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Bengals Hand Patriots First Loss of the Season

This game was downright ugly, from beginning to end.

This game was downright ugly, from beginning to end.

For the Cincinnati Bengals, there was nothing pretty about their game against the New England Patriots on Sunday—nothing, of course, except the win. And since style points get you nothing in the NFL, you can bet they are going to be sleeping soundly in Who Dey Nation tonight.

The same cannot be said for Patriot Nation—assuming that’s an actual thing that exists—because the ugly 13-6 loss in Cincinnati exposed some very serious deficiencies with this Pats team, which had been largely masked by a previously undefeated record.

Andy Dalton certainly didn't set the world on fire.

Andy Dalton certainly didn’t set the world on fire.

For most of the day Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton was neck-and-neck with Tom Brady in a competition for who could impress the least. Ultimately, however, it was Brady who pulled away with that one and Dalton who got the job done on his home field.

He went 20-of-27 for 212 total yards, zero TDs and one INT. Dalton was sacked four times and averaged 7.9 yards per play, a subpar performance which was elevated by Cincinnati’s productive rushing attack.

The Bengals committee of running backs, led by former Patriot Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis, combined for nearly 150 yards and scored their only TD of the day. But where this team really distinguished itself was on third down, converting 6-of-15 to New England’s 1-of-12.

Although Cincinnati had problems with penalties and turnovers, at least some of those can be excused by the sloppy conditions. Meaning fans have every right to walk away feeling encouraged after the victory.

The Patriots, on the other hand, are an entirely different story.

Tom Brady really struggled in the rain late in the game—not that it was all his fault.

Tom Brady really struggled in the rain late in the game—not that it was all his fault.

Brady’s stats weren’t all that much worse than Dalton’s, having gone 18-of-38 for 197 total yards, with zero TDs and one INT. He was also sacked four times on the day and averaged 5.2 yards per play.

One key difference was the contribution on the ground. The Patriots have been decimated by injuries this season, forcing offseason running back acquisition LeGarrette Blount to fill the void left by Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, neither of whom played on Sunday.

Blount ran for 51 yards on 12 carries and Brandon Bolden added 24 more, but the total yards were just half that of the Bengals. They recently lost Pro Bowl defensive tackle Vince Wilfork for the season and neither wide receiver Matthew Slater nor tight end Rob Gronkowski played in Cincinnati.

In fact, Gronkowski has yet to play a game in a Patriot uniform this season and his status remains in question. The injury report in New England seems to grow every week—there are only so many holes that can be effectively patched.

The Patriots' schedule only gets harder from here.

The Patriots’ schedule only gets harder from here.

The loss dropped the Pats to 4-1, but for now they remain atop the AFC East. Although with just one game on the much improved Miami Dolphins and just two games on the surprisingly competitive New York Jets and Buffalo Bills, their position is tenuous at best.

The Patriots have two extremely difficult games against the currently undefeated New Orleans Saints and Denver Broncos coming up, two tough tests against the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns down the road, in addition to the four divisional games remaining on their schedule.

Meaning that, despite an impressive start, New England has a very real chance of going 10-6 (or even worse) this season. Which they’ve done just twice in the last decade—anything under 10 wins would make it the worst of Brady’s career with the Patriots.

Right now it’s probably too early to assume the worst, but if that injury report keeps growing, it’s hard to imagine they’ll be able to keep plugging the holes. Eventually the dam is going to burst.

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