You wouldn’t know it, but we’re exactly seven days away from Memorial Day Weekend. The unofficial start of summer usually means barbecues, Summer Fridays, and the end of rookie minicamp as we head into the dead time on the NFL calendar. But 2020 is just one big episode of dead time on the NFL calendar, nobody has any idea what’s going on, and there’s no end in sight. Who knows; if this continues, maybe next year’s countdown will have to be a compilation of all the other countdowns I’ve done over the years.
Which means I better get a move on here.
The list so far:
20. The Patriots draft N’Keal Harry.
19. The Patriots trade for Mohammed Sanu.
18. Josh Gordon breaks three tackles to score the first Patriots touchdown of the 2019 season.
17. The kicker carousel.
16. A Kyle van Noy scoop and score ices the game against the New York Giants.
15. The refs screw the Pats out of not one, but two touchdowns against the Kansas City Chiefs.
14. The Patriots play the Jets twice - and the defense shuts them out twice.
Number 13 is especially meaningful right about now, given recent events in the NFL and the rumors that accompanied those events.
13. The Patriots force four interceptions as they dominate the Cincinnati Bengals and secure a playoff spot.
When the Patriots traveled to Cincinnati on December 15th for a Week 15 showdown against the Bengals, they were coming off back-to-back losses to the Texans and Chiefs and confidence in the team had taken a major hit. A monster 10-1 start suddenly wasn’t looking so hot, as their three losses on the year were all to strong AFC playoff contenders and there were some rumblings as to whether or not this team was actually any good. They had also just been robbed of a potential win at home the week before, as two separate blown calls took two touchdowns off the board against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Bengals were one of the worst teams in the entire league, and if the Patriots couldn’t get in done convincingly against this squad, there was serious cause for concern.
And things weren’t looking good in the first half; the Patriots scored on their opening possession, but Cincy answered right back, scoring a TD and a FG on their first two drives to take a 10-7 lead. The Patriots were able to move the ball, but couldn’t find the end zone, tacking on two more field goals to take a 13-10 lead into the locker room at halftime.
New England must have realized that they had forgotten to send the defense onto the field in the first half, because the dominant unit of 2019 finally got to work as the third quarter kicked off. Cincy’s first drive of the 2nd half lasted all of three plays before a short Andy Dalton pass was picked off by Stephon Gilmore, giving the Patriots a short field and a N’Keal Harry touchdown a few plays later to increase the lead to 20-3.
The Bengals offense doubled their production on their next drive, stringing together all of six plays before the Patriots defense came up big again. On 1st and 15, Gilmore perfectly read a short out pattern and stepped in front of the pass right as Dalton threw it, intercepting the ball with nothing but green in front of him for a 64 yard pick six. The quarter wasn’t even half over...but the game was. Patriots 27, Bengals 10.
The defense, however, was just getting warmed up. They forced a three and out on the next Bengals drive, then once again intercepted Andy Dalton after six plays, this one a deep sideline pass that JC Jackson high pointed and just managed to get in bounds before falling out. The game was already over at this point, but Red Burkhead tacked on another 33 yard TD run to put New England up 33-13 and eliminate any small hopes the Bengals may have had of coming back here.
To add icing on the cake, JC Jackson got one more pick with just under four minutes to play as the Bengals were simply in “huck it deep” mode, giving him and Gilmore two each on the day. The Patriots D would hold Andy Dalton to just 151 yards on 17 completions with a TD and four interceptions. It was as dominant a defensive performance as it gets from a secondary standpoint. With the win, the Patriots improved to 11-3 and secured a playoff spot for the 11th straight year. It was a nice statement win in which the Patriots got back to doing what they did best - stifling defense and keeping the opponent out of the end zone while giving the offense short fields on which to produce enough points to win.
However, this was also a game in which Bengals running back Joe Mixon rushed for 136 yards on 25 attempts for a whopping 5.6 YPC average - something that became a theme with this Patriots team as the season went on and would ultimately be the cause for their early playoff exit. This Bengals game more or less revealed the kind of team that the Patriots were in 2019 - solid on defense, below average on offense, but susceptible to the run. They were also a playoff team that could turn it on at any minute, it seems. And with this win, and this complete domination of Dalton, all once again seemed right in Patriots Nation after a disappointing two weeks. Expectations were tempered a bit in terms of how deep a playoff run the Patriots could make...but with the playoffs secured, and with the 2018 squad as living proof that anything can happen in the postseason, this game was something of a defining moment of the 2019 season, and is thus right where it belongs here at Number 13.
Game highlights here.