The Patriots defense has been the highlight of a season where the offense has captured headlines, and it will get a big test against Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals on Saturday.
New England’s loss in walk-off fashion has put it in an uphill battle for the postseason. The Patriots are not mathematically eliminated with a 7-7 record, but they must win its Week 16 matchup to have anything close to a chance.
The defense likely will be asked to pick up the slack again, and the Bengals will be prepared.
“They’re as good as anybody,” offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said of Matthew Judon and Josh Uche on Tuesday, per CLNS Media’s Mike Petraglia. “With Judon and Uche in double digits … Judon is playing as well as any defensive end in football.”
The pair of pass rushers lead the team in sacks with 14.5 and 10.5, respectively. Concerns over Judon’s pace of play in the second half of the season have been alleviated with Uche’s breakout in the latter half of the season.
They will be tasked to try to slow down Burrow, who has been playing at an elite level during the Bengals’ six-game win streak. The third-year quarterback ranks sixth in combined expected points added and completion percentage over expected heading into Week 16, but Burrow’s efficiency has not masked his tendency to sacks. The 26-year-old ranks tied for sixth in QB sacks with 37.
Cincinnati likely will be without its star pass rusher in Trey Hendrickson, meaning Judon and Uche will have a chance to steal the show with key sacks Saturday.