In what was a highly defensively-driven matchup, the Cincinnati Bengals edged the New England Patriots by a final score of 13-6 on Sunday. This enormous win for Cincinnati now puts the team at 3-2 in a three-way tie atop the AFC North. The win also knocks the 4-1 Patriots out of the unbeaten ranks.
After a dismal performance against the Cleveland Browns in Week 4, Cincinnati needed this win badly to right the ship and avoid digging themselves into a deep hole.
One question can be asked after this Week 5 performance: Who are the 2013 Bengals?
The showings that this team has put on over the course of five weeks have been so entirely different, it becomes hard to tell which Bengals team will show up on any given week. However, one thing is for certain: this is a team that will heavily rely on its defense going forward—much like it did 2012.
Andy Dalton actually played a very solid game against the Patriots—he seemed confident and accurate. For the contest, Dalton completed 20 of 27 attempts for 212 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception for a passer rating of 81.1.
Yes, those do not seem like overly impressive stats. However, upon watching his performance, he was clearly in more control of the passing game than he has been in past weeks. He relied heavily on short-to-intermediate routes and used his weapons at the tight end position to get the job done. Once the passing game was established to the tight ends, it opened up the windows to start feeding wide receiver A.J. Green.
Dalton managed the game in a nice fashion, despite one big hiccup that resulted in his first ever red-zone interception. If the Bengals go forward in this same manner—using Dalton as a game manager—they will be best suited for success for the remainder of 2013.
Quarterback Game Grade: B-
The Bengals running game was highly effective against the Patriots on Sunday—which was partly responsible for the success of the passing game. The balance of power shifted back to BenJarvus Green-Ellis, as he received the bulk of the carries. He rushed 19 times for 67 yards and one score, averaging 3.5 yards per carry. A solid game for the veteran.
However, it was rookie Giovani Bernard that stole the show once again. Bernard rushed 13 times for 62 yards with a long run of 28 yards, and averaged 4.8 yards per carry. He also added two receptions for seven yards. Bernard was struggling to find running room early in the matchup, but was persistent. He dazzled in the second half which really opened things up for the Bengals offense.
Even Dalton got into the action on the ground—he even recorded a rush off of a read-option play. The quarterback rushed six times for 25 yards.
The lone hiccup on the ground came as a lost fumble by Bernard—the first of his career.
All in all, the Bengals totaled 162 rushing yards and averaged 4.2 yards per carry as a team on Sunday. That's about as effective as it gets.
Running Backs Game Grade: A-
A.J. Green had another relatively quiet performance against the Patriots; however, that seemed to be a result of the game plan. The Bengals featured tight ends in the passing game and relied heavily on the running game throughout the contest. Green did post five receptions for 61 yards on eight targets. He continued to give the Bengals offense life and was extremely reliable when the ball was thrown in his direction.
A big surprise was the emergence of Marvin Jones during Week 5. Jones only recorded two receptions, but he made them count. He totaled 39 yards on those catches which put his average yards per reception at a huge 19.5, showcasing his ability to be a big-play threat.
Mohamed Sanu had a quiet game, recording two receptions for a total of 28 yards, as he split a fair amount of time with Jones over the course of the game.
The receivers were not featured heavily against the Patriots, but they were very consistent, catching nine passes out of 12 targets.
Wide Receivers Game Grade: B+
The tight ends were a huge focal point for the Bengals offensive game plan on Sunday. Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham caught nine of Dalton's 20 completions. Both had solid games, making tough catches in traffic and fighting for additional yards after the catch.
Eifert was Dalton's favorite target on the day and recorded five receptions for 53 yards. Gresham remained a check-down option and recorded four receptions for 24 yards.
The tight ends were as efficient as the wide receivers against the Patriots. They recorded nine receptions on 11 targets. Eifert's 22-yard reception was the second-longest of the day after Jones' 28 yarder.
The two-tight end set has been very effective for the Bengals. It was established early and often against the Patriots. This should continue to be heavily utilized going forward.
Tight Ends Game Grade: B+
It was a bit of an up-and-down kind of day for the Bengals offensive line. They struggled early in the game blocking for the run, but kept up a solid effort and were able to open things up later on against a tired Patriots defensive front.
Dalton was sacked four times for a total loss of 33 yards; however, not all four sacks were the result of poor play by the offensive line. For one example, right tackle Andre Smith held up a great block on New England's Tommy Kelly. Smith let Kelly loose after a substantial amount of time—obviously thinking Dalton had released the ball by then. He hadn't and a sack was the result.
Andrew Whitworth continued to struggle on the edge a bit and was flagged for a holding call after getting beaten on the inside.
Overall, the sack tally was a bit high, but was not entirely a result of poor offensive line play. The unit continues to jell and are becoming a very reliable group.
Offensive Line Game Grade: B-
One of the biggest storylines heading into Sunday's game was the absence of defensive end Michael Johnson. Apparently, the Bengals did not feel the same way. The deep rotation on the defensive front paid dividends, as multiple players were able to torment Tom Brady throughout the contest.
The Bengals sacked Brady four times for a total loss of 31 yards. Wallace Gilberry—the man replacing Johnson for the game—led the charge with two sacks on the day. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict and defensive tackle Geno Atkins also recorded one each.
Pressure was coming from all sides as Brady was hit a total of eight times throughout the game. One player that was able to contact Brady was defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who is having a fantastic season. Dunlap recorded five total tackles on the day—good for third on the team.
This is a unit that absolutely needed to step up against one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the NFL. They did their job and the end result was a victory.
Defensive Line Game Grade: A+
The linebackers played about as solid of a game as would be expected against a very dangerous offense. As per usual, Vontaze Burfiuct lead the charge, totaling eight tackles and a sack on the day. Rey Maualuga accounted for four tackles, James Harrison recorded one—as well as a hit on Brady—and Taylor Mays finished with two.
The solid tackling by the linebacker corps was a big reason as to why the Patriots were only able to total 82 yards on the ground. The linebackers were also partially responsible for the four fumbles (one lost) by the Patriots offense.
One of the most impressive aspects of Sunday's performance was the coverage by this group. Maualuga held his ground and remained disciplined on a trick play by the Patriots on the goal line, as they rolled out an offensive lineman as a receiver in the end zone. Mays was responsible for covering slot receiver Danny Amendola for part of the contest and remained solid despite the apparent mismatch.
Overall, this unit was the glue that held the entire defense together against the Patriots.
Linebackers Game Grade: A
Another huge storyline going into Sunday's game was the absence of top cornerback Leon Hall. Again, for the Bengals, this seemed to be a moot point. The rest of the secondary picked up the slack and performed better than they had all season against one of their most formidable opponents.
Veteran safety and slot corner Chris Crocker was the biggest standout against the Patriots. He recorded seven total tackles, two tackles for a loss and two passes defensed. He was absolutely everywhere on the field.
Adam Jones and Terence Newman had nice days on the outside covering rookie wide receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins. The two veteran corners totaled three pass breakups and five total tackles.
Newman had a beautiful pass breakup in the end zone on a deep pass after a Bengals turnover. Jones intercepted Brady late in the fourth quarter to seal the victory for the Bengals.
Safety Reggie Nelson had a rather quiet game aside from recovering a LeGarrette Blount fumble.
Brady was held to a 52.2 passer rating and his 52-game streak of recording at least one touchdown pass came to an end. Simply put, the Bengals secondary could not have played much more of a solid, inspired game.
Secondary Game Grade: A+
Kickers Mike Nugent and Kevin Huber stole the show on special teams. Nugent connected on both field goal attempts—with a long of 50 yards. Huber punted six times and averaged a solid 45.8 yards per attempt, including a long punt of 57 yards. He was also able to pin the Patriots inside their own 20-yard line twice.
The punt coverage unit could have had a slightly better day, as they let the shift Julian Edelman get loose a couple of times. Edelman returned four punts for a total of 43 yards—averaging 10.8 yards per return—and recorded a long return of 24 yards.
New England returned kickoffs four times and averaged 23.3 yards per return—a respectable, but not fantastic number.
The Bengals special teams unit put six points on the board and was not the cause for any New England points on the day.
Special Teams Game Grade: B
The coaching staff actually put forth a very solid effort on Sunday. They came into the game very well prepared and stuck to a sound game plan.
It was very obvious that head coach Marvin Lewis and Co. realized what had gone wrong the past couple of weeks—they relied too heavily on Dalton and the passing game and were not utilizing the run near enough. Also, they were trying to force feed Green and failed to effectively use their big, athletic tight ends.
All of that changed against the Patriots.
Despite the score remaining close throughout the contest, the coaching staff did not panic and stuck to the game plan for the duration of the contest. They were able to get back to their AFC North roots and ran the ball 39 times against 27 passing attempts.
The Bengals made the Patriots play into their game plan, which was the largest reason for success on Sunday.
Credit must be given to offensive coordinator Jay Gruden for making the necessary adjustments over the course of this past week, and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer for coming in with what may have been the most solid defensive performance by this Bengals team in a long time.
The powerhouse franchise of the Patriots were held to a mere six points by the Bengals on Sunday. Surely, teams around the league are going to take notice.
Coaching Game Grade: A