The New England Patriots came into Sunday night reeling from a tough loss followed by a week full of questions regarding the direction of the franchise. Most thought the Bengals would come into Foxboro and assist in the Patriots downward spiral, but a funny thing happened on Sunday night- the Patriots woke up and dominated the AFC North leading Bengals, 43-17. Let's take a look at how they got the job done.
New England on Offense:
The offense came out hot right from the National Anthem. Tom Brady, who heard questions all week regarding his commitment to the franchise and his frustration with his line/receivers, looked like himself again. The main reason for his strong game was the offensive line. Rookie Bryan Stork solidified the center position and appears to have earned himself a permanent starting job. Dan Connelly and Ryan Wendell also had excellent games and helped to keep the interior pass rush off of Brady. Nate Solder finally looked like an NFL player, which may seem harsh but is warranted after watching the All-22 film from the first month of the season.
The strong game from the line had a lot to do with the game plan, which was using the run to setup play action. Like we discussed in the game preview, play action and a commitment to the run will put a defense on their heels, and that plan came to fruition Sunday night. Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen had very strong games, rushing for over 200 yards combined and setting the tone for the evening.
When the Bengals tried to bring safeties into the box to slow down the running attack, the Patriots were able to counter in the passing game, specifically with their two tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Tim Wright. Gronk and Wright both had pressure on them to perform and stepped up big time. Although there weren't a lot of negative takeaways, there was one clear problem- the red zone. Josh McDaniels tends to get to cute in the red zone and throw too often. New England needs to stick with what got them into the red zone- the run game and play action. If Week Five is a sign of how this team can improve on issues, then there is no doubt they’ll figure out the red zone problem.
New England on Defense:
The Patriots have had a strange start to the 2014 season on defense. In the first month, they sometimes looked like the '85 Bears and other times looked like the '09 Patriots. There were people questioning the scheme (me) and wondering why they were playing a soft zone and not being aggressive. Well, those questions were answered when Darrelle Revis lined up man-to-man on A.J. Green to open the night. Revis and the rest of the crew on defense played very well.
On the first drive of the night, Cincinnati did move the ball, but once they got into the red zone, the defense got stingy. This would the theme of the night. Revis made an excellent play and appeared to come up with an interception, but he was called for illegal contact (awful call) and the Bengals were able to resume their drive, which resulted in a missed field goal attempt by Mike Nugent. The Bengals struggled to establish the run game mainly because the Patriots were able to use Patrick Chung more in run support while Revis took half the field (and A.J. Green) away.
New England on Special Teams:
Stephen Gostkowski was five for five on field goals attempts and the kickoff team forced a fumble that was returned for a touchdown. The coverage did a pretty good job and there were no issues as far as turnovers or returns. The special teams unit earned an A and had a big part of putting the nail in Cincinnati' coffin.
The Patriots move to 3-2 with the win and will travel to Buffalo in Week Six to face the 3-2 Bills. Buffalo had a huge win over Detroit last week and is gaining confidence every week. This game will go a long way in deciding the AFC East champs in 2014.