Coming off two straight losses, the New England Patriots are back in the win column: the team went on the road in Week 15 and was able to beat the Cincinnati Bengals with a final score of 34-13. The victory does not only improve the Patriots’ record to 11-3, it also allows them to stay ahead of their competition for a first-round playoff bye — all while New England secured a postseason berth for the 11th season in a row.
Patriots (11-3) 34 : 13 Bengals (1-13)
After losing the coin toss, the Patriots received the opening kickoff to start the game on offense — and the much-maligned unit looked good early on. After an incompletion to start the contest, Tom Brady and company got hot with the running and screen game working very well and allowing New England to march 75 yards in eight plays to take a 7-0 lead: Brady found James White on a screen on third-and-10 and the veteran back took the football into the end zone from 23 yards out. [Patriots 7 : 0 Bengals]
The Bengals replied with a scoring-drive of their own. Starting at their own 25-yard line, they went exclusively to the ground on the series’ first eight plays — gaining a combined 67 yards, including a 29-yard carry by Joe Mixon and a 17-yarder by Giovani Bernard. The final play of the drive saw quarterback Andy Dalton throw his first pass, and it turned into a touchdown: the veteran quarterback connected with tight end Cethan Carter for a 6-yard score to tie the game. [Patriots 7 : 7 Bengals]
New England’s offense failed to build on its strong first series after the Bengals’ touchdown. After a short run by Sony Michel, a drop by James White put the team into a third-and-eight situation and Brady was unable to connect with Julian Edelman to keep the drive alive. The home team, meanwhile, continued its success — especially on the ground. While its second possession did not end with a touchdown, it did allow the Bengals to take the lead on a 34-yard field goal by Randy Bullock. [Patriots 7 : 10 Bengals]
New England opened the second period facing a third-and-three that turned into a three-and-eight upon a pre-snap penalty against Julian Edelman. The team was able to convert nevertheless on an eight-yard pass from Brady to first-round rookie N’Keal Harry. The Patriots moved the football well after the conversion, but the series stalled at the Cincinnati 35-yard line when Brady and Mohamed Sanu failed to connect on fourth-and-four.
Following the turnover on downs, the Bengals again moved into New England territory rather easily but also encountered a fourth-down: going for it on fourth-and-one at the Patriots’ 30-yard line, the run defense stepped up — Danny Shelton, Elandon Roberts and Ja’Whaun Bentley provided a good push — to stop Joe Mixon for no gain and give the football back to the offense.
As opposed to the Bengals, the Patriots were able to cash in on their turnover on downs. With Sony Michel and Matt LaCosse both having gains of 10+ yards, the offense drove into field goal range and was eventually able to tie the game thanks to a 40-yard field goal by Nick Folk. [Patriots 10 : 10 Bengals]
Momentum continued to shift the Patriots’ way on the next series as the defense held the Bengals to a three-and-out, forcing a punt with 2:15 left in the first half of the game. New England could not get anything going on offense, though, and went three-and-out. However, the team did get the football back quickly as Matthew Slater forced a fumble on the ensuing punt that was recovered by Justin Bethel to give the Patriots the football at the Cincinnati 23-yard line:
New England’s offense remained out of sync on its next drive, with Brady missing a wide-open Mohamed Sanu on second down before being sacked to set up a field goal. Nick Folk was good from 46 yards out, however, to give the Patriots a three-point lead at the half. [Patriots 13 : 10 Bengals]
New England started the second half in perfect fashion. After an incomplete pass and short run, Stephon Gilmore was able to intercept Andy Dalton to give the Patriots the football at the Bengals’ 43-yard line:
Just like they did after the first takeaway, the Patriots capitalized on this one as well — this time with a touchdown: converting a third-and-one along the way on a pitch to James White that he took for a 13-yard gain, New England reached the end zone when Brady connected with N’Keal Harry from seven yards out. [Patriots 20 : 10 Bengals]
The Bengals’ next series started promising again, as Joe Mixon and the ground game allowed the team to reach the New England side of the field again. Once more, however, the best cornerback in football ended the drive: Dalton tried to connect with Tyler Boyd, but Stephon Gilmore undercut the route for an interception. To make matters worse for Cincinnati, the All-Pro took the pick 64 yards for a touchdown. [Patriots 27 : 10 Bengals]
While the Bengals offense improved on its next series — it did not turn the football over — it failed to get much going and ultimately had to punt the football away again after just three plays. New England did not fare much better, though, and also went three-and-out. Considering how the final play of the drive went, however, this was the best-case outcome: Sony Michel received a handoff on third-and-one but fumbled the football before recovering.
Any momentum the three-and-out may have brought the Bengals was quickly back with New England, however: while the Cincinnati offense drove into Patriots territory, an interception by second-year cornerback J.C. Jackson ended the series with the visitors again taking over:
While the Patriots turned their last three takeaways into 17 points, they failed to cash in on the Jackson interception. Instead, the offense had to punt the football away after failing to pick up third-and-three when James White was tackled for no gain. Cincinnati, meanwhile, was able to add to the scoreboard — for the first time since the late first quarter — on the subsequent drive, with Randy Bullock hitting a 48-yarder to make the game a two-touchdown affair again. [Patriots 27 : 13 Bengals]
The Bengals attempted an onside kick after their field goal but were unsuccessful. As a result, the Patriots started their next drive at the Cincinnati 40-yard line and it took them only three plays to find the end zone again: ex-Bengal Rex Burkhead burst through the line of scrimmage into open field and took the ball 33 yards into the end zone for the longest run of his career. [Patriots 34 : 13 Bengals]
Cincinnati, meanwhile, followed up the Patriots’ touchdown with another three-and-out. The Patriots did not do much better on their next possession again also had to punt the football away again. The team’s defense, however, delivered another big play on the next drive as J.C. Jackson registered his second interception — giving New England five turnovers on the day:
The Patriots were able to run out the clock after the interception to secure their 11th victory of the season.