New England Patriots overwhelm Cincinnati Bengals 38-24

New England Patriots clobbered visiting Cincinnati Bengals 38-24 at Gillette Stadium in the teams’ first regular season game of 2010.

Patriots scored three touchdowns on offense one on defense and one on special teams.

Quarterback Tom Brady threw two two touchdown passes to wide receiver Wes Wwelker in the first half and one to tight end Rob Gronkowski in the fourth quarter. Outside linebacker Gary Guyton intercepted a pass from Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer and returned it 59 yards for an interception, making the score 24-0. Wide receiver Brandon Tate showed his speed and vision when took advantage of a poorly spaced out Bengals special team to return the second half kick-off 97 yards to widen the lead to 31-3.

The Bengals pulled to 31-17 in the third quarter but Brady responded with a 14 plays, 81 yard drive that ended with his one-yard touchdown lob to tight-end Rob Gronkowski.

It was the team’s other rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez who got things rolling on New England’s first possession of the game with a catch-and-run reception for 45 yards. The Bengals clearly expected a run on that play and when two defensive backs locked in on Randy Moss, who was lined up as split end outside of Hernandez, nobody was left to cover the tight-end when the defense bit-hard on the play action. The Bengals were stumped again two plays later when the home team bunched Welker, Gronkowski and Hernandez split left, where they faced two easily blocked defensive backs, allowing Welker to catch a hitch screen pass and scoot into the end zone before reinforcement arrived,m giving his team a 7-0 lead.

In spite of dominanting on both side of the ball the Patriots held only a 10-0 lead early on the second quarter after otherwise accurate kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed a 47-yard field goal attempt. But the Bengals were unable to strike back and the Patriots put together a 10-play drive that covered 80 yards. Welker finished it off by catching a 4-yard pass right on the goal line before getting creamed by a Bengals defender.

Cincinnati answered with a promising drive that abruptly ended when Guyton stepped in front of Palmer pass and took it 59 yards to the visitors’ end zone. The Bengals managed to get on board with a 54-yard field goal. The Patriots subsequently missed on a 56-yard field goal attempt, making the half time score 24-3.

Patriots offense displayed a creative flair that was largely absent during the largely forgettable 2009 season. Veteran runningback Fred Taylor provided the bulk of the running game that kept Bengals’ defense from focsuign more on the passing game. Taylor racked up 71 yards on 14 carries. Kevin Faulk, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Sammy Morris combined for another nine rushes for 47 yards.

Terrific as New England’s offense was it was the defense that really raised eye brows. Patriots stopped Cincinnati’s first down when nose tackle Vince Wilfork drove a blocker straight back then spun to the inside to force Palmer into the arms of outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cain on third down and two from Cinicinnati’s 40-yardline. With that the drought was on for Bengals’ offense until the third quarter.

I can’t decide which play I liked better:

1) Welker’s first touchdown.

2) Guyton’s interception return.

3) Tat’s kick-off return.

All three had something to prove. Tate really looked like a man who’d been waiting 500 days for the chance to run back that kick off. He missed his rookie season due to injury. Guyton has had a hard team getting comfortable in the Patriots’ defensive scheme but certainly has the speed and body type to become a typical Bill Belichick 3-4 outside linebacker. Welker’s coming back from the knee-injury that ended his season last year and undoubtedly helped sink the Patriots already leaky hopes for a play-off run.

The Bengals looked like they were playing their fifth pre-season game. Most of them lacked intensity and the defense seemed completely unprepared for the Patriots onslaught.

New England Patriots starting offensive line against the Bengals consisted of left tackle Matt Light, left guard Dan Connolly, center Dan Koppen, right guard Stephen Neal and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer.

Odd flashback: The pass to Hernandez reminded me of a similar play in 2007 against the Cleveland Browns where the defense bit on the play-action fake while also making sure Moss was covered. That play ended in an easy 7-yard toucdown pass to tight-end Benjamin Watson. In the first half of the 2007 season the Patriots ran a much more imaginative offense than they did most of the time later on. Hopefully they’re getting back to that style of football.

Negatives: There were some negatives for the Patriots. Among them were two dropped third-down passes by Faulk and an inability to connect deep between Brady and Moss.