CINCINNATI -- The Patriots have played some ugly football this season.
But you can only criticize an undefeated team so much. So what if they're ranked 12th in yards after leading the league last season? So what, they're only scoring 22.3 points per game (21st) when last season's 34.8 was best in the NFL? They won four games of four played this year. That number is the only one that mattered.
New England is no longer perfect after a 13-6 loss to Cincinnati Sunday afternoon. The offense had its worst outing yet, evidenced, at the very least, by the fact Tom Brady didn't throw a touchdown pass for the first time in 53 games.
The way Logan Mankins sees it: "Today, the defense played great as they have all year and I think we really let them down."
Cincinnati didn't score a touchdown for over 50 minutes. The Patriots were only down 6-3 at the end of the third quarter. The offense needed support? Well, the 'D' did its part.
"We can't kick two field goals and expect to win many games in the NFL," Brady said. "We've got to do a better job than that. We have to if we want to win these games. We can't have silly execution errors and mental mistakes. It's hard to drive the ball down the field if you keep making those mistakes."
Brady completed just 18 of 38 passes for 197 yards. This is the second game of the season he's completed 50-percent or less of his throws. If he has a third, it will be for the first time in a decade.
Anything to do with the roster? It would be understandable, to an extent.
Running back Stevan Ridley sat for the first time this year and receiver Danny Amendola saw his first action in three weeks. Rob Gronkowski is still sidelined with back and forearm injuries, and the rookie receivers are still… rookies.
"We practiced together all week," Mankins said, shaking his head.
"I think the truth right now is we're just so inconsistent offensively. We [couldn't] sustain a long drive this week. Last week we did a pretty good job of it, but this week it was up and down. We'd get a good series going then have a few bad plays."
New England's longest drive lasted eight plays. The team converted just 1 of 12 third down opportunities. Brady was sacked four times (fumbling once) and got hit another eight.
"I said earlier in the week how capable they are of rushing the quarterback, forcing you into some quick throws you really don't want to make," the QB noted. "That's why they're a good defense: they rush, they cover, they've got good linebackers. You need to stay balanced against a team like that. We just had silly execution errors."
The fourth quarter was particularly messy.
Down 13-3, New England got down to the Bengals 1-yard line and just couldn't punch it in. LeGarrette Blount, a 250-pound power back, tried a rush but got stuffed. Brady attempted a drawn play to offensive tackle Nate Solder but overthrew him. Receiver Julian Edelman got his hands on a pass in the end zone, but couldn't hang on. They settled for a field goal.
New England's defense would force a turnover on the ensuing Cincinnati possession.
With a seven-point deficit and less than four minutes to play, receiver Aaron Dobson read the coverage and cut toward the open middle of the field. Apparently, Brady saw something different because he threw to the opposite sideline.
Nobody was home. New England went three-and-out for the third time.
"Offensively, it comes down to making plays: line blocking, backs running, receivers catching, quarterback making good throws and the right reads," said Mankins. "We're just not getting enough of that right now."
Not this time.