Frigid temperatures awaited the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. So did the defending AFC champions.
Bill Belichick’s roster fell to Zac Taylor’s Cincinnati Bengals there by a score of 22-18 on Saturday afternoon, falling to 7-8 on the regular season and further out of the playoff picture.
Here’s an initial glance into what took place from one half to another on Christmas Eve.
Burrow goes 40-of-52 through the air in first meeting New England
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft had never crossed paths with the Patriots before. But when asked midweek about what stood out when watching film of quarterback Joe Burrow, New England’s head coach quickly replied, “Yeah, everything.”
Last year’s league leader in completion percentage and this year’s Pro Bowler showed why on Saturday. The football did not hit the turf on Cincinnati’s opening drive as Burrow began 4-of-4 for 73 yards en route to a 6-0 start. The football did not hit the turf until the 1:58 mark in the first quarter, either. The deficit soon swelled to 12-0, 15-0 and 22-0 as Cincinnati’s attack amassed 22 first downs in the first half alone.
Burrow finished 40-of-52 passing for 372 yards with three touchdowns. But he finished with two interceptions. Those turnovers began with safety Devin McCourty and continued with all-purpose rookie Marcus Jones, on a 69-yard footrace to the end zone that tied a franchise record for defensive touchdowns in a season. A pair of sacks were notched by the Patriots. Matthew Judon extended his career best to 15.5 while forcing a fumble. Fellow outside linebacker Josh Uche extended his career best to 11.5 sacks.
Covering Cincinnati’s wideouts without two corners
New England ruled out one cornerback before another went from questionable to inactive. And in the absence of veteran Jalen Mills due to a groin injury and rookie Jack Jones due to a knee injury, Jonathan Jones, Myles Bryant and the aforementioned Marcus Jones started on Saturday.
They did against a towering Cincinnati trio that entered with 2,465 yards and 19 touchdowns combined on the campaign.
Tee Higgins totaled eight catches for 128 yards and a touchdown, starting on the opening drive with 39 down the sideline and nine more for points down at the goal line. Ja’Marr Chase added eight receptions for 79 yards and a fumble, however, while Tyler Boyd grabbed three receptions for 21 yards. And not to be forgotten on the wideout depth chart was Trenton Irwin, who reeled in a two touchdowns prior to halftime.
No. 10 attempts one pass in first quarter, finishes with two touchdowns
“I think every game is a big game, right? I know everybody says that every week, right? But this one especially just to show our resiliency and just to bounce back and stay positive with one another and go out there and compete.”
That was what Mac Jones told reporters in the days after completing a career-low 41.9 percent of his passes for 112 yards against the Las Vegas Raiders. Those words were reflected on a Saturday that began listless with four straight punts and a kneeldown.
New England’s quarterback attempted one pass in the first quarter. But he finished 21-of-33 through the air for 240 yards with two touchdowns and no turnovers. That was the outcome versus a Cincinnati defense that ranked second only to his own in completion percentage allowed this season. Linebacker Logan Wilson, defensive end Cameron Sample and defensive tackle Josh Tupou registered solo sacks on No. 10. A split was later logged between frontmen Zachary Carter and Joseph Ossai.
Bourne, Meyers bring explosiveness to stagnant offense
A rush by wide receiver Kendrick Bourne brought the most explosive play in a New England first half that brought 70 yards. The offense entered intermission with three first downs and without a single conversion on third down.
The 2021 signing provided more afterward, totaling six catches for an even 100 yards and a touchdown. And he wasn’t alone. A third-and-29 scramble became a deep shot for the Patriots. It became a deflection and a touchdown for wideout Jakobi Meyers from 48 yards away, too. The result was a 22-18 game in the final quarter.
Tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith sustained a knee injury and a head injury, respectively, prior to then as standard elevation Scotty Washington lent a hand against his former team.
A change at long snapper for the first time 140 games
A streak reached its end as the Patriots ruled out Joe Cardona on the final injury report. A season reached its end, too, as the Navy product was placed on injured reserve 140 games into a run that began in the fifth round of the 2015 draft.
In stepped Tucker Addington for his NFL debut. A week after from signing to the practice squad, the long snapper from Sam Houston State signed to the 53-man roster. His role in the operation would be called upon frequently.
Punter Michael Palardy punted six times and mishandled a clean snap in the first quarter. It gave way to a rugby-style net of 22 yards out of bounds. Elevation Tristan Vizcaino served as the kickoff specialist for New England on a Saturday that saw kicker Nick Folk miss two extra points.
Punch-out keeps Stevenson out
As Damien Harris missed his fourth consecutive start due to thigh injury, New England’s backfield went forward with Rhamondre Stevenson.
A matchup removed from rushing for a career-high 172 yards at Allegiant Stadium, the running back by way of Cerritos College and the University of Oklahoma posted 13 carries for 30 yards on the ground at Gillette Stadium. He had 10 yards at the half.
A punch out by safety Vonn Bell kept the Patriots out of the end zone with 59 seconds remaining in a game separated by four points. Timeouts were followed by a Bengals punt. But the comeback bid ran out of time and downs.