Patriots vs. Bengals: Takeaways from Cincinnati's 13-6 Victory over New England
It was a thrill ride to the very end, but the Cincinnati Bengals managed to defeat the New England Patriots Sunday 13-6 while not allowing Tom Brady to throw a touchdown pass.
The victory comes a week after the Bengals themselves failed to score a touchdown in a stunning loss to the Cleveland Browns.
Cincinnati moves to 3-2 after the big win with a matchup against the Buffalo Bills on the horizon.
In the following slideshow we'll look at the biggest takeaways from Cincinnati's major win over the Patriots, because there are plenty worth noting.
Cincinnati Is Back to AFC North Power Football
Things are about back to normal for Cincinnati.
Last week, the Bengals decided it was a great idea to throw twice as much as run despite not having a quarterback who can handle that type of volume and neglected the fact that the running back position has a quality one-two punch with BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard.
While New England's defense is no Cleveland unit, the Bengals got back to basics and ran the ball 39 times to just 27 passes.
Green-Ellis ran for 67 yards on 19 carries and scored once, while Bernard rushed for 62 on 13 as Cincinnati was able to win the time of possession battle, 31:09 to 25:44.
That's the type of football Cincinnati needs to play each week.
Jay Gruden and Co. Learned from Loss to Cleveland
It appears offensive coordinator Jay Gruden learned a thing or two from the loss in Cleveland last week. As mentioned, a bigger emphasis was placed on the ground game against New England, but Gruden improved in other areas as well.
One issue seemingly cleared up is predictability. As ESPN's Coley Harvey pointed out, Cincinnati started the game in a predictable fashion in order to feel out the opposition:
To summarize Cincy's drives—1st: Run, run, run. 2nd: Move backwards. 3rd: Pass to TEs. 4th: Mix up pass to TE/run. 5th: Pass to WRs— Coley Harvey (@ColeyHarvey) October 6, 2013
However, Gruden and Co. quickly corrected the issue in the second half:
#Bengals finally beginning to mix passing between TEs, WRs and RBs. Probably their best drive of the game...if they finish— Coley Harvey (@ColeyHarvey) October 6, 2013
While the play-calling was likely a bit conservative for some, Gruden dialed back his reliance on the erractic Andy Dalton, and the Bengals ended up winning as a result.
Giovani Bernard Is the Offense
Yes, Giovani Bernard committed a costly fumble late in the game against the New England Patriots, but the Cincinnati Bengals rookie is the heart and soul of the offense.
It's a simple equation—when Bernard goes, the offense goes.
Bernard carried the ball 13 times for 62 yards and a 4.8 yards per carry average. Things also opened up more with Bernard in the game, as defenses had to account for his running and receiving ability—something units simply do not have to accommodate for with the plodding BenJarvus Green-Ellis in the game.
Unfortunately, part of the reason Bernard has not received more carries to date, outside of health precautions, is because he is a rookie. It will be interesting to watch how his late fumble impacts how much the coaching staff trusts him. His opportunities will be impacted accordingly.
No Leon Hall, Michael Johnson? No Problem!
Things looked cloudy in Cincinnati before the game, and we are not talking about the weather—we're talking about the fact it was revealed that the Bengals would be without defensive end Michael Johnson and cornerback Leon Hall.
Cincinnati was able to apply the next-man-up philosophy as New England quarterback Tom Brady was sacked four times and twice by rotational piece Wallace Gilberry.
Brady was also intercepted once at the end of the game by Adam Jones, who had played sound coverage for most of the day along with Terence Newman and Dre Kirkpatrick.
Time and again the word "depth" is used to describe the 2013 Bengals, and that was on full display against New England.
Offensive Line Is an Issue
Perhaps the biggest negative for the Cincinnati Bengals outside of the at-times spotty offensive philosophy was the performance of the offensive line.
There were no injuries to speak of along the front, but quarterback Andy Dalton was sacked four times.
On one play, elite right tackle Andre Smith appeared to simply give up and allow his man to pass. On another, outstanding second-year right guard Kevin Zeitler was beat bad before the defender leveled Dalton.
One of the major concerns over the past few seasons has been Dalton's pocket presence, so his taking numerous hits on Sunday could have a lasting impact.
Zeitler and Andrew Whitworth have dealt with little injuries this season, so the turbulence along the line could turn out to be a temporary issue.
Andy Dalton Is Better, but Little Mistakes Persist
Andy Dalton was pitiful last week against the Cleveland Browns, as he threw for 206 yards and an interception in the loss, confirming the offense is hindered by his liabilities as a pro.
Some of the blame also goes to the offensive play-calling, but as we detailed, that was much improved against New England. Against the Patriots, Dalton threw for 212 yards and one interception.
Dalton was a bit better, as the play-calling allowed him to use his tight ends more and rely on his running backs, but more often than not, Dalton was throwing passes behind the line of scrimmage.
Add in the fact Dalton threw a horrendous interception while coming back across his body and another one on a deep throw that should have counted if Aqib Talib kept his foot in-bounds, and it's easy to see that the Bengals are hindered by Dalton.
Dalton was more consistent via better calls from the staff, but those calls continue to not go down the field. The Bengals can win with Dalton, but they'll be protecting him, not unleashing him.
The Defense Doesn't Need an Intro
What more can be said about the Cincinnati Bengals defense?
The defensive line is a well-known commodity at this point. Geno Atkins notched a sack on Tom Brady and Wallace Gilberry added two of his own.
In total, Cincinnati limited New England to just 248 total yards on the day, and is the first defensive unit in 53 games to prevent Brady from throwing a touchdown pass, as highlighted by Sportscenter:
For the first time in 53 games, Tom Brady fails to throw TD pass as Bengals top Patriots, 13-6. That streak was 2nd best in NFL history.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 6, 2013
As has been the case the past few years, the defense will carry Cincinnati as far as it can go while the offense remains sluggish.
Linebacker Vontaze Burfict is the leader of the bunch and leads the NFL in tackles. As long as the unit remains healthy, the Bengals have a shot at the AFC North.
Bengals Can Play with Contenders
There are one of two ways to look at the Cincinnati Bengals' strong showing over the New England Patriots.
One is a known trend that has occurred in Cincinnati for quite some time—the Bengals play down and up to their competition. That is sound reasoning looking at the last two weeks alone, as the Bengals lost to Cleveland but responded well against a playoff contender in the Patriots.
Another is to concede the Bengals can hang with the best of the best.
Now would be the time to pick option No. 2.
Cincinnati has major wins over the Green Bay Packers and New England this year courtesy of strong defense. The offense will continue to be a liability, but the talent on the roster is real.
The Bengals look strong a little over a month into the season. Consistency, execution and health are key from here on out if Cincinnati is to make a third straight appearance in the postseason.
Follow B/R's Chris Roling on Twitter for more news and analysis @Chris_Roling