Six days after coming back from a three-score deficit, the Cincinnati Bengals managed to survive a similar rally from the New England Patriots.
The Bengals took a 22-0 lead into halftime but were shut out in the second half and barely held on for a 22-18 win Saturday at Gillette Stadium. Cincinnati (11-4), still one game up on Baltimore in the AFC North, has now won seven straight games heading into a Monday Night Football matchup against the top-seeded Buffalo Bills (12-3) on Jan. 2 at Paycor Stadium.
Here are three takeaways from the win:
1. Coming out fast
The Bengals scored touchdowns on each of their first two drives and would have had one on the third possession but Devin Asiasi’s holding penalty negated a two-yard touchdown run by Joe Mixon just before the end of the first quarter. The Bengals still got points out of an Evan McPherson field goal, and the defense continued to make things difficult on New England, which went three-and-out its first two drives and only managed one first down on the next three drives before halftime.
Joe Burrow threw an interception on the fourth drive when he and Tyler Boyd weren’t on the same page and Boyd stopped his route, but Cam Sample’s third-down sack on Mac Jones helped the defense get the ball back in Burrow’s hands for a two-minute drive before the break. Burrow ended up connecting with Trenton Irwin on a third-and-goal at the 4-yard line with 14 seconds left to make it 22-0.
Burrow completed his first 11 passes and threw for 284 yards in the first half. The Bengals converted seven of nine third-down plays in the half, while the Patriots were 0-for-4 in those situations and went into the break with just 70 net yards of offense.
Irwin had two touchdowns, putting him at four for the year. In his first three seasons in the NFL, he had a total of three catches.
2. Sloppy second half
The defense was still making stops early in the second half, but midway through the third quarter Burrow threw a second interception on a pass intended for Ja’Marr Chase, and Marcus Jones returned it 69 yards for a touchdown. Burrow dove to try to drive Jones out of bounds but Jones stepped over him and cruised untouched into the end zone for the Patriots’ sixth defensive touchdown of the season.
Then, Cincinnati went three-and-out, and New England drove down for another touchdown to make it 22-12 with a failed two-point conversion attempt.
McPherson, who missed PATs on the first two touchdown drives, put a 43-yard field goal attempt wide left, and the Patriots made it a four-point game when Jakobi Meyers caught a tipped pass in the end zone for a 48-yard touchdown.
The Bengals then gave the ball right back to New England when Matt Judon forced Chase to fumble after a catch, and Marcus Jones recovered. The Patriots got all the way to the 5-yard line before D.J. Reader stopped Rhamondre Stevenson on a carry and Vonn Bell punched the ball out of his hands for Hill to recover with a minute left.
3. A win is a win
In his postgame press conference, viewable live on the Bengals’ social media channels, Burrow said the Bengals weren’t “going to apologize for a win.” Both he and coach Zac Taylor expressed disappointment in the team’s inability to put the Patriots away sooner after taking a 22-0 lead, but Cincinnati has won games a lot of different ways this season and they will take a victory however it comes.
Baltimore beat the Falcons on Saturday, so the Ravens remain just one game back in the division, and the two teams ahead of Cincinnati in the AFC playoff picture won as well, so the Bengals remain one game behind Buffalo and Kansas City in those standings.
The Bengals were missing right tackle La’Collins for more than three quarters of the game Saturday after he went down with a left knee injury with about two minutes left in the opening stanza. Hakeem Adeniji replaced him to finish the game, and Burrow was sacked just twice, marking the seventh straight game Cincinnati has limited the sacks allowed to two or less.
Despite allowing the comeback, the defense still did good things as well. Mac Jones was sacked four times, including twice in the second half, and the late turnover was a typical response out of Cincinnati’s defense in pressure situations. The Bengals were also without defensive end Sam Hubbard, and Trey Hendrickson was playing with a broken wrist.
Wide receiver Tee Higgins crossed 1,000 yards for a second straight season, finishing the game with 128 yards on eight catches. He needed just 106 yards to reach the milestone. Chase needs just 40 more to top 1,000 yards, despite missing four games. He had 79 yards on eight catches Saturday.
MONDAY, JAN. 2
Bills at Bengals, 8:30 p.m., ESPN, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7
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