Patriots vs Bengals: Takeaways from New England's 13-6 Loss to Cincinnati
The New England Patriots dropped their first game of the season on Sunday, a 13-6 shutdown by the Cincinnati Bengals. The Patriots were held to just 248 yards of total offense and were 1-of-12 on third down offensively.
It's been a long time since the Pats offense has been so thoroughly stopped, but that wasn't even the worst potential news of the day, with another possible major injury that could be devastating.
Defensively, the Pats held the Bengals in check for most of the day until a 14-play, 93-yard touchdown drive that put the defensive struggle out of reach in the fourth quarter.
Here are the major takeaways as the Pats fell to 4-1 on the season.
Ryan Allen Coming-Out Party?
With the Pats offense unable to move the ball for much of the game, rookie punter Ryan Allen was called on to punt eight times and he delivered.
Allen averaged 44.1 yards per punt, but most impressive was that he pinned the Bengals inside their 10-yard line four times. That helped the Pats keep an advantage in field position when the offense was unable to move the ball.
Allen continues to progress and has had no issue holding on field goals either. The Pats' value move in training camp in keeping the undrafted rookie looks like the right one.
Offensive Line Gets off to a Slow Start
The Bengals sacked Tom Brady four times, including twice on the first two possessions that held the Pats to two total yards. After the offensive line was praised for much of the week, its slow start set the tone offensively for the rest of the day.
Brady never looked fully the comfortable the rest of the day, often out of rhythm with his receivers. For the second time this season, Brady completed less than 50 percent of his passes (18-of-38).
The protection improved, but this will be a learning moment for the offensive line as to how detrimental shaky starts can be.
Brandon Spikes Is a Valuable Linebacker
Brandon Spikes hadn't seen much time in the sub-defense before this week, but against the Bengals he was the top nickel linebacker next to Jerod Mayo. While Spikes is not a three-down linebacker in the traditional sense, in today's NFL he can certainly have a major role on a defense.
With Vince Wilfork out, playing Spikes more makes sense against the run. Spikes was his usual dominant self, despite playing behind two undrafted rookie defensive tackles for much of the second half. Spikes finished with 12 total tackles, an interception and two tackles for loss.
Spikes' interception was certainly a statement that he can make an impact in the passing game. If he keeps making plays like that, he'll make himself a lot of money when he hits free agency this offseason.
Danny Amendola's Return
Danny Amendola made his return to action after missing three weeks with a groin injury, and it was clear that the Patriots were managing his snaps, especially with the rain making for slippery footing. Still, it was a positive step for the receiver, who didn't appear to have any noticeable movement issues.
Amendola finished the day with four catches on nine targets for 55 yards, but it was clear that he and Brady were a little rusty.
But Amendola's 21-yard catch to put the Pats in the red zone for the only time of the day in the fourth quarter was a positive sign of things to come. Once he and Brady re-establish the chemistry they showed this summer, it will be a big boost for the Pats offense.
One they badly need.
Need Ridley and Vereen Back
The combination of LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden put up a respectable 75 yards on 17 carries, but it's clear the Pats missed the explosion of Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen.
Bolden is nowhere near the kind of threat that Vereen is in the passing game, and it looked like the lack of that kind of weapon is starting to catch up with New England's offense. Bolden did have six catches for 40 yards, but none went longer than 14 yards.
Blount continues to struggle as a short-yardage back, unable to pick up a touchdown on a 1st-and-goal from the half-yard line.
Ridley's injury doesn't sound like a long-term thing, but Vereen won't be back until Week 9 at the soonest. That's still a long time to get by without him.
The Defense Is Establishing an Identity
Despite missing Vince Wilfork, the Patriots defense held up well in the first half, but once Tommy Kelly went down, it struggled to stop the run. Still, it was an overall pretty strong performance for the Pats defense, despite the loss.
The Pats forced six punts and two turnovers and allowed 341 total yards and just 13 points. In recent seasons, this would've been more than enough for the Pats to win, but not today.
Even with injury losses, the defense continues to keep the games tight, and if it had not been for some heavy rain, the Pats might've just tied the game up. The tackling, coverage and pressure have all been solid for most of this season.
The defense might bend, but it doesn't often break, allowing just two trips into the red zone by the Bengals offense. It also allowed just five catches for 61 yards to A.J. Green.
The Patriots defense continues to make strides.
No Kelly, No Wilfork, Big Problems
Tommy Kelly went down with a knee injury in the fourth quarter and returned for a couple plays, only to leave the game again for good.
If losing Vince Wilfork was a major blow, it's hard to say what losing Tommy Kelly would mean. It would leave the Patriots with two undrafted rookies, both undersized, as their starting defensive tackles. It was clear the Bengals should attack with the running game when Kelly went out and that's just what they did.
The Patriots countered by shifting to a 3-4 front, simplifying the game for their young tackles, Joe Vellano and Chris Jones, by only asking them to hold their ground.
Hopefully Kelly is not lost for the year, because that might not be something the Patriots could recover from.
Patriots Fight Until the End
Despite the Patriots offense having an ugly afternoon, the team fought all the way down until the final gun. It would be hard for anyone to argue that the Pats deserved to be 5-0. Every game has been close, and when it comes to the most important games in January, having to play these kinds of contests could be a good thing.
One thing this version of Bill Belichick's Patriots doesn't lack is fight.
Credit goes to the Bengals defense as well, which played like an elite defense should play at home. These are not the 2010-2012 Patriots, so we can't judge this performance in comparison to those teams. This was a half-step back for an offense that had showed progress the last two weeks. That doesn't mean it can't take two full steps forward in the next game.
Clearly, the Patriots still have work to do, but any team in the NFL would take a 4-1 record.
It won't get any easier with the New Orleans Saints coming to town, but it will be another great test for the Pats defense and another chance to get a little healthier and better on offense.