Say it with me now … "We’re on to Cincinnati."
If the loss against the Bills was a reminder of just how bad things can get around here without Tom Brady, last week’s win over the Browns was a reminder of just how good things can get. Brady and the Patriots' offense came flying out of the gates, and Cleveland proved to be just the warm-up game Brady needed to get that feeling back in his fingers again.
Three touchdowns and 406 passing yards later, Brady looks to be just as sharp as ever, and earned his 26th AFC Player of the Week honor as proof. He’s now just one behind Peyton Manning for most all-time.
But the past is the past, and the 4-1 Patriots have no interest in looking back. Sunday’s game against the Bengals is Brady’s first home game of the season, and you can bet when Jay-Z’s “Public Service Announcement” blasts through the speakers and Brady makes his way out of the tunnel that the Gillette Stadium crowd is going to turn things up.
Since 2007, Brady is 48-1 at home against AFC opponents in the regular season. Will he make it 49-1?
Spreading the love
It’s no secret that Julian Edelman is Tom Brady’s favorite target. Edelman has become a fantasy football stud because Brady looks his way so often. Rob Gronkowski, though slow out of the gates this season, is always a threat to have a monster game, too. But one thing we saw from Brady last week is his ability to distribute the ball all around. Five players caught at least four passes from Brady last week, with new wideout Chris Hogan leading the way with 114 receiving yards. The other new guy, Martellus Bennett, had all three of Brady’s touchdown passes. Needless to say, Brady is enjoying his new toys and the additions make the Patriots’ offense that much more dangerous and harder to contain.
Green with envy
You can talk about Brady’s receivers until you’re blue in the face, but the fact is none of them can hold a candle to the Bengals’ A.J. Green. That shouldn’t be seen as much of a knock on the Pats wideouts, because Green has to be considered one of the best wide receivers in the game – and you could argue that he’s the best. Green has been hot and cold so far this season, but look no further than two weeks ago against the Dolphins to see what he’s capable of: 10 receptions for 173 yards and a touchdown. His 518 receiving yards is one yard off the top spot in the NFL, held by Detroit’s Marvin Jones.
“[Green is] just an elite player,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. “There’s no real weak points in his game; short, intermediate, catch-and-run, deep, ball skills, quickness, ability to really defeat any type of coverage, size, speed, quickness. He’s a hard guy to handle. And they move him around.”
When you’ve got a superstar like Green, it makes sense to utilize him the most you can. But the Patriots can be ready to defend it if they can eliminate the other parts of the Bengals offense. Last week, they did just that against the Browns. Cleveland came in boasting a strong running game behind Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson Jr. But the Patriots allowed a total of just 27 yards on the ground, 22 of which came on 13 carries by Crowell for an average of just 1.7 yards per carry. He came into the game averaging 6.5 yards per carry. The Bengals’ Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard can be an even more dangerous duo than what Cleveland could offer. If the Patriots can stuff the run and force the Bengals into third-and-long situations, they’ll have a good idea where that third-down throw is going. Stopping it, however, is another issue.