Here are three things to take away from New England's victory.
The Patriots scored on three of their first four possessions and had a 24-0 lead with five minutes remaining in the second quarter. By mauling the Bengals from the start, the Pats completely took Cincinnati out of its element, and it couldn’t balance out its offensive attack.
The Bengals ranked ninth in rushing yards last season, but Cedric Benson managed just 10 carries for 28 yards in the first half and had a fumble in Bengals territory.
Thus, it eliminated the guesswork, and the Patriots were able to load up against the pass. They had a pretty solid pass rush in the first half, and they kept their passing packages on the field — many dime and nickel packages, and linebacker Gary Guyton took over for run-stopping specialist Brandon Spikes.
For instance, on a first-and-10 midway through the second quarter, Guyton swarmed Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham, jumped on a lazy pass from Carson Palmer and returned an interception 59 yards to give the Patriots a 24-point lead. On any other first down in a close game, there's a decent chance Spikes would have been on the field, and he's not as strong as Guyton in coverage.
Spread it Out
Tom Brady was on point, completing 25-of-35 passes for 258 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, and he completed passes to seven different receivers. And four players — Wes Welker (eight catches, 64 yards, two touchdowns), Randy Moss (five catches, 59 yards), Kevin Faulk (four catches, 47 yards) and Brandon Tate (four catches, 36 yards) — caught at least four passes.
New England's receiving weapons are dangerous, and there are a whole bunch of them. Obviously, Moss and Welker start it off, but Tate, Aaron Hernandez (one catch, 45 yards), Rob Gronkowski (one catch, one yard, one touchdown) and Julian Edelman (held out with a foot injury) are some dynamic complementary pieces. It's going to be impossible for opposing defenses to contain all of them on a weekly basis.
For a defense that had been so heavily doubted, it had to be fulfilling for them to get off to a hot start. Cornerbacks Darius Butler and Devin McCourty held Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco in check in the first half, with the two experienced wideouts combining for seven receptions and 53 yards in the opening 30 minutes.
The Patriots' front-seven was much more physical than Cincinnati's offensive line, and that’s how they contained Benson and the running game. And the Pats' defense also recorded one interception, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and one sack in the first half.
The stats were skewed in the second half when the Patriots laid back and played with much more basic packages, but they were mightily impressive in the first half against a Bengals offense that’s going to score plenty of points this season.
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