Down 22-0 at halftime, the New England Patriots showed some tremendous team toughness crawling to get back into things against the Cincinnati Bengals. So much so, that they had the ball with a chance to win with under two minutes to go. Sadly, an ill-timed fumble from Rhamondre Stevenson effectively sealed things up, in what was ultimately a too little too late effort. With that said, there are positives to take away in this effort, largely because this team hasn’t quit on the season, even as their playoff hopes are all but gone.
Wholesome Holliday Content
By now, I would imagine most have heard of or have seen the video of a Patriots fan being rudely heckled in the nosebleeds at the end of last week’s game. I’m happy to say that story has a good ending. Pats Twitter’s @BabzOnTheMic tried to find out the man in question, and not only did he succeed, but Robert Kraft also personally reached out and invited the fan to Foxborough to watch Saturday’s game in the owner’s box.
Meet Jerry Edmond, a graduate of Central Connecticut State who majored in psychology. That Raiders game was his first NFL game period, and as you can probably tell by now, showed tremendous composure and class in that situation. Edmond got the full five-star treatment, with pregame field passes, and received some team merchandise. Simply a fantastic gesture by Kraft all things considered. A shame things didn’t end better in the game, but Jerry seemed to have fun all the same.
Searching for a Pulse
Coming off the worst offensive outing of the season, the Patriots inspired less than zero confidence on offense to kick things off against Cincinnati. Matt Patricia dialed up a pair of McDaniels’ Specials in the first two drives (run, run, then pass, typically a screen, leading to a three and out). From there, the Patriots ran just 10 more plays in the opening half, picking up just two first downs in the opening half, with 70 total yards.
Here's the part where Matt Patricia gets rightfully shredded. On the third Patriots offensive snap of the game, they were set up on a third and four. And what you see below is what ended up being called.
Four yards, four yards is all you needed to pick up and the call is to send everyone downfield on a long-developing play. For those wondering why Hunter Henry’s dot is stationary and wasn’t thrown too, he and Jonnu Smith collided on this play. Shocking considering, they were running the same route just mirrored (heavy sarcasm). Furthermore, Henry suffered a knee injury on this play which knocked him out of the game. I don’t understand what Mac Jones was supposed to do here, especially with the Bengals sending five. It’s plays like this where I can understand Mac losing his cool so easily, you have to give him a chance in terms of the plays he’s getting. On the play calling subject, I don't think that Bill O'Brien piece by Ian Rappaport was a coincidence in the AM hours.
The Bourne Reclamation
If only Matt Patricia didn’t hold a blood feud against Kendrick Bourne from the dog days of the preseason, games like today could have been possible all season. Bourne, an 800-yard five-touchdown wideout a season ago, put up the single-best game of his career with 100 yards and six catches. This was punctuated with a catch-of-the-year candidate in the fourth quarter, which effectively set up the final touchdown of the game to Jakobi Meyers.
Bourne also got a rush attempt in, and while that hasn’t gone anywhere as good as last year before today, he picked up a massive 29-yard gain. Huge considering the Patriots’ running game was a non-factor. Off a 129-yard scrimmage yard game, Bourne was quick to give credit to his teammates as coaches postgame for keeping him locked in with his lack of usage in 2022.
Defensive Adjustments Make a World of Difference
Don’t think saying that the Patriots' defense left a lot to be desired in the first half is too far off base. Joe Burrow and the Bengals' offense made things look effortless in the early goings, putting up 15 points and 178 yards in the opening quarter on just 24 plays. The second quarter wasn’t much better save for a bad Burrow interception bailing out the Patriots. The Bengals also converted all of their third down chances and scored their final score of the day on third down as well.
One thing that jumped out and not in a good way was putting Marcus Jones on Tee Higgins. He wasn’t glued to him all game but putting a 5’8 corner on a 6’4 wide receiver isn’t the best idea on paper. It didn’t work out much better in practice either, with Higgins picking up two catches on nine routes for 70 yards with Jones in coverage. Granted, the Patriots lack size at the cornerback position in general, but that call to put Marcus Jones on Higgins didn’t feel advisable.
It wasn’t all bad for Jones on Sunday, far from it in fact. Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase miscommunicated on either the play or an audible because Chase was nowhere near the pass when Jones got the interception. He then turned into the Flash down the sideline on the way to a pick-six, the spark that the Patriots were looking for all game. On top of 14 tackles and a fumble recovery, this was another good outing for Jones save for those two Higgins catches.
Matt Judon simply stated that he needed to be better during the week, and those weren’t just empty words. With a sack (two if not for a ticky-tack penalty on Josh Uche) and a gigantic, forced fumble on Ja’Marr Chase, the Patriots' best defender showed up. Josh Uche also joined in on the sack party, picking up one of his own a little later. Now the Patriots' dynamic duo combines for 27 sacks, the most of any teammates in football. Although the first half was rough, this unit was money down the stretch against a Super Bowl-caliber opponent. That’s all you can ask really.
Up Next: Dolphins Part 2
The Miami Dolphins are a bit different since the last time they played them back in Week 1. At the trade deadline, they traded the San Francisco 49ers' first-round pick (via Trey Lance trade) to the Denver Broncos to get star pass rusher, Bradley Chubb. Not only that, GM Chris Grier set him up with a five-year 110-million dollar extension two days later. Entering their Christmas day tilt against the Green Bay Packers, he has 2.5 sacks in six games with his new club. Miami also effectively swapped out Chase Edmonds for Jeff Wilson as well in two separate moves.
Circling now to Tua Tagovailoa, he has never lost to the New England Patriots in his young career. That’s a great thing considering that Miami is currently riding their second three-game losing streak of the season. It is worth noting that Tua was far from perfect in the opening contest of the season, but he did better than Mac Jones, by comparison, limiting the bad plays if anything. Given that Miami needs to likely win two of their last three to lock themselves in, this is a much bigger game for them than it is for the Patriots.
Final Score: Cincinnati Bengals 22, New England Patriots 18
Gaffney's Three Stars:
1st Star – Kendrick Bourne (6 Catches for 100 Yards and a Touchdown, 1 Rush for 29 Yards)
2nd Star – Matt Judon (1 Sack, 1 Forced Fumble)
3rd Star – Marcus Jones (Pick-Six, 1 Fumble Recovery, 1 Catch for 15 Yards)