NFL Network was unanimous in their pick of the New England Patriots to beat the Cincinnati Bengals, but it looked like the Bengals who came ready to dominate in all aspects of the game. To be fair, neither team could find the end zone for the first three quarters of the game; and it took four downs for the Bengals to stuff the rock in for the only touchdown in the fourth quarter.
So here's what we learned from today's game:
1. Cincinnati's defensive line is better than New England's offensive line.
New England has been touted for their offensive line play, but failed to hold the line against a vicious and relentless onslaught. It wasn't just the sacks, but the constant pressure on Tom Brady, and the crushing run defense that derailed the Patriots drive after drive. And the one last gasp that New England had to match Cincinnati's only TD ended in failure in the shadow of the end zone. What little succes Brady found was nullified in short order by a swarming D.
2. Tom Brady is not quite on target in 2013.
Let's set aside the inexperience of his receiving corps; while his guys have trouble hanging onto the ball, Tom has been off—target much more than we are accustomed to seeing. Maybe it's his age, maybe he is wearing under the pressure to carry the team, but something is not right under that helmet. Here is an All—Pro QB who can't direct his offense down the field and seems to be losing his cool.
3. Cincinnati does a pretty good job of protecting the ball.
Despite one fumble and an interception today, Cincinnati controlled the ball well and made fewer mistakes when the game was on the line. It wasn't the prettiest win this year, but it was a win against a team that seemed to be on the rise after a slow start. It also was a boost for a team that was garnering some doubt as to the ability of their young QB and a questionable pass defense.
4. Speaking of which...
Cincinnati did a good job of disturbing Brady and blanketing his targets all day long. I don't want to minimize the work they did, but they showed just how inconsistent the passing attack of New England really is. Brady needs more protection, but still has to read and beat the defense. The Bengals didn't blow them out, but did enough to keep them out of the end zone.
5. Heads need to roll in New England.
Simple: Patriot coaches are getting out—coached. Someone there needs to hold the management accountable... and what about Brady? I will keep harping on this until I see a change in his attitude and performance. He didn't seem to be able to build on the work done in the Atlanta game, and the offense took a step backwards this week. His weapons all seem to be getting injured. So he should be able to adapt. And their third down efficiency is abysmal (1-12 today).
Cincinnati flat—out beat the Pats at their own game. They controlled the line of scrimmage and forced the Patriots out of their comfort zone. Neither offense was consistent- Andy Dalton was better on the day than Brady, and the run game favored the Bengals, but mostly because of the disparity in blocking. Credit Cincinnati for pushing New England around and capitalizing on opportunities.
New England can't expect to win (especially against the high—flying Saints) week in and week out wiith such sloppy play.
Cincinnati can move on with a little more confidence after shutting Mr. Brady down.
It looks like time to call this a rebuilding year for the Patriots, while Cincinnati needs to learn how to finish. This isn't a huge win for them, but something to give them hope for the future. And also time to start wondering how much Brady has left in the tank...