Rushing offense: B
The Bengals recorded season-highs in attempts (39), yards (162) and per-carry average (4.2), and the run game accounted for the only touchdown of the game, a 1-yard dive by BenJarvus Green-Ellis on fourth and goal against his former team. But a false start penalty by defensive tackle/fullback Domata Peko on third and goal from the 1 could have been a killer, as could have Giovani Bernard’s fumble late in the game. Bernard did have an explosive 28-yard run – the team’s longest of the season – to kickstart the touchdown drive. And Green-Ellis’s first carry of the game went for 13 yards, 1 shy of his season high.
Passing offense: C+
After a shaky start that included the first red-zone interception of his career, quarterback Andy Dalton settled into a rhythm in the second half and completed 10 of his final 11 passes. While many of his throws were of the shorter variety, Dalton made a big-time connection on a third and 15 from his own 2-yard line, hitting Marvin Jones for a 28-yard gain to start the only touchdown drive of the game. Dalton finished 20 of 27 for 212 yards and a passer rating of 81.1, and on third down he was 7 of 9 for 87 yards and three first downs.
Rush defense: B+
The Bengals allowed 4.6 yards per rush, which isn’t great, but they were focused more on stopping Tom Brady and the passing game. And they came up with stops when they needed them most, such as the first and goal at the 1 play when they stuffed LeGarrette Blount for no gain, eventually leading to the Patriots settling for a field goal. And one of the bigger plays in the game came against the run when defensive end Carlos Dunlap tomahawk-chopped the ball out of Blount’s arms with the Patriots driving at the Bengals 32 in the second quarter.
Pass defense: A
You can’t ask for anything more than keeping Tom Brady and the New England offense out of the end zone for an entire 60 minutes. The pass rush was relentless, sacking Brady four times while registering eight hits and holding him without a touchdown pass for the first time in 52 games. They also limited the future Hall of Famer to 18 of 38 passing for 197 yards and a quarterback rating of 52.2, his lowest since 2007. And they did all of it with last year’s sack leader, defensive end Michael Johnson, and their top cover corner, Leon Hall, out with injuries.
Special teams: B+
Kevin Huber’s 57-yard punt from his own 2-yard line in the driving rain with two minutes to go could be enough by itself to earn the unit an A, but there were some flaws at other points in the game. Dre Kirkpatrick had yet another penalty on punt coverage, and the Bengals let Julian Edelman get loose for a 24-yard punt return. But kicker Mike Nugent was 2 for 2 on field goals, including a season long of 50 to break a 3-3 tie in the second half, and Brandon Tate had a solid 29-yard kick return on his only attempt.
As much as defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer likes to deflect the praise to his players, it was his scheme that held Tom Brady to some historically low numbers. Marvin Lewis made two key decisions as well. He returned the team to training-camp level of work during the week in attempt to shake them from the malaise that led to a 17-6 loss at Cleveland the week before, and he elected to go for it on a fourth-and-goal play in the fourth quarter that produced the game’s only touchdown.