Coming off back-to-back losses, the New England Patriots registered their 11th win of the season against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday to punch their ticket for the playoffs and stay ahead in the race for a first-round postseason bye. While not all was perfect, the team still won in rather convincing fashion due to another strong defensive outing — at least from the second quarter on — and an offense that looked somewhat improved at times.
With that being said, let’s take a look at some of the players who stood out on Sunday, without the benefit of a film review.
Winners: CB Stephon Gilmore & CB J.C. Jackson
The last time the Patriots had two defenders intercept two passes apiece was in November 1986, when Ronnie Lippett and Steve Nelson each had two picks against the Indianapolis Colts. 33 years later, Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson repeated the feat and thus laid the foundation for New England’s win in Cincinnati. While Gilmore’s picks directly contributed to 14 points — including his 65-yard pick-six in the third quarter — Jackson’s effectively sealed the game for the team. In short, the Patriots’ starting outside cornerbacks were fantastic.
Winner: WR N’Keal Harry
Coming off a game in which he played only two offensive snaps, N’Keal Harry delivered arguably his most impressive performance to date. The first-round rookie, who missed the Patriots’ first nine games of the season due to an ankle injury, filled the number three wide receiver role and showed some strong hands and good running abilities. On the day, Harry caught two passes for a combined 15 yards and a touchdown and also had two carries for 22 yards. All in all, it was an encouraging game and a step in the right direction.
Loser: The run defense
Despite being just 1-12 entering the game, the Bengals featured one of the best backs in the NFL in Joe Mixon — and he was able to do considerable damage when the game was still close early on. Mixon would go on to finish the game with 136 rushing yards on 25 carries and an average of 5.4 yards per run as New England’s run defense struggled to bring him down on first contact and was inconsistent clogging gaps and setting the edge. The unit settled down in the second half, but its slow start allowed Cincinnati to stay in the game throughout the first half.
Loser: LB Jamie Collins Sr.
While he finished with five tackles and a tipped pass, Jamie Collins had an inconsistent outing — especially against the pass. He missed what would have been a tackle for loss on Mixon’s 29-yard run in the first quarter, and was caught out of position numerous times in the second half. Like New England’s defense as a whole he settled down later in the game, but his early miscues played a role in the team’s struggles on the ground.
Winner: LB Ja’Whaun Bentley
With the Patriots focusing on stopping the run and putting the game in the hands of Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, run-first linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley saw more snaps than usual. The second-year man, who missed most of last season due to a bicep injury, looked good with the increased workload. Not only did he finish the game with seven tackles on defense and one on special teams, he also made back-to-back plays in the second quarter — on third and fourth down, twice against Mixon — when Cincinnati turned the football over on downs.
Loser: WR Mohamed Sanu
Going against his former team, Mohamed Sanu again had a quiet performance. In fact, arguably his two biggest moments both were negative: Sanu was unable to haul in a difficult-yet-catchable pass on fourth-and-four in the second quarter, and in the fourth had a fumble that was scooped up by the Bengals only to be overturned by a defensive penalty. Other than that, Sanu again struggled to consistently get open and he finished the game with just two catches for 13 yards on eight targets.
Winners: RB Sony Michel & RB Rex Burkhead
While one ex-Bengal struggled, another had a solid performance: Rex Burkhead carried the football six times on the day for 53 yards and a career-long 33-yard touchdown. The change-of-pace back certainly had his moments, and so did Sony Michel. While he had a fumble in the third quarter that he himself recovered and failed to haul in a difficult touchdown pass, the second-year man looked good running the football and finished with 89 rushing yards on 19 carries.
Loser: The Tom Brady-Julian Edelman connection
Julian Edelman was questionable entering the game and he looked off for much of the contest despite Tom Brady regularly looking his way. However, the pair failed to display its trademark chemistry: Brady threw some passes off the mark — not just to Edelman, but also to Mohamed Sanu and Sony Michel — while the veteran wideout struggled against the Bengals’ physical cornerback play. Overall, Brady targeted Edelman five times but he finished with just two completions for nine yards.
Winners: WR Matthew Slater & CB Justin Bethel
Another day, another big special teams play for the Patriots. With the game tied at 10 in the late second quarter, Matthew Slater forced a fumble on a New England punt when he quickly tackled Bengals returnman Alex Erickson. Justin Bethel was also down the field in a hurry and able to recover the loose football to eventually set up a field goal. Slater and Bethel might very well be the best gunner duo in the NFL, and it showed again on Sunday: they combined to register three tackles and the fumble-recovery-combo.
OT Marcus Cannon
New England’s offensive line had its moments in run-blocking — the team gained a combined 177 yards on the ground on 30 carries — but once again failed to give Tom Brady consistent time in the pocket. Starting right tackle Marcus Cannon in particular had a hard time against Cincinnati’s talented front, and was responsible for a third down sack in the late second quarter. The veteran is in the middle of an inconsistent season, and Sunday was therefore more of the same for him.
Pats Pulpit Live: Week 13 at the Cincinnati Bengals
Welcome to another victory edition of Pats Pulpit Live! The Patriots took care of business in Cincinnati today with a 34-13 win over the Bengals.Posted by Pats Pulpit: For New England Patriots News on Sunday, December 15, 2019