Tom Brady may have returned to the field for the New England Patriots last week against the Cleveland Browns, but his homecoming was this Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals. Fans around the region were ecstatic all week for Brady to play in Gillette Stadium again. It was very much “on to Cincinnati” in the days leading up to the game for many players and coaches, however. Bill Belichick did a great job of keeping the focus on the task at hand rather than on one player.
In the end, it was business as usual for Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and the rest of the team as they pulled away late in the game and won by a final score of 35-17. Here are three takeaways from the Patriots week six victory over the Bengals.
New England Patriots Week Six Takeaways
1. Martellus Bennett and Rob Gronkowski are Dangerous
Last week it was Martellus Bennett‘s turn in the spotlight with three touchdown receptions. This week it was Gronkowski’s. With nine targets, seven receptions for 162 yards and one touchdown, the first Gronk-Spike of the season was long overdue. It was also a clear message to the Bengals and the rest of the NFL; the Patriots dual tight end threat is a force to be reckoned with.
So far this season, New England’s tight ends have combined for 39 receptions, 644 yards, and 5 touchdowns. Gronkowski’s 162 yards against the Bengals is a career high and a promising sign moving forward. It proved the Patriots offense is officially in sync with Brady under center. After dispatching the Browns last Sunday, it remained to be seen how New England would perform against a better team.
2. The Patriots Machine is Fully-Functional
Although Brady has only played in two games since returning from suspension, the Patriots look nearly unstoppable. All the offensive weapons become more dangerous with Brady on the field, which makes it easier for Josh McDaniels to call plays that create match-up problems.
Whether it’s James White out of the backfield, Danny Amendola in the slot, LeGarrette Blount busting through a pile of defenders, or Gronkowski on a deep seam route; the Patriots have several weapons to move the ball downfield and put points on the board. It of course helps that in just two games, Brady has thrown for 872 yards and six touchdowns.
3. Patriots Thrived off Bengals Mistakes
While the Patriots looked impressive on their own, their victory was in part due to Cincinnati’s mistakes. With no turnovers committed by either team and several hundred yards gained on offense, penalties became a bigger part of the outcome than one would think.
In the first half with the game still within reach for Cincinnati, a penalty on a third-and-long gave the Patriots an automatic first down. Two plays later James White caught his first of two touchdowns and gave the Patriots the lead.
The Bengals also made the questionable call to go for it on fourth and goal rather than kick a field goal in the first quarter. At that point in the game, a field goal would have tied the game at 3-3. Instead, the score remained 3-0 Patriots and allowed New England to move the ball before pinning Cincinnati deep in their own territory.
Later in the fourth quarter, the Patriots were again awarded a first down via penalty on a third-and-long that would have resulted in an incomplete pass and a fourth down. After an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Rob Gronkowski near the goal line, the Patriots settled for a field goal.
If you lost count, that’s 10 points on drives that should have ended in punts.
After all was said and done at Gillette, New England weathered a strong game from Andy Dalton and the Bengals. Once the second half began and adjustments were made, however, the Patriots looked like they were in cruise control. Cincinnati could gain yards but couldn’t convert that into points, and the mistakes made throughout the game made it easy for New England in Brady’s homecoming. The Patriots now sit atop the AFC East at 5-1 and travel to Pittsburgh next week to take on the Steelers, who suffered a loss to the Miami Dolphins Sunday and will look to get back on track.