December 12, 2004
Bengals vs. Patriots
At Gillette Stadium, Patriots WIN, 35-28
By Scott A. Benson


Listen, the New England Patriots were very fortunate, and very good, to come away with a seemingly razor-thin 35-28 win over the Cincinnati Bengals today at Gillette.

Just as they had in pre-season, the Bengals knew exactly how to render the stout Patriots defense rubber legged. The Pats D hasn稚 scrambled like that since last February. As a result, Cincinnati was never out of the game, and a three touchdown Patriots lead nearly evaporated over the final 25 minutes.

But the crafty Pats forced two Bengal turnovers inside New England痴 20, and took a third back for a touchdown. Once again, their experience and composure under duress won out. In the end, every turning point was turned by them.

And that痴 a damn good thing. Even with all the forced errors, this game had a real skin of their teeth quality to it. But the Patriots � never ones to underestimate an opponent –are always prepared to fight for their lives, and that痴 one very big reason they sit at 12-1 tonight. One of the greatest two-season runs in pro football history continues.

The offense added emphatic punctuation throughout the afternoon, answering every Cincinnati strike, and when the Bengals brought the game to within seven points with nearly four minutes to play, it was Tom Brady and the offense who secured the ball, the clock and the game for New England.

The win, combined with a Jets loss later in the day (arrrrgghh), clinched the Patriots third AFC East title this decade. They池e in the playoffs again. Giddyup.

Patriots on Offense

Key defensive turnovers aside, I think you have to credit this one to the Patriots offense. Every time the Bengals had the Pats D on back peddle, the offense would respond with a scoring drive of its own.

The best example of this occurred in the 2nd quarter, after Cincinnati had tied the game at 7-7 with a scoring drive that featured three third-down conversions. The Bengals had chewed up nearly six minutes in traveling just 45 yards, serving notice that their recent upswing was no mere rumor.

The Pats� answer? Three plays, 70 yards, and a quickly regained seven point lead. Two short passes to Jed Weaver and Kevin Faulk set up a perfect Brady play-action to David Patten, who broke behind single coverage to haul in a well-thrown 48 yard touchdown pass.

But that wasn稚 all. Later in the 2nd quarter, after another Cincinnati score, the Patriots took over with a 21-14 lead and 2:25 on the clock. Once again, the Patriots marched for another late first-half score, this time behind two straight Brady connections with Patten and a clever 4 yard Kevin Faulk counter for a touchdown.

Then, to open the second half, Brady led the Pats on a six-minute, 75 yard drive that was capped when he hit a wide-open Christian Fauria for the 35-14 lead. The Patriots offense had scored on thee straight drives and now led by 21. It looked like the Pats would coast. As it turned out though, nearly every point was needed.

Though they wouldn稚 score again, the Pats best offensive drive may have been its last. The Bengals � behind Jon Kitna, in for an injured Carson Palmer � had given New England a pretty good case of the howdy-doos with a 60 yard touchdown drive in just under three minutes. The Bengals would kick away to the Pats with 3:50 left, and there seemed to be no avoiding a white knuckle ending if Cincinnati could quickly stop the Pats offense.

Here again, no dice. Corey Dillon came out of the chute with an 11 yard run on first down, and Brady followed with big gains to Deion Branch and Troy Brown. Before you knew it, Cincinnati was out of time outs and Brady was taking three knees inside Bengals territory. Kitna and his crowd never made it back to the field. The best defense was in fact a good offense.

Brady, who was thought to be struggling lately, was precise and productive, particularly on his two touchdown passes. The offense worked through him today, and not Dillon as so widely advertised. He did not throw an interception, and he was sacked only once. He finished at nearly 70% with 260 yards. He even completed a pass from his ass.

That didn稚 sound right, did it?

Dillon didn稚 rush for 100 yards against his old mates, and that痴 sure to set off a Corey Dillon Explosion this week as he bitterly complains about his diminished role in the offense. He値l be raging. I wouldn稚 want to be lockering next to him. He値l probably bring down the whole organization this time. Stay tuned to your radios � particularly early mornings � for details.

Dillon was solid today, averaging 4 yards on 22 carries. He added another one of those jackhammer 1 yard touchdown runs that I致e grown so accustomed to. Kevin Faulk had one relief carry, and it turned out to be a score.

David Patten stepped up in the absence of David Givens and Daniel Graham and led all Pats receivers with 107 yards on five catches. He used his speed to get behind Cincy痴 secondary on that important 2nd quarter score.

The line moved the ball on the ground (without Graham, a key run blocker) and kept Brady clean, so all is good on them tonight.

Patriots on Defense

I値l tell you this � the Bengals looked entirely too comfortable and confident against a very good Patriots defense today, not unlike they did in August. I don稚 know what the hell Marvin Lewis and Bob Bratkowski have figured out down there, but I hope they take it to their graves with them.

Carson Palmer was poised and unaffected in the pocket, and at times he shredded the Patriots. The Bengals converted 9 of 13 third downs, many times on the accurate arm of the second year quarterback.

In all actuality, he could have afforded to be a touch wild even, as he always seemed to have a wide-open option at the end of every progression. But Palmer was dead-on anyway, and the Bengals ate up yardage in a surprisingly efficient manner. He hit a wide open Matt Schobel and later Chad Johnson for touchdowns.

But even when Palmer was forced from the game (twisted knee in the 3rd quarter on a hit by Richard Seymour), the Bengals persisted. Jon Kitna, throwing his first passes of the season, continued the Bengals success and had them to within seven points with time left for more.

But throughout, the Bengals were undone by their own mistakes. They turned the ball over at the Patriots 12 and 10 yard lines. Palmer threw one dreadful rookie pass and saw it intercepted for a touchdown.

Asante Samuel痴 2nd quarter touchdown came when Palmer quickly went to his right for a short out. Samuel sliced in front of Palmer痴 receiver and caught the ball on the run. He raced 34 yards untouched. You know Samuel saw that formation and that play on film this week, and to his credit, he recognized it when it was presented to him. It was a big play, coming as it did on the heels of Patten痴 touchdown bomb, and it gave the Pats an early 21-7 lead.

Later, it was Kitna who was picked, this time by Troy Brown (it doesn稚 even seem strange to say it anymore; he痴 a defensive back) on a third down play from the Pats 10. It was early in the 4th quarter and the Bengals trailed by 14. If Kitna doesn稚 cough up his only furball at that point, that last period gets pretty hairy.

I wish I could tell you what happened on the Bengals first possession of the game, besides the fact they came out of the locker room rolling. They went 54 yards to the Patriots 12 in no time.

Anyway, Rudi Johnson takes a first down hand off and tries the middle, but finds nothing. At this point, I知 pretty sure that痴 Rudi I see laying on the ground, right? Second down.

Except there痴 a small wrestling match that seems after the fact and now the ball is free, and apparently Rudi wasn稚 laying on the ground after all, even though he was (they replayed it and everything, I saw the same thing I saw the first time, which changed nothing, which is, after all, ok). Rodney Harrison had stripped the ball, and it was recovered by Willie McGinest, at least according to referee Jeff Triplette. A certain scoring drive nets nothing for the Bengals, and the Pats are off on their own scoring drive.

Their 壮cored first� streak, which now dates back to the Carter Administration I think, was also uniquely preserved by that sequence.

Cincinnati was generally able to move the ball on the ground against the Pats, netting 150 yards and a 4.8 average. Johnson had 89 yards on 24 carries. Tedy Bruschi (16) and Rodney Harrison (11) led the Pats in tackles, which speaks to the amount of time the Bengals spent pounding away at the Pats middle.

I thought Richard Seymour, though not showing big on the stat sheet, really had an impressive game today. On more than one occasion he forced a Bengals holding penalty because it was the only way they could prevent him from surging through.

TJ Houshmandzadeh was really the offensive star for the Bengals (12 catches and 145 yards), but his name is TJ Houshmandzadeh, which is why I waited until now to mention (i.e. cut and paste) him. I will say this � he worked on the Pats slot defenders (often Brown) and played them like a drum.

Patriots on Special Teams

OK, 9:06, 3rd quarter, Pats lead 35-14. The Bengals start at their own 23 and pound 60-something yards before they are stopped at the Pats 11. Shayne Graham is trotted out for the field goal attempt.

It never happens. Holder Kyle Larson � A PUNTER FOR GOD担 SAKE � takes the snap, rises to his feet, and bolts off left tackle for 11 yards and the touchdown. Nobody lays a finger on him.

So, you know, that痴 not good. The Bengals knew they would score with that play before they even snapped it. They knew last Monday, for crying out loud. Ouch.

On the plus side, though, Bethel Johnson痴 38 yard kickoff return just before the half brought the ball near midfield and set up yet another two-minute drill scoring drive by the Pats.

Patriots on the Sidelines

After three years with minimal success, the Nick Cafardo Talent Agency has finally hit pay dirt for its marquee client.

If, as we expect, Charlie Weis is named head coach of Notre Dame tomorrow, it will be a just reward for his efforts here as the creative force behind a world championship offense. One that just happened to score the winning points on the final drive of the Super Bowl�..twice.

Clearly, Weis will go down in history as the guy who held Tom Brady痴 hand when the Pats first crossed the threshold from the mundane to the sublime. But any fair and reasonable history book will also note that Weis� performance before and during Super Bowl 38 was the best thing done by any Pats offensive coordinator, ever. It痴 hard to imagine that any coordinator anywhere ever had a better day than Charlie Weis did in Houston.

We like to have fun (i.e. wildly fly off the handle) with Charlie now and again, and let痴 face it, in his wackiest video-game moments, he makes it eminently easy for us. But he痴 a great coach, and in all sincerity, he clearly deserves this moment in the sun. I don稚 normally give a hoot about college football (except on the final weekend of April) and don稚 see any reason to start now, but I will be checking the Irish scores from now on, hoping for the absolute best.

That said; just keep your eye on the right ball for a little while longer, Charlie. There are still many more miles to go in your present position.

Patriots Next Week

Another God awful Monday night game, this time in Miami. The Dolphins gave the Broncos a tough time before losing in Denver today. It値l be interesting to face the Dolphins post-Wannstedt.