By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) – A home underdog?
That’s not a familiar role for Bill Belichick and Tom Brady but that’s the
reality for a struggling New England Patriots team getting ready to host what
has been the best team in football, the Cincinnati Bengals.
The unbeaten Bengals have allowed a league-low 33 points in 2014 and are the
only team in the NFL to allow 16 points or fewer in every game.
Offensively, Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton has piled up a solid 95.4
passer rating while distributing the ball to multiple threats. Three different
Bengals have at least 12 receptions in the team’s first three games — wide
receivers A.J. Green and Mohamed Sanu as well as and running back Giovani
“This is nothing more than a good first quarter (of the season),” said veteran
offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth. “You can’t let up. October is a month for
adjustments. Teams begin to find out who they are. October is a big month.”
The Bengals come into that big month off a bye week but when last seen in Week
3 the club was punishing Tennessee, 33-7.
Bernard rushed for a pair of scores against the Titans and Dalton became the
first Cincinnati quarterback to record a receiving touchdown.
“It was a good effort in all three phases,” noted Bengals head coach
Marvin Lewis. “Probably our best effort of the season. We did a good job of
handling the windy conditions offensively.”
Dalton finished 15-of-23 for 169 yards and one interception, but hauled in an
18-yard scoring pass from Sanu in the second quarter as the Bengals extended
their franchise-record, home-winning streak to 12 games.
Green returned from a toe injury to amass 102 yards on six catches against
Tennessee and Bernard totaled 47 yards on 14 carries, while rookie Jeremy Hill
chipped in with a rushing score.
Things have been far tougher, almost uncharacteristically so, for the
Patriots, who are coming off a 41-14 drubbing at the hands of the Kansas City
Chiefs on “Monday Night Football.”
Dressed in a sea of red, the raucous crowd at Arrowhead Stadium set another
Guinness world record as Jamaal Charles returned from a sprained right ankle
and scored three touchdowns in the rout.
The Chiefs’ fans reclaimed the record for loudest outdoor sports venue in the
first half. Their noise level of 142.2 decibels broke the 137.6 mark that the
Seattle Seahawks faithful set on Dec. 2. Kansas City previously set the record
on Oct. 13.
New England failed to crack the 300-yard barrier for the third time in four
games in that noise after doing it just four times last season. The Patriots
totaled 290 yards.
Brady was 14-of-23 for 159 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions and
Brandon LaFell caught six passes for 119 yards and a score for the Patriots,
who suffered their worst defeat since losing to San Diego 41-17 in 2005.
“Couldn’t really move the ball consistently on offense and turned the ball
over in the second half,” Belichick surmised
New England holds a 14-9 advantage over the Bengals in the all-time series
between the two clubs but Cincinnati topped the Pats, 13-6, last year by
holding New England to 248 net yards.
“We’re a totally different team and I’m sure they’re a totally different
team,” said Bengals defensive end Wallace Gilberry.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
There is some serious debate going on regarding Brady, who is just 60
passing yards shy of becoming the sixth player in NFL history with 50,000.
Some believe the 37-year-old, three-time Super Bowl winner has reached what is
an inevitable decline for any athlete and the one battle we all eventually
lose, the fight against “Father Time.”
Others insist Brady has plenty left in the tank but is struggling because the
Patriots have failed him by not providing adequate threats outside the numbers
or a competent offensive line.
Whatever thesis you subscribe to, here’s the reality: the Pats have the
29th-reanked offense in the NFL, Brady’s 79.1 passer rating is a dismal 29th
in the league and he’s connecting on what projects to be a career-worst 59.1
percent of the passes.
Things got so bad in Kansas City that Belichick lifted the long-time star for
rookie second-round pick Jimmy Garoppolo, who promptly led New England on a
late scoring drive.
“Like (coach Belichick) always says, ignore the noise and just stay focused on
what we need to do,” Brady said. “Stay focused on what our process is to try
to make the improvement. We’ve got an important job to do this week and the
clock is ticking.”
Opposing defenses no longer fear the Patriots and are jumping the underneath
routes to Julian Edelman and Ron Gronkowski with no fear of getting beat over
The Bengals, on the other hand, are extremely balanced and can beat you in a
multitude of ways offensively.
“They have a lot of good players,” Belichick admitted. “They’re well-coached.
They’re tough, they’re physical. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a team
that’s as complete as they are.”
Dalton receives a lot of criticism and he is certainly not Brady in his prime
but he’s been tremendously consistent with 33 career wins since arriving as a
second-round pick out of TCU in 2011.
“At the end of the day, you’re not going against the quarterback, but
everybody is going to compare you to the other quarterback,” Dalton said.
“Anytime you can win against guys like (Brady), it’s big. It shows what this
team is capable of doing. I’ve got a lot of confidence. You go into those
games expecting to win.”
The Bengals should expect to win. While the Patriots will remain in the
postseason hunt for the foreseeable future simply because the AFC East is so
bad, it’s looking more likely that the Bengals have replaced them as one of
the few, true Super Bowl contenders on the AFC side of things.
Cincinnati is just too well-rounded in all phases to lose to a Patriots team
which can’t seem to get out of its own way offensively.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Bengals 27, Patriots 17