New England Patriots Vs. Cincinnati Bengals: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
This weekend in Foxboro the Cincinnati Circus came to town. Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco (who knew that Ochocinco isn't Spanish for 85 but rather 8 and 5? Whoever did probably should have told Chad before he changed his last name to Eight-Five) looked to be a major test for the Patriots' young secondary. Carson Palmer seemed destined to enjoy good pass protection and unleash his new weapons. This one had all the makings of a shootout.
Instead it was New England who put on a show and came out with a win. Just another day in Patriot Nation. I give you this week's edition of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly!
Good: Tom Brady
This one is so obvious that I will no longer include him after this week. He looked as good as he ever has and had Favre-esque zip on his throws. Brady threw one heat-seeking knucklebuster after another, connecting with seven different receivers, none of which were Bengals' defenders.
I know I'm not the first to say it, but if Sunday was any indication,Brady could legitimately challenge his numbers from 2007.
Good: Offensive Line
In 35 pass attempts Brady wasn't sacked once. He was rarely hurried and even less frequently hit. Antwan Odom, who registered 8 sacks in 6 games for the Bengals last season, was completely neutralized.
It wasn't just the pass blocking that stood out either. The Patriots average 5.1 yards per carry as a team. The big boys up front looked great, even without their best player, Logan Mankins.
Good: Running Backs
Speaking of that 5.1 YPC average, the Patriots' running backs looked surprisingly good. Fred Taylor showed he can still get it done. He ran with a serious mean streak, punishing defenders and showing the type of decisive, hard-nosed running style New England fans have longed for ever since Maroney first laced up his ballet slippers.
Good: Wes Welker
I knew Welker was a beast, but I don't think even the most optimistic Patriots fans saw this coming.
The man tore his ACL nine months ago. Not only did he return in time to play in the season opener, but he looked like he never left. He led the team in receptions, yards, and touchdowns (8 for 64 and 2 TD's). He's rapidly approaching Bruschi status as a local legend and inspirational leader.
He's shown the same kind of fiery passion that made Bruschi so magnetic and made Brady virtually unbeatable.
Good: Brandon Tate
This kid is electrifying. He picked up right where he left off this preseason, with a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. He averaged 46 yards per return on the day and officially announced his presence as one of the NFL's most dangerous return men. Don't be surprised to see him representing the AFC come February.
He also lined up as the third WR and caught four passes for good measure. Look for the Patriots to find more ways to get the ball in his hands as the season progresses.
Good: Patriots' Secondary
After Leigh Bodden went down for the season, most fans seemed to think the defense was toast. I wasn't one of them, but I still wasn't expecting the young bucks to come out and play like they did yesterday.
Merriweather played his usual stellar game, so let's focus on the less-heralded players.
Devin McCourty once again validated Belichick's trust and looked like a seasoned veteran defending Terrell Owens. That play he made early on to knock the ball out of Owens' hands is as difficult a play as there is for a cornerback and he made it look routine. He also hits like a linebacker and perhaps most importantly is almost never out of position. The Jets have Revis Island, we have McCourty County (the jail or the district, either one works).
Then there was Patrick Chung. He had a game-high 16 tackles, 12 of which were solo, including one for a loss. Maybe those Rodney Harrison comparisons weren't so far-fetched after all.
This didn't look anything like the group that got shredded by Sam Bradford in its last appearance.
Good: Defensive Front Seven
Hoodie Bill mixed in a healthy amount of four-man fronts in addition to the traditional set of three down-linemen. Vince Wilfork, Myron Pryor, and Mike Wright manhandled the Bengals offensive line and completely shut down their running attack. Cedric Benson had nowhere to run as evidenced by his 43 yards, 2.9 YPC average and fumble lost. The D-line collapsed the pocket on Carson Palmer and although the team only registered one sack, they were getting consistent pressure and keeping him off-balance.
Behind them, linebackers Rob Ninkovich, Jerod Mayo, Gary Guyton, Tully Banta-Cain, and Brandon Spikes were more than happy to put the finishing touches on a physical beatdown best exemplified by two plays. One was Guyton's interception return for a touchdown in which he bodied up tight end Jermaine Gresham, ran stride for stride with him, made a play on the ball and took it the other way. The other was when they gang tackled Cedric Benson, forcing a fumble. Ninkovich recovered but it could have been pretty much anybody because it seemed like the entire defense was there in the backfield.
They played like they had something to prove, and by the time the Bengals found their rhythm it was too little, too late.
Good: Tight Ends
Aaron Hernandez only had one catch, but it was a big one. His 45-yard catch and run set up the game's first touchdown to Welker.
Fellow rookie Rob Gronkowski also had just one catch, but like Hernandez, it was a big one. He made an excellent adjustment to the ball on an end-zone fade to haul it in practically against the back of his helmet.
If Sunday's game was the first you heard about these two, you're not just late to the party, you missed it completely. The after-party begins next Sunday at 4:15 at New Meadowlands Stadium.
Bad: Red Zone Defense
The Bengals scored touchdowns on all three of their red-zone possesions. That was a major problem for the Patriots last season, and it's one they will need to correct if they want to compete with the NFL's best.
Bad: Randy Moss
His stat-line wasn't terrible, five receptions for 59 yards, but the Patriots took several shots deep down field and didn't connect on any of them. I'm not saying it's all Moss's fault or that I don't "appreciate" his effort but I expect the game's most lethal deep threat to come down with at least one of those bombs.
Even worse was his post-game tirade. I won't even try to explain it. If you haven't seen it yet, do yourself a favor and watch it.
Ugly: Patriots' Haircuts
You could also toss Moss's post-game outfit into this category, but that's just Randy bein' Randy.
It's the recent slew of awful haircuts that takes the cake this week.
Brady's mop is approaching Cousin It status. Seriously, what started out as a humorous, Justin Bieber-esque comb-over has evolved into a tangled mass of appetite-supressing keratin. He looks like a woman from the 80's, shoulder pads and all. Of course he's probably growing out to donate it to Locks for Life or something like that, in which case, I'm an A-hole.
"Don't mess with the Zoltan" Mesko is rocking the reverse Tebow. He appears to be wearing a Yamaha (yes, that's how you spell it) 24/7, but it's actually just his hair.
And of course we have Gronkowski. The veterans gave him the world's worst mohawk, something between Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn and Mr. T. What they failed to account for is that Gronk might be just the type of maniac who likes it. He wears it with a certain defiance, which only makes him more badass. Even if it makes him less likely to score a hot date.