On Christmas Eve, the Bengals took an early lead and held off a Patriots rally. New England’s record for the season is a disappointing 7-8. A slow start by the Pats allowed a trio of Bengals to lead at halftime. It appeared that New England was still recovering from their shocking loss to Raiders last week.
The Patriots managed to get back in the game with the help of the defense and big plays by Matthew Judon, Marcus Jones, Kendrick Bourne, and Matthew Judon. It was interesting right down to the last drive. New England seemed poised for an upset win. However, a Rhamondre Stephenson fumble abruptly and unceremoniously ended their thrilling comeback attempt.
Mac Jones was 21 of 33 for 240 yards. Joe Burrow, his Bengals counterpart, had 375 yards with three touchdowns and a total of three touchdowns. Burrow added two interceptions to keep New England’s hopes alive. After a hot start, the Bengals’ production slowed down and their errors picked up, opening the doors for New England to make a comeback.
While the Bengals have reaffirmed themselves as a Super Bowl contender and AFC team of the year, the Patriots are continuing their slide late in the season with only two games remaining.
These are the main takeaways from a late loss.
The Bengals’ offense is firing
Joe Burrow scored two touchdowns for Cincinnati, despite the Patriots’ defense had no answer against the Bengal’s first drives. The score at the end was 12-0, not 14-0 thanks to a Patriots missed extra point and a Patriots stop making a two-point conversion attempt.
Burrow completed 11 consecutive completions to begin the game. The Patriots ran only six offensive plays in the opening quarter.
The Bengals’ second offensive play was marred by Tee Higgins hitting Marcus Jones over Tee Higgins for a 38-yarder. It was an identical touchdown as Cincinnati ran to the line, quickly firing a pass up to Trenton Irwin at the seam for an easy score. The quarterback also made a third-and-17 pass to Jamarr Chase, 18 yards up the sideline. This was another excellent throw as the Patriots’ cornerbacks were struggling to match up.
The Patriot’s offense was still cold, with their first possessions showing no sign of life. They had two straight three-and-outs. The Bengals were now at midfield when Michael Palardy dropped the snap on his second kick.
New England appeared shell-shocked after their loss in Vegas early on, offered little defense, and was unable to move on offense.
The Patriot’s defense made some crucial plays after falling into a 15-0 hole. They started with a Ja’Whaun Bender pass defense in the endzone that gave New England its first red zone stop. They continued to play on Bengal’s next drive with sacks by Matthew Judon, and Josh Uche, and then a takeaway with Devin McCourty’s red-zone intercept that stopped Cinci from scoring three more points.
The Bengal’s drive was still alive before the interception. Penalties against the Patriot’s defense kept it alive, adding nine yards to Cinci and still stringing together nine plays.
The game was hanging in the balance at the half. While the defense made some plays to stop the game, they failed to do the same on the final drive before halftime. This allowed the defense to score a touchdown on the last drive, which resulted in a 12-play, 80-yard touchdown scoring drive that made it 22-0 at the half.
The Patriot’s defense would finally find its rhythm in the second half. They forced two punts and grabbed a pick-6 on their first three possessions. The Patriot’s offense was sputtering and they couldn’t take advantage of it until the end.
Patriot’s offense struggles in the first half
In the first half, the Patriot’s offense had 70 yards total of offense. They went 0-3 on third down and held the ball for only 8:20 in four drives that all ended with punts. Nearly half of the Patriots’ yards came from Kendrick Bourne’s one-carry. The Patriot’s offense was just about at its lowest point in the first period against the Bengals. They were unable to mount any counterattack against one of the NFL’s most powerful offenses.
These numbers are compared to the Bengals’ offensive output of 22 points, 7 on third down, 329 yards offense, and 21:26 possession, and it is easy to see just how uneventful the game was in the first period.
Marcus Jones gets another TD
Rookie Marcus Jones was a surprise as the Bengals threatened to increase their lead of 22-0 in the third quarter when Burrow made an ill-advised throw under pressure from Kyle Dugger. Jones took the ball and turned it into a pick-six of 69 yards, making that game 22-6 in the third quarter. Nick Folk was unable to score the extra point. Jones missed the third extra point at the close end of the stadium because it was too windy and cold for him to kick.
The offense was struggling to make a difference, so the defense came up with another score that provided an unexpected spark.
Jones was a bright spot this season, with his walk-off punt return versus the Jets and now this six-pointer that allows him to match Jack Jones (who had one earlier in the season against the Packers).
Bourne comes through
The Patriots’ pick-six was followed by more signs of life. They forced a punt and then put together their best offensive drive, an 11-play, 77.5-yard touchdown run with Kendrick Bourne as a key player. Bourne first picked up the team’s first third-down conversion. Then he followed that with another 32-yard conversion catch, with all the support of defensive backs. It was similar to Bourne’s stunning touchdown catch against the Browns last year.
Soon after, Bourne would make a toe-tap catch at the back line to give New England its second touchdown. The game became interesting at 22-12. However, the Pats failed to make their two-point attempt which would have made it a one-score game.
The Bengals missed a field goal on their next drive, and the Patriots took control with Bourne again making a crucial play on the drive. It was a 28-yard, toe-tap catch at the sideline. Although initially ruled incomplete, it was later deemed a catch after further review.
Deflected touchdown! Forced Fumble! We’ve got a game…almost
The Patriots were facing a third-and29 situation from near midfield after taking an intentional grounding penalty. This was further compounded by Trent Brown’s false start. Mac Jones decided to let it fly. Although the ball bounced off Scotty Washington, practice squad tight end, it was intercepted by Jakobi Meyers for a stunning 48-yard touchdown that combined with another missed point made it 22-18 with less than six minutes remaining in the game.
Although it wasn’t a typical comeback, the Patriots kept their momentum going in the second half. The Bengals scored their first goal since halftime to win the game.
Matthew Judon made a huge play and forced Jamarr Chase to fumble. Marcus Jones recovered the ball, setting the Patriots at the 43-yard line with 3:12.
They would make it to Cincinnati’s 3-yard line, but then tragedy struck to determine the final result. Rhamondre Stephenson gave up the ball to give Patriots their second consecutive game.
Patriots are 7-8
Even with the Patriots’ late comeback surge, it was still a devastating loss for the 2022 Patriots season. New England has a losing record for 2022. While the offense couldn’t convert a third down until the final minutes of the game, the defense made big plays and stops after a slow start but ultimately didn’t make much difference.
Stevenson’s late fumble was the cherry on top. Self-inflicted errors continue to have a significant impact on wins or losses this year. The offense’s performance down the stretch was largely ruined by the terrible start.
New England’s season is over. They will be without a playoff spot for the second consecutive season. This would make it the fourth straight year without a win in the playoffs since Super Bowl 53. Their slide down the standings is only going to continue with two more games against AFC teams that are very good.
It is hard to believe that the Patriots suddenly can find some magic after five months of no sustainable progress. As New England tries to salvage something from a disappointing season, Miami and Buffalo will present similar challenges.