The New England Patriots (7-8) comeback efforts came up short on Saturday, as they dropped the Week 16 showdown 22-18 to the Cincinnati Bengals (11-4). Here’s who caught the eye for better, and for worse.
Winner: WR Kendrick Bourne. Finally. Finally! It was the game we've been expecting from Bourne all year long. It only took *checks notes* 16 weeks (no fault of his own). He made an impact the second he stepped on the field taking a reverse for 29 yards. Bourne ended the game with a career-high 100 receiving yards, which featured several big plays downfield and third-down conversions. He also found the end zone for the first time all season. This is the Kendrick Bourne we expected - and should have gotten - this season.
Loser: RB Rhamondre Stevenson. It was a game to forget for running back Rhamondre Stevenson, who managed just 30 rushing yards on 13 carries. Down by the goal line with a chance to take the lead late in the game, New England handed the ball off to their back four straight times. The result was just 10 yards and an essential game-sealing fumble from the back - marking the second straight week Stevenson was part of a game-changing turnover. He also chipped in just two catches for three yards on five targets with what appeared to be at least one drop.
Winner: EDGE Matthew Judon. After a few quiet games in the stat sheet, Judon got back to his old ways against Cincinnati on Saturday. He brought down Burrow in the first half for his 15.5 sack of the season, then made a game-changing play in the fourth quarter as he dropped back into coverage and forced a fumble on Ja’Marr Chase. It was a performance they needed from their star pass rusher.
Loser: WR Tyquan Thornton. It was another overall quiet game for second-round pick Tyquan Thornton, who managed just one catch for eight yards. But, Thornton had the chance to make a huge impact play to start the quarter. The rookie got his hands on a Mac Jones deep ball, but was unable to control it while hitting the ground. It’s a play he needs to make and one the New England offense desperately needed.
He couldn't make the catch but love that they took a deep shot to Tyquan Thornton! His speed is special! pic.twitter.com/S64lFAAcQm— @ (@FTBeard7) December 24, 2022
Loser: K Nick Folk. Both kickers had issues in a windy and chilly Gillette Stadium on Saturday. For Folk, he missed two extra points — one on New England’s first score of the game and one in the fourth quarter. That proved to be a major factor as New England ended up turning the football over late in the game as they needed four points and a touchdown. It’s worth wondering how much the changing parts around him (long snapper, holder) have affected his operation.
Honorable mentions: Another week, another strong showing from Swiss-army knife Marcus Jones. Jones led the team with 14 total tackles and got New England on the scoreboard with a pick-six in the third quarter. He also turned his one offensive touch into 15 yards. He falls into the honorable mention list as he (rightfully) had some issues covering Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase.
Jones was not the only corner to be burned in a size mismatch as Jonathan Jones and Myles Bryant had struggles slowing down Cincinnati’s physical wide receiver core. In total, Joe Burrow went 40-of-52 for 375 yards and three scores against New England. On a positive, it was another impressive game from Ja’Whaun Bentley (12 tackles) on initial viewing.
Offensively, Jakobi Meyers was his reliable self hauling in six passes for 83 yards and a score. His touchdown was off a remarkable deflection, where Scotty Washington deserves credit for the tip drill.
Quarterback Mac Jones started the game off shaky, but came to life as New England aired it out more in the second half - including a couple high quality strikes to Kendrick Bourne. He finished 21-of-33 for 240 yards and two scores, totaling +0.08 EPA/play.
After one of their better games of the season last week in Vegas, New England’s offensive line appeared to have some trouble handling Cincinnati’s blitz packages upon initial viewing. They seemed to be better facing standard rushes.
And as always, coaching falls into this category for the negative reason. New England’s offense continued to be a mess on Saturday, especially on third-down. The goal-to-go situation at the end of the game could be questioned, as they kept the ball on the ground four straight plays. Speaking of puzzling decisions, running a play just to then take a knee at the end of the first half was odd. New England’s defense did make strong adjustment to shutout Cincinnati in the second half, but they again lost the game due to poor situational football.