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What we learned: Patriots deliver resounding 43-17 win over Bengals

10.05.14 at 11:43 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots answered their critics in resounding fashion Sunday night, crushing the Bengals, 43-17. New England jumped to a quick lead, scoring two touchdowns on its first two possessions, and never looked back to up its record to 3-2 on the season. Meanwhile, the Bengals never recovered from the early attack, and while they cut the lead to 10 at one point in the second half, could get no closer.

Tom Brady finished 23-for-35 for 292 yards with two touchdowns. Meanwhile, Stevan Ridley had 27 carries for 113 yards and one touchdown, while Rob Gronkowski had six catches for 100 yards and a touchdown. Tim Wright added five catches for 85 yards and a touchdown. On the other side of the ball, Andy Dalton was 15-for-24 for 204 yards with two touchdowns. A.J. Green had five catches for 81 yards and a touchdown.

Here are 10 things we learned about the Patriots on Sunday.

The Patriots can score early

New England came into this one with a record of poor starts over the course of the first four games. Coming into Sunday night, the Patriots had gone three-and-out on all four of their first possessions and had allowed their opponent to score first in each of the four games. Offensively on first drives the Patriots had run three running plays totaling four yards, and Brady was 3-for-8 with 12 yards passing. Defensively, the Pats had allowed 152 yards and two touchdowns on first drives — an average of 38 yards per drive, compared to just four yards per drive on offense.

On Sunday, the Patriots came out strong early, scoring on their first two opportunities (one on a 10-play drive and another on a six-play drive), and took the fight to Cincy. The quick start left the Bengals on their toes, and they never recovered.

It was a nice bounceback game for the defense

The Patriots had the first sack of the year against Cincy when Chris Jones busted up the gut in the second half and brought down Dalton. Overall, the defense wasn’t terrific, but in the wake of what happened last week, it was a nice effort. The Patriots forced a pair of fumbles (they added another one on special teams) and limited the Bengals to zero touchdowns in the first half. While Darrelle Revis wasn’t an overwhelming presence, he limited A.J. Green to four catches over the first three quarters. In addition, the Bengals were 0-for-7 on third down.

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Halftime analysis: Patriots 20, Bengals 3

10.05.14 at 10:05 pm ET
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FOXBORO — After two quarters, the Patriots hold a 20-3 lead on the Bengals at Gillette Stadium.

Over the first two quarters, Tom Brady was very impressive, going 11-for-19 for 153 yards and one touchdown. He had completions of 20, 27, 17 and 30 yards in the first half, and appeared to be clicking nicely with a variety of receivers. Up front, he’s been given time to throw by an offensive line of (from left to right) Nate Solder-Dan Connolly-Bryan Stork-Ryan Wendell-Sebastian Vollmer. (Marcus Cannon replaced Vollmer on the second-to-last drive of the half, but Vollmer returned for the last)

The Patriots have also gotten excellent work from their running game, with Stevan Ridley (11 carries, 49 yards, one touchdown) and Shane Vereen (six carries for 48 yards) consistently moving the chains. The Patriots also got four catches for 60 yards and a touchdown from tight end Tim Wright. On the other side of the ball, Cincy’s Andy Dalton was 6-for-11 for 63 yards.

Here are a few quick notes:

— The Patriots made their most definitive statement of the season on their opening drive, going 80 yards in 10 plays — with eight runs to take a 7-0 lead. Ridley put the capper on the series with a 1-yard plunge into the end zone at roughly the 10-minute mark. The New England defense responded nicely on the Bengals’ next sequence, and the Gillette Stadium crowd responded with appropriate fervor when Cincy kicker Mike Nugent missed a 52-yard field goal attempt. The Patriots then started piling on with another impressive sequence, a six-play, 58-yard sequence that took 2:33 and ended with a 17-yard laser strike to Tim Wright down the seam — a play made famous by Rob Gronkowski — to make it 14-0.

— Two defensive wrinkles that caught our eye in the early going: one, the Patriots appeared to mostly utilize cornerback Darrelle Revis in man coverage against A.J. Green. He was thrown at twice, and there were no completions. (One pick from Revis was called back for offsetting penalties.) And two, New England shuffled things up at the defensive end spot, rotating Chandler Jones in and out, moving rookie Dominique Easley into his spot. (From this viewpoint, there are two things at play here: one, the Patriots are worried about the Bengals running on Jones, who hasn’t stood up well at the point of attack over the first four weeks against the run. And two, they appear to be managing his shoulder — he showed up on the injury report this week with a shoulder issue.)

— The Bengals answered with a flag-happy drive where 25 of the 57 yards of their sequence came via penalties. In the end, it was a 10-play, 57-yard drive that concluded with a 23-yard field goal from Nugent to make it 14-3.

— On their next drive, the Patriots offense stalled a bit, thanks in part to a couple of off target throws from Brady to Gronkowski. However, they were able to get close enough to get a 48-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski to make it 17-3. A quick fumble from Cincy’s A.J. Green on the ensuing drive allowed the Patriots to punch in their final score of the half, a 19-yarder from Gostkowski to make it 20-3 with nine seconds left.

Dont’a Hightower inactive vs. Bengals, Aaron Dobson, Alfonzo Dennard return

10.05.14 at 7:04 pm ET
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FOXBORO — After being listed as questionable with a knee injury on the injury report Friday, linebacker Dont’a Hightower is inactive for Sunday night’s game with the Bengals.

The other Patriots inactives are: offensive linemen Josh Kline and Cameron Fleming, running back James White, defensive lineman Zach Moore, cornerback Malcolm Butler and safety Nate Ebner. Fleming and Ebner were listed as out on Friday’s injury report, both with finger injuries.

Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard will get his first action since Week 1 and receiver Aaron Dobson returns after missing the previous two games.

Brandon Browner and Brian Tyms will not play as they were not activated by yesterday’s 4 p.m. deadline.

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Live Blog: Tom Brady, Patriots look to rebound against Bengals at Gillette Stadium

10.05.14 at 6:52 pm ET
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Live Blog Live Blog: Bengals vs. Patriots

Bill Belichick explains why he has a ‘much closer relationship’ with Mike Brown than Paul Brown

10.05.14 at 6:06 pm ET
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Bill Belichick. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Bill Belichick. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — It’s no secret that Bill Belichick has always admired the teaching methods of Paul Brown.

But what’s not as well known is the personal family connections between the Belichicks and Browns, dating back to World War II.

The connection begins with Bill Edwards, a former player under Paul Brown, who also coached for him. Edwards happens to be Belichick’s godfather.

When Brown came to run the Bengals, Belichick and his father, Navy assistant coach Steve Belichick made the trip to Wilmington (Ohio) College to visit training camp.

“Obviously he remembers a lot, it’€™s his father,” Belichick said Friday when asked about his memories about the Brown family. “But, I talk to Mike about him plenty and have a lot of respect for that family. My dad and that family go way back, back to World War II, post-World War II days. My godfather’€™s relationship with Paul and the Browns and the Bengals and the Browns being at Hiram [College] and my mom graduating from Hiram and my dad coaching at Hiram ‘€“ it goes back a long way.

Paul Brown died in 1991 at the age of 82. Brown’s son Mike, now 79, still owns and runs the Bengals, with his daughter Katie Blackburn.

“I’€™d say most of the relationship with Coach [Paul] Brown was with my dad,” Belichick said. “I met him and gone to practices and those kind of things, but I was young. So, I’€™d say I have a much closer relationship with Mike just because we’€™re a little closer in age, [have] football fathers, Ohio. There are a lot of similarities there.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Cincinnati Bengals, Mike Brown, New England Patriots

Setting the scene: Patriots look to prove a point against Bengals

10.05.14 at 4:54 pm ET
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The stage is set for one of the bigger regular season games in recent Patriots memory. (Mike Petraglia/

The stage is set for one of the bigger regular season games in recent Patriots memory. (Mike Petraglia/

FOXBORO — All week the Patriots have waited for this moment. Their chance to prove to critics, the league and most importantly themselves that they are not as bad as the last two weeks would seem is finally here.

Clear skies and temperatures in the low 50s are expected for the 8:30 p.m. kickoff as they take on the 3-0 Cincinnati Bengals at Gillette Stadium. The chill in the air could drop temperatures to the mid 40s by the end of the game.

Wind should be absolutely no factor with a breeze expected out of the east at 5 MPH.

This could bode well for the passing game, and speculation will intensify before kickoff about just how much Aaron Dobson will play, if indeed he is active for the first time since Week 2 in Minnesota.

With Brandon Browner and Brian Tyms also not activated by the 4 p.m. ET deadline Saturday, Alfonzo Dennard and Dobson could have bigger roles.

The 2-2 Patriots are not the only ones trying to prove themselves on this big Sunday night stage.

The Bengals come to Foxboro trying to prove they belong in the conversation among elite NFL teams and early-season talk about Super Bowl contenders. The Bengals have not handled the bright lights of Sunday night very well. They are 3-12 in Sunday night games and 1-8 on the road, with their only win coming in 1992 at Chicago in overtime.

Their last appearance was an abject disaster last December.

They took a 9-4 record into Pittsburgh and the sub-.500 Steelers pounded them into the ground, racing out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter. Their punter (Kevin Huber) broke his jaw when he tried to cover a Steelers punt return. He was blindsided and missed the rest of the season. The Steelers won that game, 30-20.

The Patriots have dominated this series of late, winning 7-of-9, including a 16-13 win in Bill Belichick‘s first year at the helm of the Patriots in 2000. Cincinnati’s only two wins ever in New England have come by a 31-7 score. The Bengals won in 1972 at Schaefer Stadium and in 1986 in the same stadium. The Bengals are 0-2 at Gillette Stadium, losing 35-28 in 2004 and 38-24 in the 2010 season opener.

The Bengals snapped a four-game losing skid to the Patriots with a 13-6 win last October at Paul Brown Stadium.

Read More: Cincinnati Bengals, New England Patriots,

Tom Brady reportedly ‘uncomfortable’ with his personnel, leading to ‘tensions’ with coaching staff

10.05.14 at 11:32 am ET
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Tamba Hali was able to get to Tom Brady for a strip sack in the second half of Monday's 41-14 loss to the Chiefs. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Tamba Hali was able to get to Tom Brady for a strip sack in the second half of Monday’s 41-14 loss to the Chiefs. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Is Tom Brady quickly approaching a breaking point with the Patriots?

On ESPN’s “Sunday NFL Countdown” Chris Mortensen reported that Brady’s role in the offense has been diminished and he’s expressing his frustration within the organization.

“Several players, coaches and former players have rendered an unsettling picture that all does not look well with Tom Brady and the Patriots and there’s a reason for it,” Mortensen said on the show. “Even though Bill Belichick chuckled when asked Monday night about Brady’s status, others close to the team now believe that when the Patriots used that second-round pick (in 2014) on Jimmy Garropolo that they were, in fact, choosing Brady’s successor, perhaps sooner than later.

“Sources say Brady is uncomfortable with the personnel and coaching changes, the consequences have led to tensions between Brady and the coaching staff, with Brady’s input into gameplans, personnel packages, formations, pre-snap adjustments being significantly diminished.”

On Friday, asked Belichick about Brady’s pre-snap reads versus his ability to drop back and make progressions as in years past.

“I think every week you try to do the best on pre-snap reads that you can,” Belichick said. “Some teams disguise things better than others. Some teams have a certain look that they have [and] do three or four things out of. That’€™s their thing. They’€™re going to give you a certain look and then they have multiple combinations off that look. Sometimes formations indicate pre-snap reads. Sometimes defensive alignments indicate pre-snap reads.

“It can be a combination of one or multiple things like that. It’€™s always important. That’€™s something that we absolutely talk about every week in game planning is pre-snap identification. Now, you always have to confirm what they’€™re doing post-snap. Against a good defense, you just can’€™t say, ‘€˜OK, here’€™s what it looks like,’€™ and that’€™s what it is 100 percent of the time. You still have to confirm it.

“But it can certainly indicate what a lot of times it won’€™t be. Like, if it could be one of four things, maybe now it’€™s down to one or two based on a certain key that you have. But I’€™d say that’€™s an important thing every week. It’€™s important this week. But I couldn’€™t sit here ‘€“ I can’€™t imagine sitting here before any game and saying it’€™s not important. I would say it’€™s important every week. It’€™s similar to pass protection, those are two of the most important things you do offensively in preparation.”

Mortensen then wondered aloud if the struggles so far this season have more to do with the personnel around Brady than Brady’s skills diminishing.

“Has the staff lost faith in Brady? Or is it simply the residue of shaky personnel decisions, including the undeniable fact that since 2002, the Patriots have used 11 draft picks on wide receivers and only two — Deion Branch and Julian Edelman — have made any impact.”

Sunday night’s game against the Bengals seems bigger and bigger by the second in answering some of these questions.

Read More: Bill Belichick, New England Patriots, Tom Brady,
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