FOXBORO, Mass. — Rhamondre Stevenson blamed his costly late-game fumble Saturday on him trying to make a play.
Mac Jones had the same explanation for his ensuing penalty.
After Stevenson lost the ball inside Cincinnati’s 10-yard line with a minute remaining in a four-point game, Jones continued his attempts to recover it after the whistle had blown. That earned the New England Patriots quarterback a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness.
“I think obviously, there’s a little bit of a pile there, and then the ball squirted out actually into another pile,” Jones said after the Patriots’ 22-18 loss at Gillette Stadium. “I went over there and tried to grab the ball to save the game.
“So at the end of the day, you’ve got to take your chance and try to get the ball, got to compete for the ball because it’s a live ball until somebody holds it up in the air. You’ve got to go get it, and that’s what I tried to do.”
An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty might have been the more appropriate call, but regardless, Jones’ overeagerness hurt the Patriots. Had he not been flagged, the Bengals would have begun the next drive at their own 8-yard line. Instead, they took over at their own 23, and though the Patriots’ defense forced a three-and-out, New England had to start its final desperation series at its own 24.
Jones and company picked up one first down before turning the ball over on downs, ending their ill-fated, second-half comeback bid. The Patriots rallied for 18 unanswered points after trailing 22-0 at halftime but could not close the gap further.
“(I’m) super disappointed, but (there’s) also a lot to look back on and realize that we have fighters on this team,” said Jones, who threw fourth-quarter touchdown passes to Kendrick Bourne and Jakobi Meyers. “And that’s tough to say in a loss, but we do — we have fighters on this team. I thought everybody on our offense and defense and special teams fought to the end.”
The Patriots committed a total of 10 penalties in the game, totaling 82 yards. Both marks were their second-highest this season.
The loss — the Patriots’ fourth in five games — dropped them to 7-8 on the season. They’ll need to defeat the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills in the final two weeks of the regular season and get help elsewhere to have any shot at landing an unlikely AFC playoff berth.