It’s been a while, a long while, since the methods of Bill Belichick have been called into question by so many. Winning masks everything, but Belichick and the Patriots haven’t been on the right side of the scoreboard in two of their first four games to start the 2014 season.
Despite the negativity around here, the Pats are still just two point underdogs in this Sunday’s game (8:30 p.m., NBC) against what very well could be the best team in the NFL in the 3-0 Cincinnati Bengals. It’s your classic crossroads game for the Pats. Win, and the sky’s the limit in 2014. Lose, and the sky will be falling.
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In the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era, the Patriots rarely have back-to-back bad outings but that has already transpired in 2014 as they squeaked by winless Oakland at home, 16-9, and were blown out on the road by the Chiefs, 41-14, this past Monday.
The Pats haven’t outright lost back-to-back games since falling at home to Arizona and on the road at Baltimore early in the 2012 season. If they were to lose Sunday night to Cincinnati, it would mark the first time since 2002 that the Pats were below .500 after September since the 2002. The 2002 season is the only year that the Patriots have failed to make the playoffs when Brady has started the majority of the games.
Another rarity in the past 13 years has been a multi-interception game for Brady. The future Hall of Famer did not have a multi-interception game at all last season and hadn’t been picked off twice in one game since the 2012 AFC title game loss to Baltimore. Brady’s 2012 season actually featured four multi-interception games, counting the playoffs, including December games against the 49ers and Jaguars in which he had back-to-back outings with two picks.
Run away trains
Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis ran roughshod over the New England defense this past Monday night. Unfortunately for the Patriots defense, the Bengals running back duo of Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill are just as dangerous out of the backfield. Neither Hill or Bernard have 100-yard rushing games so far this season but the Bengals do average 121.7 yards per game on the ground as a team. Bernard also excels as a pass catching back, having caught 12 balls for 148 yards through three games. According to Cincyjungle.com, Bernard is on pace to break James Brooks’ franchise record for yards from scrimmage in a single season.
Bending and breaking
A phrase that Patriots fans are quite familiar with from the team’s championship years of the early and mid-2000s, is “bend but don’t break.”
It references a defense that may give up yards, but consistently keeps the opposition out of the end zone. The Bengals are currently the best in the league at this as they allow an average of 352.7 yards per game (ranking just 14th in the NFL) but give up a scant 11 points per game. The 11 points per game mark is easily the best number in the league as Arizona and Baltimore are tied for second best, allowing 15.0 points per game.
Interestingly, the Patriots defense is ranked No. 1 in the NFL in passing yards allowed, giving up just 185.5 yards per game, but is ranked just 14th in the league in points allowed per game at 22.5.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has been solid in the Bengals’ wins over the Ravens, Falcons and Titans. He is averaging 240 yards passing per game and has hit on 55-of-84 passing attempts so far. Dalton has thrown two touchdown passes and just one interception.
A.J. Green remains Dalton’s favorite target as he leads the Bengals with 233 yards of receiving on 12 catches. Mohamed Sanu has played well for Cincy as well, collecting 164 yards in the passing game.
Follow Metro Boston sports editor Matt Burke on Twitter: @BurkeMetroBos