Tom Brady is back, Rob Gronkowski is back, and the Patriots have the most underrated defense in the NFL.
Even after getting off to a slow start, the Patriots were able to rout the woefully mediocre Cincinnati Bengals, 35-17. Brady threw for 376 yards and three touchdowns as Gronkowski, after fighting the stomach flu during the week, finished with a career-high 162 receiving yards and one TD.
I want to say that a victory over the Bengals is an appropriate measuring-stick for how good your own team is, but Cincinnati is a mess right now and I’m not sure they’re even a good team anymore (not to sound like Trent Dilfer). They lost to Dallas last week and lost their cool late in this game against the Patriots. Just like in their Wild Card game against the Steelers last year, the leaders and initiators of the dirty play this afternoon were once again the destructive duo of Vontaze Burfict and Adam “Pacman” Jones.
The street fight tactics began in the second half after this hit from Burfict on Martellus Bennett
It then escalated as Gronkowski began jarring with members of the Cincinnati defense and they began trying to bait them big tight end. Even though Gronkowski took an unnecessary taunting penalty and LeGerratte Blount got involved in a few scuffles, it was a pleasing sign to see the Patriots generally not resort to the level that has come to characterize this Bengals team.
On the defensive side of the ball, the X-factor was the Patriots secondary and newcomer Eric Rowe limiting AJ Green to six receptions for 88 yards. The running game also never got going for the Bengals.
The defense had the momentum changing play after Dont’a Hightower blitzed up the middle and sacked Andy Dalton for a safety in the third quarter. Hightower was all over the field for the Patriots and is going to need to be a catalyst for a defense that now looks like one of the best in the league.
The only glaring blemish on the day is Stephen Gostkowski. He needs to figure it out sooner rather than later. The missed extra point in the AFC Championship game last season has taken its toll on Gostkowski’s psyche. Its now obvious. And the kicks only get more difficult and pressure-filled as the season goes on.
Last note, I’m still baffled that Marvin Lewis has a job in Cincinnati.