We're on to Cincinnati.
The mystique behind Bill Belichick's inability to lose two games in a row shouldn't be a focus, as the Patriots have pulled off that "feat" in three of the past five seasons (2009, 2011, and 2012). It happens.
Instead, the focus should be on how the team and the coaches rebound, win or lose. It's obvious the coaching staff has had issues this season, and so has the offense. The fire the team shows at home, in prime time, will show a lot about this team. Is it one that will crumble in the face of adversity, like 2009, or will they show the drive to overcome all odds like 2011?
Here's what the team has to do to leave Sunday with a win.
1) Run, run, run the ball. The Bengals have one of the top defenses in the league, sure, but they're without their top linebacker Vontaze Burfict and sensational defensive tackle Geno Atkins still isn't playing 100% after tearing his ACL last season. The Patriots need to run the ball if they want the offense to succeed and the Bengals aren't going to be at their best. The loss of Cameron Fleming will force with Marcus Cannon or Ryan Wendell to the starting guard spot, with either providing a boost in the run game.
2) Consistency on the offensive line. Speaking of the offensive line, the team needs to stop rotating players. Cameron Fleming is out, Jordan Devey hasn't shown that he's ready to start, and Josh Kline is probably a healthy scratch. Nate Solder. Dan Connolly. Bryan Stork. Ryan Wendell. Sebastian Vollmer. That should be the offensive line. Bring on Marcus Cannon for Jumbo packages. But the teams needs to offer consistency if they want the line to every reach a point of cohesion.
3) Rob Gronkowski integration. Gronk was finally a full participant in practice, which is a positive sign moving forward. While he's still obviously not 100%, he's still one of the best targets on the field. The team needs to get him involved more often, especially in the red zone where the offense had continued to sputter. Julian Edelman, Gronk, and Brandon LaFell offer three quality receiving options; it is important for Tom Brady to utilize all three so the Bengals defense can't focus on removing just one of them.
4) Press coverage. Andy Dalton has a pistol for an arm, in the nicest of ways. He has the fastest release in the entire league and if the Patriots don't play press coverage, he's going to take every coverage cushion available and walk down the field. Darrelle Revis needs to press and stick with A.J. Green the entire game. While it's reasonable to not play Brandon Browner until he's fully integrated after his suspension, if the coaches don't let the players play press in this situation, then it's uncertain what their long term game plan is on the year.
5) Linebackers play action bite. If there was one place the Patriots defense struggled against the Minnesota Vikings, it was on the opening drive where the linebackers were sucked up on every play action pass, leaving chucks of yardage across the middle of the field for crossing patterns. The Chiefs took advantage of this lack of integrity and walked down the field at will. The Bengals feature a star running back in Giovani Bernard and the linebackers absolutely cannot get pulled into the wrong gaps, or leave space in the middle of the field.