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Eric Rowe makes impact in Patriots debut

Eric Rowe delivered a fine play to deny Cincinnati’s A.J. Green a touchdown on this end-zone attempt in the second half.JIM DAVIS/GLOBE STAFF

FOXBOROUGH — Welcome to the Patriots, Eric Rowe. Now go cover A.J. Green.

The cornerback was active for the first time this season Sunday and drew the second-half assignment of blanketing Green, Cincinnati’s dynamic wideout, who came into the game second in the NFL with 518 receiving yards.

Rowe arrived in New England in September via trade from Philadelphia but suffered an ankle injury early in his tenure, delaying his debut. Suffice to say, it was worth the wait for the Patriots.

The 6-foot-1-inch, 205-pounder is no stranger to taking on big assignments (literally and figuratively) and he passed Sunday’s test with flying colors, helping to lead a second-half shutdown of Green and the Bengals in New England’s 35-17 victory.


Green finished with six catches for 88 yards, but only two for 32 yards in the second half when Rowe took over.

“I had that last year when I had to cover [Detroit’s] Calvin Johnson,’’ said Rowe. “So, I got the hang of the league now. So whatever challenge I get, I’m ready to do it.’’

Rowe’s best play came in the fourth quarter when he tipped away an end zone pass intended for Green, forcing the Bengals to settle for a field goal.

“I was just trying to keep inside leverage,” said Rowe. “Once he put his hand on my chest, I knew he was going to push off. So I had to grab his arm to make sure there wasn’t too much separation there.

“Once I saw his eyes get big, I just looked back for the ball.’’

Green looked for a pass interference flag that never came.

“They’re all always looking for the call,’’ said Rowe. “But I knew it was clean.”

Rowe said the ankle injury last month was frustrating, but it’s a distant memory now.


“Felt great to get back on the field and get that adrenaline rush again, especially with the challenge of going against A.J. Green,’’ said Rowe. “Man, I missed that feeling.”

The second-year player, who was a second-round draft pick of the Eagles, said he appreciates the welcoming nature of the Patriots locker room.

“I thought it was going to be kind of like a resentment, like ‘Oh they brought in this new guy,’ ’’ said Rowe, who said he’s leaned on safeties Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon and linebacker Dont’a Hightower for help. “But it didn’t turn out like that at all.’’

Jones among inactives

Rookie Cyrus Jones was inactive for the first time this season, a week after the team’s top draft pick was ejected for an unnecessary roughness penalty against the Browns.

It was deemed that Jones threw a punch at Cleveland’s Andrew Hawkins, though he told reporters last week he didn’t believe he landed a blow. Replays were inconclusive, and Jones was not fined by the league for the infraction.

It has been a rough couple of weeks for Jones, who had a couple of kickoff return gaffes in the loss to the Bills in Week 4. He also surrendered a touchdown pass to Hawkins.

Fellow cornerback Justin Coleman also was a healthy scratch.

The other Patriot inactives were linebackers Jamie Collins (hip) and Shea McClellin (concussion), running back Brandon Bolden (knee), defensive tackle Vincent Valentine (back), and offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle (healthy scratch).

Rookie defensive tackle Woodrow Hamilton suffered a shoulder injury in the second half and did not return.


Emphasis enforced

The Patriots improved their play in the red zone and on critical downs, stopping the Bengals on fourth and 1 in the second quarter and limiting them to a field goal after a second-and-2.

Defensive end Jabaal Sheard, who had two assisted tackles, a half-sack, and a quarterback hurry, said defending the red zone has been a priority in practice.

“It’s something that we work on a lot. I mean, obviously red zone, Coach is big on it and we’ve just got to continue to improve on it,’’ said Sheard. “Every week, red zone is a big-time play, so just keep stepping it up.’’

On the fourth-and-1 stop, the Patriots swarmed running back Giovani Bernard for no gain.

“I think that was the biggest thing, everybody got to the ball and wrapped him up,” Sheard said. “He’s a solid back, he kept driving, he almost slipped out of there, but I mean everybody got to the ball and just tried to wrap him up.”

Clean living

The Patriots haven’t thrown an interception through six games, a team record to start a season. The team record for consecutive games without an interception is eight, set in 2010. The NFL record for interception-free games to start a season is nine, by the 1960 Browns . . . The Patriots recorded safeties in consecutive games for the first time when Dont’a Hightower sacked Andy Dalton in the end zone in the third quarter . . . Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have connected on 65 touchdowns, third most all time among quarterbacks and tight ends. The leaders are Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates of the Chargers with 79. For all-time TD connections, Brady and Gronkowski are seventh. The leaders are Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison with 112 . . . With 376 yards passing Sunday and 406 against Cleveland on Oct. 9, Brady had consecutive 300-yard-plus games for the 14th time. Brady ranks third all time in 300-yard passing games with 73, trailing Drew Brees (99) and Peyton Manning (93). Brady’s two-game total of 782 yards is the third best in team history. Brady had 940 yards in consecutive games in 2011 (that’s the second most in NFL history behind the Giants’ Phil Simms, who had 945). Second on the Patriots’ list is Matt Cassel, who threw for 815 yards in 2008 . . . Brandon King continues to fly on kickoff coverage and made two great tackles.


Jim McBride can be reached at james.mcbride@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.