Patriots 34, Bengals 13: 10 quick thoughts from playoff-clinching win

Ryan Hannable
December 15, 2019 - 4:06 pm
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The Patriots are in the playoffs for the 11th straight year.

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While they got off to a slow start, the Patriots were able to come away with a 34-13 win over the Bengals Sunday to clinch a playoff spot for the 11th straight year.

New England fell behind 10-7, but scored 20 straight points at one point to blow the game open.

Here are 10 quick thoughts from the contest.

1. The Patriots were back to taking advantage of a poor offense. New England’s defense finished with four, and the team five, turnovers in the win on the road. After a sluggish start, the unit picked it up and has continued a recent trend where it plays its best in the second half. With that being said, in the playoffs a 60-minute effort is going to be needed.

2. New England’s offense was what it was for the majority of the first part of the season -- put up a decent number of points, but be aided by the defense and special teams. Tom Brady was 15-for-29 with 128 yards and two touchdowns. He certainly missed some throws, but the majority of the issues in the passing game stemmed from wide receivers not getting open and then when they did, dropped several passes. 

3. The Patriots took advantage of a number of Bengals mistakes. At the end of the half, they muffed a punt, which led to a long field goal. Then on the opening possession of the second half, Andy Dalton threw an interception and that led to N’Keal Harry’s second touchdown of the season. And finally, Gilmore added a pick-6, his second of the season. Dalton finished with four interceptions in the loss. This is what the Patriots were doing early in the year, forcing mistakes and taking advantage of them.

4. For the third straight game, Josh McDaniels scripted a great opening drive leading to points. Against the Bengals, the Patriots drove 75 yards down the field and it was capped off by a James White touchdown. The issue, like the prior two weeks, was the offense struggled from there. After totaling 75 yards on the opening drive, the Patriots closed the first half with just 78 more yards.

5. Tackling was an issue for the Patriots defense, as Joe Mixon had a solid day at the office. The Patriots allowed 164 overall and 136 to Mixon. This seems to be the weak-link in the Patriots defense and is something the team will need to clean up over the next several weeks prior to the postseason.

6. Harry was involved in the offense more than any other game this season. It’s a very good sign following essentially being benched following an interception thrown his way in Houston and then playing only two snaps last week against the Chiefs. If the Patriots offense has any chance of getting better the rest of the season, it needs Harry to have more games like Sunday. The rookie finished with two catches for 15 yards and a touchdown, and then added 22 rushing yards.

7. After not receiving a carry in the second half against the Chiefs, Sony Michel had one of his better games of the season. He finished with 19 carries for 89 yards. Rex Burkhead also added a 38-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter, the longest run of his career. As a team, it finished with a season-high 163 yards.

8. Julian Edelman clearly was not 100 percent, as he was a true game-time decision with knee and shoulder injuries. It seemed like the Patriots wanted to stay away from him as much as possible. Since next week against Buffalo is a big game, he will likely need to play then, but do not be surprised if he rests against Miami in Week 17 as the team buys him an extra week to get as healthy as possible for the postseason.

9. Deatrich Wise had his best game of the season. The defensive end finished with a team-high seven tackles. He’s been primarily a situational player this season, but saw more playing time than usual.

10. Ted Karras returned after missing one game, but the offensive line continued to struggle, particularly in the first half. Brady was under constant pressure, and while the Bengals have a solid front, they need to be better moving forward. It is worth noting Shaq Mason left the game late with an ankle injury.

The Patriots are in the playoffs for 11th straight season, which extends their NFL record.

Related: Video surfaces of Bengals confronting Patriots in press box over footage of sideline, field last week