FOXBOROUGH — It’s the same as it ever was for the Patriots, great quarterback play, great coaching, and another prime-time embarrassment of a pretender to the throne.
Tom Brady turned a chorus of questions about his play into a chorus of chants of his name in adulation, and the Patriots responded to a week of critiques and criticism with a vintage performance. There was no doubting Thomas or the Patriots after they drummed the Cincinnati Bengals, 43-17, at Gillette Stadium Sunday night.
Don’t believe for a second that the Patriots didn’t hear the doubting and derision tossed their way following an embarrassing 27-point loss to the Kansas City Chiefs last Monday. One member of the organization gleefully asked a reporter if all his stories needed to be rewritten. Ignore the noise is just a slogan.
For those waiting to revel in both Brady’s and the Patriots’ demise, salivating over the unraveling of the NFL’s most successful quarterback-coach relationship — Brady and coach Bill Belichick — it was yet another reminder that the Patriots are a different species than the rest of the NFL.
Just when it seemed Brady and the Patriots were falling apart they put it all together in a prime-time showdown with the fraudulent Bengals, who began the game as the NFL’s last undefeated team. The Patriots trounced Cincinnati by 26 points and rolled up 505 yards of offense.
On the day when his quarterback contemporary, Peyton Manning passed for a career-high 479 yards and threw four touchdowns, including the 500th of his career, Brady displayed vintage form. He was 23 of 35 for 292 yards and two touchdowns. He guided the Patriots to points on eight of 12 drives, a maestro worthy of Symphony Hall.
Amid reports earlier in the day of discord between Brady and the Patriots brain trust, the New England offense operated with cohesion and harmony that has been missing since the first half of the season-opener against Miami.
ESPN’s dean of NFL reporting Chris Mortensen reported on the network’s Sunday morning “NFL Countdown” show that there was tension between Brady and the coaching staff, and that Brady’s input into game plans, personnel packages, formations, and pre-snap adjustments had been “significantly diminished.”
A relaxed Brady shot down the idea of internal tension after the game.
“I love all of those guys, all of my coaches. I’ve never had any tension with any of them, truthfully,” said Brady. “It’s unfortunate that some things get said and talked about, especially when they don’t come from me, when you’re in the middle of a real tough week for our team to do deal with things that are really outside of football that are very personal and very personal relationships that I’ve built up for a long time. I got a lot of love and trust for everybody in this building. We all count on each other. We all rely on each other.”
The ESPN report followed a tumultuous week in Fort Foxborough, where the team’s bunker mentality met with penetrating questions and mounting doubt.
All of that background noise was muted on the Patriots’ opening drive. The first play from scrimmage was a play-action pass and Brady hit Brandon LaFell for a gain of 20. His next pass was a 30-yard gain to tight end Tim Wright. On fourth and 1 from the Bengals’ 5 yard line, Brady converted a quarterback sneak to keep the drive alive. Two plays later, Stevan Ridley plowed in from a yard out with 10 minutes, 3 seconds left in the first quarter to put the Patriots on top.
Cincinnati, which in its first three games of the season had trailed for a total of 48 seconds, never led in the game.
The doubted and derided franchise quarterback guided his team to the end zone again on the team’s second drive, after Bengals kicker Mike Nugent came up short on a 52-yard field goal attempt.
Brady hit Rob Gronkowski for a 27-yard gain on third and 8 to go over 50,000 yards passing for his career, the sixth QB in NFL history to reach that mark. On the next play, he drilled a 17-yard touchdown pass to a streaking Wright — the man acquired in the Logan Mankins trade — as the Patriots took a 14-0 lead with 3:12 left in the first quarter. Brady was 7 of 8 for 114 yards and TD pass in the first quarter.
After his TD toss, Brady scooped up the ball, took it to the sideline, and spiked it emphatically. The Foxborough Faithful began chanting Brady’s name following the score.
“That was awesome,” said Brady. “I’ve been here a while, so we have great fans. We get great support. It’s great to play well and to play in this environment I’m a very lucky guy.”
Cincinnati entered with the top-scoring defense in the NFL and hadn’t allowed more than 16 points in any game this season. The Patriots led, 20-3, at the half.
The Bengals made it 20-10 on a 37-yard touchdown pass from Dalton to Mohamed Sanu. But Brady came right back. He hit Gronkowski with a 16-yard score, his second touchdown pass of the game, restoring the Patriots’ lead to 17 points with 6:06 left in the third. Brady connected on three of his four passes for 57 yards on the 10-play, 86-yard drive.
On the ensuing kickoff, former Patriot Brandon Tate fumbled and Kyle Arrington scooped it up and scored. It was typical Patriots and classic Bengals. It was also a blowout.
“We always talk about what Patriot football is and I think you saw it tonight,” said Brady.
All is right with the world again.