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Monday, October 6, 2014

Patriots End Tumultous Week w/Statement Victory Over Bengals, 43-17 on Sunday Night Football

The main reason that it's so hard to bet on the NFL(and I never do it for real) was on full display tonight at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots (3-2 overall, 2-0 home) were coming off a horrific 41-14 loss to the Chiefs (2-3) on Monday Night Football so naturally, on a short week against a supposedly better team (than KC), they dominated for a 43-17 win. Everyone outside of their locker room legitimately doubted them so they responded with their best performance of the young season.

New England won their 32nd straight game at Gillette vs. AFC opponents (in the regular season) and kept pace with the Bills (3-2) who won 17-14 at the Lions. Tom Brady (23 of 35 for 292 yards, 2 TDs) had his top output of 2014 and the Pats got a 100-yard rusher (Stevan Ridley had 113 yards on 27 carries) which makes them 39-1 under Belichick when a guy reaches the century mark in rushing. Shane Vereen (9 carries, 90 yards) almost got there too for the Pats.

In many ways, this felt like the polar opposite of Monday night. The Pats jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter (first time this season that they scored on the opening drive), on a 1-yard run by Ridley and a 17-yard catch by Tim Wright (5 catches, 85 yards). Cincinnati had an extra week to prepare (coming out of a bye week) so it was somewhat stunning (though they are the Bengals after all) since it looked like they hadn't done anything special to get ready for New England's must-win in a primetime contest.

A 23-yard field goal by Mike Nugent averted the first half shutout for Cincinnati (3-1 overall, 1-1 away) while Stephen Gostkowski added two late field goals for the 20-3 lead. Not surprisingly given the final score, the Patriots' defense responded from Monday's embarrassment. They forced three fumbles: recovered by Jamie Collins, Duron Harmon (who stepped in for the injured Devin McCourty) and Kyle Arrington.

Cincy's quick strike offense was in effect when Andy Dalton (15 of 24 for 204 yards, 2 TDs) hit Mohamed Sanu for a 37-yard touchdown early in the third quarter that cut it to a two-score game (20-10). That was the last signs of life for the Bengals though as Rob Gronkowski (6 catches, 100 yards, TD) caught a 16-yard touchdown and six seconds later on the ensuing kickoff, Brandon Bolden forced a fumble and Kyle Arrington scooped it up and ran nine yards for the TD.

The great A.J. Green (5 catches, 81 yards, TD) caught a 17-yard touchdown late in the third quarter that made it 34-17 Patriots. Gostkowski stayed busy with three more field goals in the fourth that put the game way out of reach. They even survived an major scare as Darrelle Revis went down with a shoulder injury but returned to action later in the game.

Here are some numbers that show how much New England rolled and how it could have been an even bigger blowout if not for eight more penalties (12-4) called on them: they picked up 13 more first downs (30-17), were far better on third down (6 for 16 vs. 0 for 7), ran 34 more plays (82-48), gained 185 more total yards (505-320) and rushed for 141 more yards (220-79).

The Pats meet the Bills next Sunday (1, CBS) in Orchard Park. The two top teams (at this moment) in the AFC East will battle for first-place in the division with former Patriot Brandon Spikes leading an improved Bills defense. I won't waste anyone's time trying to predict how that will go. As we saw tonight, contrary to popular belief it's not time to count out Belchick, Brady and the Patriots just yet.

UPDATE 10/8: Patriots re-signed OL Chris Martin and DL Joe Vellano to the practice squad.

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