to break a two-game losing streak thanks in large part, as has so often been the case, to a playmaking defense that picked off Dalton four times.
Before moving on to next Saturday’s big AFC East battle with the Bills at Gillette Stadium, here are some personnel highs and lows from the Patriots win over the Bengals.