By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Patriots defense settled down after a sloppy start and the offense made enough plays to earn a comfortable 34-13 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
It started well enough for the Patriots offense, which drew first blood with a 23-yard James White catch-and-run to the end zone. But they followed up that drive with a punt and turnover on downs. They settled for field goals on two possessions off Bengals turnovers, which gave them a 13-10 halftime lead.
Defensively, it looked bad at first. Cincinnati started off strong on the ground with running back Joe Mixon to get the Bengals to the red zone, then QB Andy Dalton found tight end Cethan Carter to answer the Pats' opening drive. But after allowing that 75-yard TD drive, the Pats let up just six points and 240 total yards of offense for the rest of regulation.
The turnover battle overall made a huge difference in the game. A muffed punt by Bengals receiver Alex Erickson set up a Nick Folk field goal, and Stephon Gilmore made two interceptions against Dalton, one of which he returned for a touchdown in the third quarter. J.C. Jackson also made two interceptions against Dalton.
Tom Brady and the Patriots offense capitalized on Gilmore's first interception, which set them up at the Bengals' 43-yard line. Brady found rookie N'Keal Harry in the back of the end zone on a scramble drill play to grab the Pats' second offensive touchdown of the game. Overall, Brady went 15-for-29 (51.7 percent) passing for 128 yards, two touchdowns, and no turnovers - an 86.6 passer rating.
Rex Burkhead essentially iced the game in the fourth quarter with an impressive 33-yard touchdown run against his former team. As a unit, the Pats averaged 5.5 yards on the ground with 175 yards on 32 carries.
With the win, the Patriots improved to 11-3 on the season and clinched a playoff spot for the 11th straight year.
Up Next: The Patriots get the AFC East rival Buffalo Bills next Sunday at Gillette Stadium in a very important game for playoff seeding.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].