FOXBOROUGH — Bill Belichick declared — repeatedly — on Wednesday the Patriots were “on to Cincinnati,” and on Sunday night, it certainly looked like his team heeded his words.
The Patriots trounced the Bengals, 43-17, in a game that helped allay fears of the Patriots’ demise and showed once again that previously undefeated Cincinnati isn’t quite ready for prime time.
“It was a satisfactory night tonight,” Belichick said of beating the team he said earlier in the week was the most complete he’d seen in a while.
“It was awesome, man. It was very awesome,” Darrelle Revis said. “It showed a lot of heart that this team has and we knew we needed this win. It was against a great football team. They were undefeated and we just wanted to get this one at home and secure this win.”
The Patriots’ offense, much maligned in recent weeks, especially in light of its anemic showing six days earlier in Kansas City, showed an immediate fire, getting into the end zone on its opening possession.
Not only was it the first time this season New England scored on its first drive, it was the first time the Patriots didn’t go three-and-out on their first drive.
The Patriots got into the end zone doing two things we haven’t seen much: They ran the ball and got some chunk plays. The first play of the game was a 20-yard completion to Brandon LaFell, and on the fourth, Tom Brady completed a 30-yard pass to Tim Wright, who had been invisible in recent weeks.
In between, Stevan Ridley picked up 16 yards on two carries. Brady even had 10 rushing yards, notably picking up 4 when the Patriots went for it on fourth down at the Bengals’ 5. Ridley finished off the drive, punching the ball in from the 1.
For the night, Ridley had 27 carries for 113 yards; the Patriots are 39-1 in the Belichick era when they have a rusher top 100 yards.
Cincinnati, which came into the game undefeated (3-0) and off its bye week, got a reprieve on its first drive when a Revis interception was taken off the board because both Revis and Bengals guard Clint Boling were flagged for penalties. The offsetting calls led to a replay of the down.
The Bengals stopped their momentum with a third-down false start on right tackle Andre Smith, and kicker Mike Nugent was short on a 52-yard field goal try.
The Patriots took over at their 42 and made quick work of the short field, though Brady was nearly picked off by Emmanuel Lamur on a sideline pass intended for Julian Edelman.
Crisis averted, Brady followed up with a 27-yard catch-and-run to Rob Gronkowski, and then a 17-yard touchdown to Wright, his first as a Patriot.
On the pass to Gronkowski, Brady surpassed 50,000 career passing yards, just the sixth player in league history to hit that milestone.
After the touchdown to Wright, the Gillette Stadium crowd began chanting, “Brady! Brady!” and the chorus of Aloe Blacc’s “The Man” (“Go ahead and tell everybody/I’m the man, I’m the man, I’m the man”) played briefly over the loudspeakers.
The chants continued throughout the game, as fans perhaps wanted to show their support for the quarterback who has led their team to so much success but has been playing behind a substandard offensive line and with some average-skill players. Brady is not blameless in the struggles the Patriots have had on offense, even he would say that, but he’s not working with a stacked deck, either.
But the fans weren’t the only ones.
“ ‘T. Guns’ is ‘T. Guns’ for a reason — you don’t throw for 50,000 yards by accident,” Matthew Slater said. “He works at his craft, he loves the game of football. He comes out, plays with passion, and it fires our team up.”
“[Brady] came back strong and showed them that he’s still a young buck and he has a lot in his tank left,” said Gronkowski (six receptions, 100 yards, one TD), who looked better Sunday than he has this season. “I’m proud to be playing with him and it was awesome [hearing] all those Brady chants out there. It was just a good game overall with a lot of teamwork.”
Though the Patriots are taught to “ignore the noise,” Brady acknowledged that the players have television and the Internet, and it’s impossible not to hear or see some of the things that are said about them, good and bad.
But he stressed it’s been a strength of this team that they don’t really go along with the waves of emotions those outside Gillette Stadium might be feeling.
“We try not to focus on that stuff,” Brady said. “To ride the ups and downs — ‘you’re great, you suck, you’re great, you suck’ — it’s exhausting.”
The New England defense forced back-to-back three-and-outs from Andy Dalton and the Bengals’ offense, and shut the visitors down in the red zone after that, forcing them to take a short field goal from Nugent for their first points of the night.
Dalton is now 2-5 in prime-time games, 2-8 counting his 0-3 postseason record.
Cincinnati had just 121 yards of offense at halftime to 256 for the Patriots. The Bengals seemed to get away from the run despite having dynamic back Giovani Bernard and power back Jeremy Hill.
The Patriots added two more field goals to end the half, the second coming after a Revis forced fumble that was recovered by Jamie Collins. The play was highlight-reel worthy, mostly because after Collins’s recovery, he also fumbled, and Alfonzo Dennard plucked the ball out of the air and nearly scored.
But by rule, the ball was brought back to where Dennard recovered it.
The Bengals cut the Patriots’ lead in half with a one-play touchdown in the third quarter, a 37-yard pass to Mohamed Sanu, but they never threatened again, as the Patriots put 14 quick points on the board, thanks to a touchdown drive punctuated with Gronkowski’s second score of the night.
On the ensuing kickoff, former Patriot Brandon Tate, the Bengals’ kick returner, had the ball knocked out of his arms by Brandon Bolden, and Kyle Arrington scooped up the loose ball and ran it 9 yards into the end zone.