James White had yet to score a touchdown through the New England Patriots’ first five games of 2016. But by the time the running back’s side had defeated the Cincinnati Bengals, 35-17, on Sunday afternoon in Foxborough, that was no longer the case.
White finished with two touchdown grabs from quarterback Tom Brady. And with them, he had notched his second career multi-touchdown game and first ever with two scores of the receiving variety.
Only there was little finesse involved on White’s scampers to the end zone. In fact, there was little difference between the two play designs that sent him there.
Both transpired in the right flat. Both transpired with trips to the left side. Both transpired in the shadow of tight end Rob Gronkowski. And both transpired opposite Bengals linebacker Karlos Dansby.
It was a red-zone matchup the Patriots sought and succeeded in isolating. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Co. first did so with 1:06 remaining in the second quarter, on first-and-10 from the Cincinnati 15.
Wide receivers Malcolm Mitchell, Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman aligned on the wide side of the field then, while Gronkowski put his hand on the turf as the inline option next to right tackle Marcus Cannon.
The Bengals, up by a score of 7-3 at the time, had reason to keep close watch over Gronkowski. And cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and safety Shawn Williams would do so as the 6-foot-6, 265-pound mismatch headed down the field on a flag pattern.
But Gronkowski’s route wasn’t run with much conviction. It didn’t need to be.
While No. 87 drew two Bengals, White departed from Brady’s hip pocket, swooping around left end Carlos Dunlap and cutting into open space.
Brady hit him before Dansby could.
It marked White’s first touchdown since Dec. 27, 2015 versus the New York Jets. The next time he touched the ball, he’d have another.
Down at the Cincinnati four-yard line on second-and-goal with 3:02 to go in the third quarter, the Patriots headed out with a similar plan in mind for White. The offense would be in “12” personnel this time, with tight end Martellus Bennett looming on the left hashes near Edelman and Chris Hogan. But the pieces would remain the same on the right side of the hashes, with Gronkowski in a three-point stance and White flanking Brady in shotgun.
Cincinnati wouldn’t be providing safety help over the top on Gronkowski this go-round. Instead, with one safety in the middle of the field and five rushers on their way, only Kirkpatrick would be in the vicinity.
It’d be a different look than before for the defense. But in the end, it’d leave Dansby in a situation not unlike the last – one-on-one with White.
Brady saw it before the ball was snapped. With Gronkowski keeping Kirkpatrick at bay on a quick-out and White set to run parallel, there’d be little time for Dansby to sift through traffic and get to the flat.
That came to fruition in a 25-14 lead for New England, with White turning it into a track meet from four yards out.
It was without frills. But his ability to widen the field was a steady and effective part of the gameplan on Sunday.
“Yeah, he was great again,” Brady said of White in his postgame press conference. “He’s been such a dependable, consistent player for our team and the role that he’s been has been spectacular. I can’t say enough great things about James as a player, as a person, as a teammate, his work ethic, his attitude. He went to Wisconsin, that’s about the only thing bad about him.”
The 2014 fourth-round pick, who added 19 yards rushing, was targeted nine times in all versus Cincinnati. And along with points, he converted eight of those passes from Brady into 47 yards.