FOXBOROUGH — Embarrassed just six nights earlier and questioned locally and nationally about how they’d respond, the Patriots needed a big effort Sunday night if they wanted to knock off the Bengals, who arrived at Gillette Stadium unbeaten.
So the Patriots went big, using a consistently physical offensive set that included two tight ends, frequently Rob Gronkowski and Tim Wright. It paid off in the passing game — Gronkowski and Wright combined for 185 receiving yards, and each scored a touchdown — but it helped on the ground, too. The Patriots ran the ball at will, for a season-high 220 yards, as they dismantled the Bengals, 43-17.
That’s a 53-point turnaround in six days: New England lost by 27 points at Kansas City, then blasted the Bengals by 26.
Problems? What problems?
“We were all ready to go out and play a great game of football,” said Tom Brady, who threw for a season-high 292 yards.
It didn’t take long for the Patriots to set the tone. They ran the ball on eight of the 10 plays of their opening drive, with Brady earning three rushes, including a 4-yard keeper on fourth and 1. Stevan Ridley powered in from the 1, and five minutes in, the rout was on, even though it was a little early to make that declaration.
Wright was the main prize in the trade that sent left guard Logan Mankins to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a trade that was puzzling when it was made, and became more difficult to absorb as the offensive line struggled and Wright made little impact. That changed against the Bengals, with Wright catching all five passes Brady threw him. That’s one more than Wright caught in his first four games.
His 17-yard touchdown catch on the second Patriots’ possession made it 14-0, and by then the rout was on. No, really.
“It was just something that we practiced and we got the look that we wanted and the alley opened up,” Wright said. “I took it and Tom delivered a great ball. I held on to the catch and got in the end zone.”
Actually, the only time the pro-Patriots crowd might have felt slightly nervous was early in the third quarter, when Andy Dalton connected with Mohamed Sanu on a 37-yard scoring play, cutting the Bengals’ deficit to 20-10.
No worries. Brady led the Patriots on a 10-play, 86-yard drive, hitting Wright once (25 yards) and Gronkowski twice (33 yards). The second ball to Gronkowski was good for a 16-yard touchdown, the 45th time the duo has connected for a touchdown. It also gave Gronkowski exactly 100 receiving yards, his 13th career 100-yard game.
Any chance the Bengals clung to was dealt a blow by Gronkowski’s touchdown, which made it 27-10. Six seconds later, the game was over, with Kyle Arrington recovering a fumble by former Patriot Brandon Tate on the ensuing kickoff and returning it 9 yards for a touchdown.
Wright finished with 85 yards on his five catches, while Gronkowski had 100 yards on six grabs. It was a concerted effort to get the tight ends involved, taking full advantage of the absence of Bengals Pro Bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who missed the game with a concussion.
It was the kind of offensive display the Patriots hadn’t shown this season. But a willingness to go big and find Gronkowski and Wright consistently down the middle helped the Patriots erase, at least for one game, the doubts created by four uneven efforts.