Well, nobody expected the Patriots to go 16-0, right?
After a rough loss to the Cincinnati Bengals that saw the Patriots generate virtually zero offense, Tom Brady's TD pass streak come to an end, and the Bengals outplay the Patriots in virtually every phase of the game, it's easy to be a little despondent this week, particularly with the New Orleans Saints getting ready to come to town. The Patriots had a chance to remain undefeated, create some real separation in the division, and get yet another statement win on the road; instead they looked sluggish on offense, lost yet another vital cog on defense, and played like a team finally starting to show signs of weakness despite going through the first quarter of the season undefeated. A New England loss is never a tough pill to swallow, especially a loss in a game that they very well could have won if they had a few crucial drops back, and so it's understandable why folks are a little glum around here this week.
But let's put all this in perspective, folks. This isn't the end of the world. Taking a step back and looking at this game a few days removed from the yelling, cursing, stomping, and excessive sweating that always accompany a Patriots loss. The negatives are glaring and obvious, but there are actually more than a few positives that we can take away from this game. Here are five of them.
Affordable loss. While it isn't as insignificant as a non-conference loss, the Patriots are still sitting pretty at 4-1 and well positioned going forward. Cincy needed that game in the worst way, and while they didn't play all that well offensively, they made enough plays to score more points than New England did and got the W. Not the end of the world for the Patriots by any stretch. Just one of those days when they couldn't really get anything going when they had the ball. It happens. It's never fun to watch, and the Patriots-haters are already out in full force, but it happens.
Defense continues to shine. There were several times during this game when Cincy could have jumped out to a commanding lead early, but the New England defense kept New England in it. They created pressure, forced turnovers, and prevented the Bengals from getting points on the board. The defense did everything they possibly could to give team a chance to win it, and the offense just couldn't deliver. You wouldn't know it based on Sunday's game, but the Patriots offense is going to get better, and as long as the D can keep it competitive until they really get rolling, then we'll be absolutely fine down the stretch.
Gronk back next week. There's absolutely no way that Rob Gronkowski will sit out again. He probably could have played on Sunday (and Lord knows the team needed him), but didn't for whatever reason, so that means he should be 100% healthy and ready to go against the Saints. He has been practicing in full pads, he has been getting his reps in, and he has been basically a game-time decision for the past two weeks now. Enough is enough; time to get him back on the field and ready to make an impact. This will be a different offense once Gronk is back in the mix.
Phenomenal defensive front. Cincy's defense, particularly their defensive front, is lights out. Not too many people seem to be talking about the Bengals front four, as there are more exciting storylines around the league this year, but that is one of the better defensive lines the Patriots will see this year. Tommy B wasn't ever really able to get anything going, mainly because of the pressure generated by that front four. That isn't something New England will have to deal with week to week.
Rough day for the AFC East. While this game may very well come into play down the stretch regarding playoff tiebreakers, it didn't do a whole lot to shift the landscape of the AFC East. Three out of the four teams in the East lost this week, so in a way it's kind of a wash. Sure, it would have been great to create some real separation in the division and remain undefeated, but at the end of the day it's all about winning the division, especially this early in the season. The Patriots are still in good shape in that respect.