FOXBOROUGH -- No touchdowns, and no consistent offense. Nine penalties. Tom Brady taking some savage hits from opposing defenders.
It was not the sort of night Patriots coach Bill Belichick was hoping for.
Using words like “inconsistent” and “pretty sloppy,” Belichick made it clear after the game that the era of good feeling that sprang forth from the win in the preseason opener over the Eagles last week evaporated in Thursday night’s 7-6 preseason defeat to the Bengals (check out the game recap here).
“It’s pretty clear we have a lot of work to do and have a long way to go,” Belichick said.
Brady struggled at times, finishing 4-for-8 for 57 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. His one big play came when he found Wes Welker on a nice bubble screen that gained 32 yards and set up the Patriots' first score of the night, a 32-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski midway through the first quarter that made it 3-0, New England.
The worst moment of the night came when Brady was drilled into the ground by Cincinnati lineman Robert Geathers, a scary hit that put the quarterback on his backside and left Gillette Stadium awfully silent.
“He said he wanted to get hit,” said running back Fred Taylor of Brady, who was knocked down twice in his 13 snaps. “He got hit.”
Geathers raced around right tackle Nick Kaczur like an SUV blowing through the Fastlane on the Mass. Pike, hammering Brady. It was the first sack on the night for the Cincinnati defense -- Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers also put a big hit in Brady -- but it was easily the biggest tackle of the night for the Bengals, who were feeling pretty good after the game, especially after Chad Ochocinco converted a PAT after Cincy kicker Shayne Graham went down with an injury.
“We got a win....brady ate dirt...and estaban . . . ochocinco, kicked a perfect field goal, gotta love it,” twittered Bengals safety Chinedum Nduke after the game.
“The good thing is, he got up,” added Taylor.
He did get up -- for three more plays, before yielding to backup Kevin O’Connell. Then, Brady’s night was over. He didn’t stick around after the game to talk with the media, leaving that for his coach and teammates, who sounded far less optimistic about things than they did a week ago.
“I think we’ve got to play better -- there are some plays we left out on the field,” said defensive lineman Richard Seymour, who finished with a pair of tackles in limited action. “It’s not acceptable for us. We’ve got some film we can watch, but we definitely can get better.”
Here are nine other things we learned last night.
Chad Ochocinco makes everything more awesome.
He’s a self-centered, attention-starved, glory hog. (He was broadcasting his online show from the field in warmups.) But he sure makes the NFL a lot of fun. In a game that was begging for action, No. 85 obliged. He caught three passes for a game-high 69 yards, made Terrence Wheatley look silly and delivered a highlight-film-style stiff arm of Tedy Bruschi. And after Cincinnati kicker Shayne Graham went down with a mild groin injury and was held out for precautionary reasons, he kicked an extra point and a kickoff.
Oh, and he delivered some of the quotes of the year after the game.
On his PAT that made the difference in the game: “It was easy. It was like the day I lost my virginity. Nothing different. … ‘Esteban’ Ochocinco is back. The most interesting footballer in the world. Everyone has to remember, I’ve always said that soccer is my No. 1 sport. I think Ronaldinho would be proud of me right now.”
On receiving: “You have not seen anything yet. I am taking all the hate that I received from the media and balling it all up. Just like in the movie theatre when you are watching all the previews, this is what I am using the preseason for what is to come.”
On whether or not Cincinnati needs to bring in another kicker: “I don't see what for. Shayne will be fine. I can do the kicking for the rest of the preseason. There’s no need to bring anyone else in. Left hash, right hash. I can kick from 50 ... 62 ... whatever.”
“It doesn’t surprise me, really,” Belichick said. “Chad is a great athlete. He has a lot of confidence. He’s a guy that pretty much you could probably challenge him at anything and he’d compete in it and do his best.”
New England’s backup quarterbacks got some good situational football experience.
One of the only real positives for the Patriots in this one was that both O’Connell and Brian Hoyer were able to obtain some good situational experience.
O’Connell sputtered in his first three series leading the team, but on his fourth sequence of the night, he was handed the ball on his own 17-yard line with 1:46 left in the second quarter. He then assembled a nice seven-play, 60-yard drive, his finest sequence in a New England uniform, a series that included consecutive gains of 15, 15 and 22 yards to get the Patriots into field goal range. It culminated in New England’s second field goal of the game, a 41-yarder that made it 7-6 with 32 seconds left in the half. His final numbers were 8-for-15 for 84 yards, no TDs, no INTs and one sack.
As for Hoyer, he had his chance in the fourth quarter when he took over with the ball on the Patriots’ five-yard line. He maneuvered the New England offense down to the Cincinnati 12 before BenJarvus Green-Ellis fumbled the football, essentially ending the game. He finished 11-for-19 for 112 yards, no TDs, no INTs and two sacks. Along the way, he showed good decision-making most of the time, avoiding negative plays and threw the ball away when he needed to, with his finest moment of the night coming when he displayed nice touch on a short pass to Terrence Nunn after being flushed out of the pocket, a play Nunn took for 26 yards.
Of New England’s young defensive backs, Darius Butler had the best night…
Drawing a starting assignment for the first time, Butler had a nice breakup of a J.T. O’Sullivan pass for Andre Caldwell early in the first half, and later came away with a half a sack. In addition, he had another nice breakup on a Jordan Palmer bubble screen for Caldwell midway through the third quarter. He finished with five tackles, including a shared sack, a pass defensed, a quarterback hit and a fumble recovery.
Safety Brandon McGowan probably had the play of the night for the Patriots’ defensive backfield. In the first half, outside linebacker Shawn Crable got burned in coverage, but McGowan delivered an impressive hit on Cincy’s Daniel Coats that jarred the ball loose and caused the fumble. (EDIT--Terrence Wheatley, not Butler, scooped up the ball.)
…and Wheatley had the worst.
Ochocinco absolutely abused Wheatley on a second-quarter pass play that started as a quick out and ended up going for 35 yards (the wide receiver delivered a great stiff-arm on Bruschi as an exclamation point). He was also beaten by Chris Henry later in the second quarter on a 13-yard completion. In addition, it was Wheatley who was in coverage for the 24-yard touchdown pass from O’Sullivan to Henry, the only touchdown either side had all evening
“I have to go back and look at the technique,” Wheatley said. “I’m not sure what I could do, technique-wise. I have to go back and look at the film. But I have to get better than that.”
The Patriots certainly aren’t liars.
After a week of writing stories about the 4-3, players and Belichick spent the better part of a week telling anyone who would listen that they were not going to make the switch exclusively to the 4-3, but move back and forth from the 4-3 to the 3-4 depending on the situation.
And on Thursday night, they showed multiple fronts, starting in a 3-4 and then switching to a 4-3. They then proceeded to show multiple looks within the 4-3 defensive set, tossing in a straight-up 4-3 look (with what appeared to be a traditional one-gap set) before showing some over and under plays in a two-gap set, with Derrick Burgess and Tully Banta-Cain among the players who were split wide, looking like outside linebackers but starting out with their hands on the ground.
They were able to get decent pressure on the Cincinnati quarterbacks: Jerod Mayo, Pierre Woods and Adalius Thomas had a sack each in the first half. (Butler and Stephen Williams each had a half-sack.) In addition, they had six quarterback hits.
“I think we threw a lot of different looks at them,” Seymour said. “We started off in the 3-4 defense and then moved to the 4-3 defense, which is the four down linemen. We have the ability and the versatility up front to change not only from game-to-game, but also series-to-series, and I think that’s going to be an asset for us.”
In the race to become the No. 3 receiver in the New England offense, nothing was settled Thursday.
I trumpeted this game as being key to the future of veteran Joey Galloway, who has -- by his own admission -- struggled to pick up some of the intricacies of the Patriots’ passing game. And after an opening game where he had two passes thrown in his direction and zero catches, he was one of the focal points of the first-team offense over the course of the week.
Thursday night, there wasn’t much from the veteran, who ended up catching two of the three balls thrown in his direction for 19 yards. It was the second consecutive start for Galloway, who said Thursday night he is starting to get comfortable in the New England offense.
“A little bit,” said Galloway. “I think the more you play with guys, there’s really no substitute for experience and getting out there together and getting into the huddle with these guys. So I think this time is a little more comfortable, and we’ll build on it from there.”
The good news for Galloway is that at this point, no one seems willing to step up and claim the mantle of No. 3 receiver. Greg Lewis has looked very good much of the time in practice, but in the two preseason games, that has not translated to the field. (He has one catch for nine yards in two games.) The rest of the field has looked passable, but much of that production has come in garbage time. (Nunn has five catches for 69 yards in the two preseason games.) It is worth noting that 13 different players caught passes for the New England last night.
It wasn’t a great night for the Patriots’ pass protection.
The hits on Brady by Geathers and Rivers aside, New England did not do a good job of keeping its quarterbacks upright. The Bengals were able to get 12 quarterback hits and four sacks on the night. Last Thursday, the Eagles -- a superior defensive team -- got one sack and two quarterback hits.
“We had a lot of situations that called for a certain thing to happen, for us to do and run a certain play in those situations,” Belichick said of the Patriots’ lack of execution in several key areas Thursday night. “I would say, for the most part, we didn’t get it done the way we’d like to.”
The New England running game is in a state of flux.
After dressing but not playing in the preseason opener last week against the Eagles, Fred Taylor drew his first start Thursday night against the Bengals, and the veteran running back finished with seven carries for 26 yards. It was a nice chance for him to get his feet wet in the Patriots’ offense.
“It feels good to get back and see some action. Get hit a little bit and start getting ready for the season as we go,” Taylor said. “But it sucks to lose no matter what. No matter what.
“I can always do better. Of course, I can always do better. It’s a start.”
“Fred’s done a good job for us all camp. It was good that he got some live action, got a chance to carry the ball,” Belichick said.
But while Taylor got his first experience in a New England uniform, Laurence Maroney appeared to struggle while working against Cincinnati’s No. 2 defense, ending up with three carries for six yards. (In fact, the only running back who appeared to really run with a purpose Thursday night was Green-Ellis, who ended up with 10 carries for 44 yards, but his bad fumble at the end may have negated all the hard work he put in.)
It’s a small sample size, but here’s Maroney’s preseason line: Two games, nine carries, 20 yards. Not exactly reminiscent of Jim Brown. The good news for No. 39 is that there’s one more meaningful game in the preseason, next Friday against the Redskins.
There were positives for the New England defense.
Looking for something to hang your hat on, Patriots fans? New England’s No. 1 defense kept the Bengals off the scoreboard, and the unit has not allowed a touchdown in nine drives this preseason (six drives against Philadelphia and three against Cincinnati). In fact, they haven’t allowed a single play inside their own 20-yard line in that same span.
Without saying just what those positives were, safety Brandon Meriweather said there was enough to feel good about in the wake of the defeat, the first preseason loss of the year for the Patriots.
“You can take some positives from every game,” said Meriweather, who ended up with a pair of tackles. “Even games you lose 100-0, you can take some positives from. You just want to take everything as a [stepping] stone and get better every day. We still have some things we need to do better. We still have a long way to go.”