Patriots: Report Card vs the Bengals

<p>The New England Patriots played the Cincinnati Bengals tough on Sunday at home in Foxboro. The Patriots appeared to control most of the game, but the Bengals made things interesting when Caron Palmer went down with an injury and veteran QB Jon Kitna, brought the Bengals back to within a TD for the final few minutes of the game.</p> <p>Get the Insiders Report Card on the game.</p>

PHOTO: Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna (3) runs while a New England Patriot defender tries to stop him during the fourth quarter, Sunday, Dec. 12, 2004, in Foxboro, Mass. (AP Photo/Chitose Suzuki)

REPORT CARD VS. BENGALS

PASSING OFFENSE: A -- Tom Brady was brilliant in completing 18 of 26 passes for 260 yards with two touchdowns and, just as importantly, no turnovers. He even completed one pass while sitting on the field after tripping on Corey Dillon during his drop. His 127.1 passer rating was a season high and he spread the ball around to seven different receivers. With tight end Daniel Graham out of action, Brady completed five passes to seldom-used tight ends Christian Fauria and Jed Weaver. Fauria finished with three receptions for 33 yards and a 17-yard touchdown grab. David Patten had a big day with five receptions for 107 yards, including a 48-yard bomb for a touchdown. After a couple of weeks of shaky pass protection, the Patriots gave Brady ample time. He was sacked once, but had little pressure on him throughout the game. On the down side, New England was just 4-for-10 on third down

RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- This wasn't the type of dominating performance one might have predicted coming in with Corey Dillon facing one of the worst run defenses in football, but the Bengals did a solid job keeping Dillon in check even though he still finished with 88 yards on 22 runs. Dillon was also affective in short-yardage situations and helped kill the clock at the end of the game, although Brady was forced to throw it a couple of times as New England cranked out two of first downs that allowed them to take a knee and end the game with the ball. Kevin Faulk chipped in with one carry, but it was a 4-yard touchdown run while Brady also made a couple of short-yardage first downs with QB keepers. It was solid, but unspectacular effort.

PASS DEFENSE: D-minus -- This would be an F if not for the two huge interceptions, one by Troy Brown in the end zone and the other by Asante Samuel, which he returned 34 yards for a touchdown. Beyond those plays, Cincinnati threw the ball like it was running seven-on-seven drills in practice. Carson Palmer completed 18 of 24 passes for 202 yards with two TDs and the pick for a touchdown before leaving with a sprained knee. Jon Kitna relieved him and completed 9 of 13 passes for 126 yards with a touchdown and Brown's interception in the end zone. The two combined for a 104.3 passer rating while throwing mostly to T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who led Cincy with 12 receptions for 145 yards. The Bengals converted 9 of 13 third downs and did what they wanted through the air with the exception of two bad throws, although there were a couple of other potential interceptions that were dropped, one by Randall Gay and the other by Ted Johnson.

RUSH DEFENSE: C-minus -- Rudi Johnson's longest run of the day was 18 yards, but he consistently pounded the ball between the tackles on his way to 89 yards on 24 runs, which wore down New England's front. The Bengals interior linemen controlled New England at the point with Keith Traylor, Tedy Bruschi and Ted Johnson struggling to get off blocks and stop Rudi Johnson before getting to the second level. The Patriots needed safety Rodney Harrison in the box at times and the Bengals were able to exploit that throwing the ball. Overall, the Bengals ran 31 times for 150 yards in a game they trailed throughout. If Cincinnati had been ahead, it could have rekindled memories of the Steelers game when Pittsburgh pounded its way for 225 yards. It looked like that kind of day from a physical standpoint even though the stats don't show it. Bruschi led New England with 14 tackles while Harrison added 11. This was the worst performance by the front seven since the Steelers game and the overall tackling was shaky at best.

SPECIAL TEAMS: D -- The Patriots were beaten for another special teams touchdown when Bengals holder Kyle Larson caught the snap on a fake field goal and ran through a huge hole on the left side of the Patriots field goal rush unit for an 11-yard touchdown. Larson wasn't touched until he was inside the 5. The Patriots tried some trickery of their own when they came out to punt in a fourth-and-one situation, but had Larry Izzo come under center and try a sneak, but Duane Clemons stopped Izzo short, turning the ball back over to the Bengals, who proceeded to drive for a touchdown to get within seven points with 3:50 to play. Josh Miller punted well, although the coverage was a bit shaky, allowing 11.7 yards per return. Bethel Johnson averaged 21.8 yards on kickoff returns, but added a 38-yarder before halftime that helped set up a touchdown drive. The kickoff coverage was suspect as well. Cincinnati returned four of six kickoffs beyond their 30 with one touchback. Only once did the coverage stop a return inside the Bengals 30.

COACHING: C-minus -- The Patriots had no answers for Cincinnati. Bill Belichick tried to motivate his team with its 31-3 preseason loss to the Bengals, but it didn't work. The Patriots defense played uninspired football, didn't tackle well and couldn't cover anybody. Belichick's former assistant in Cleveland, Bengals special teams coach Darrin Simmons, outfoxed his one-time mentor, pulling off a fake field goal for a touchdown for which New England was unprepared. Also, late in the game with New England clinging to a 14-point lead and facing a third-and-one, offensive coordinator Charlie Weis called for a pass play despite the fact that Cincy had yet to stop New England on a single short-yardage running play. The pass fell incomplete and rather than give it to Corey Dillon to try to make the yard on fourth down, the Patriots tried to trick the Bengals by sending out the punt unit, but having Larry Izzo go under center, take the snap and try to sneak for the first down. It was stopped, and the Bengals took over on their 39 and drove to a quick touchdown with 3:50 to go to get within seven. Fortunately for the Patriots, the offense ran out the clock and Cincy never got the ball back. But those were some curious decisions made by a coaching staff that is usually ahead of the game. The defense needs to be improving this time of year and the performance Sunday was discouraging for the coaching staff.

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