Patriots open with a bang, beating Bengals, 38-24

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Patriots open with a bang, beating Bengals, 38-24

By Art Martone
CSNNE.com

FOXBORO -- The glass-is-half-empty crowd will have stuff to chew on, certainly. The worries about the defense, put to bed momentarily with a dominating first-half performance, were resurrected in the last two quarters as the Bengals put together scoring drives of 73, 80 and 76 yards and were one possession away from turning a one-sided rout into a nailbiter.

Statistics and summaries Play by play

But the glass-is-half-full crowd . . . man, their cup runneth over.

The Patriots' offense was better than advertised, running up and down the field almost at will. There was a special-teams score from the remarkable Brandon Tate. The defense even chipped in with a 59-yard pick six from Gary Guyton.

It all added up to an impressive 38-24 Opening Day rout of the Bengals Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium, the Pats' seventh straight Opening Day victory. They haven't lost a season opener since the Lawyer Milloy Bowl in Buffalo seven years ago.

"I'm really proud of the team," said coach Bill Belichick. "We came out ready to play, and made plays in all three phases of the game . . . Certainly there's a lot of things we can work on, things we can do better, but this was a good win."

The fun started early. The Pats went 72 yards in 5 plays on the first drive -- the big play being a 45-yard pass-and-run from Tom Brady to rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez -- and Brady capped it with a 9-yard scoring pass to Wes Welker. Seven minutes later, a 32-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal increased the lead to 10-0.

Another Brady-to-Welker TD pass -- this one finishing a 10-play, 80-yard march -- with 6:02 gone in the second quarter put the Pats in front, 17-0. On the next series, Guyton swiped a Carson Palmer pass intended for Jermaine Gresham and sprinted 59 yards down the left sideline for a 24-0 New England lead.

"All I could think of was , 'Run, Gary, run. And get the touchdown,' " said Guyton. "There was definitely a fear. If I get caught by the quarterback, I won't hear the last of it."

The Pats held the Bengals' high-octane offense to just over 100 yards total offense until a Hail Mary pass to the 3-yard line on the last play of the half increased that number by about 33 percent.

"I was happy with the way we played in the first half," said linebacker Tully Banta-Cain. "We were able to neutralize them in the running game and the passing game. For us, that's just a confidence booster because we wanted to play with a lot of energy. We wanted to make plays early in the game to get energy on our defense. And that's what we did."

Cincinnati was shocked . . . and impressed.

"We knew their defense was young, but they surprised us," said Bengals halfback Bernard Scott. "We knew they were going to be physical, but I didn't expect them to make the plays they made . . .

"I take my hat off to them, they are a hell of a team."

Cincinnati finally got on the board on Mike Nugent's 54-yard field goal late in the first half, but Brandon Tate returned the second-half kickoff 97 yards and put the Patriots ahead, 31-3.

"Two returns for touchdowns," said Belichick. "You hope for that, but you can never really count on that."

It was here that the wheels came off the wagon a bit, as Palmer led the Bengals on two long third-quarter scoring drives and another in the fourth quarter.

"We actually did well in the first half and not good enough in the second half," said cornerback Darius Butler. "Like I said, some things you learn from."

"It was far from perfect," admitted Belichick. "It was no Picasso . . . The Bengals have a pretty good attack. We had trouble with them in the second half."

But the Pats got a touchdown of their own, on a 1-yard scoring pass from Brady to Rob Gronkowski, and their lead was never seriously in jeopardy.

"This is probably the best team we're going to face all year," said Bengals cornerback Adam Jones.

"Now it's on to New York for a meeting with the Jets next week," said Belichick. "We know that's a big challenge, but we're going to enjoy this one for a while."

Art Martone can be reached at amartone@comcastsportsnet.com.

Mayock: Under-the-radar tight ends, defensive backs could interest Patriots

Mayock: Under-the-radar tight ends, defensive backs could interest Patriots

Until the tidal wave of free-agent moves comes crashing down in March, it's not exactly clear what anyone's needs are in this year's draft. But that won't keep us from guessing with the NFL Scouting Combine taking place this week in Indy.

From a Patriots perspective, they may need a tight end to provide some Rob Gronkowski insurance, especially if Martellus Bennett leaves town for the highest bidder. Defensively, they might be looking at big bodies up front or linebackers. They could also choose to dip into one of the deeper position groups in this year's class -- defensive back -- if they're taking a strict best-player-available approach. 

No matter which spots they're thinking about in this year's draft, the Patriots have a pretty well-defined set of likes and dislikes when it comes to prospect traits. That's what allows someone like NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock -- who held a marathon two-hour conference call with reporters from around the country on Monday -- to make an educated guess on the types of players Bill Belichick will be thinking about in late April. 

At tight end, Mayock thinks Alabama's OJ Howard is a perfect match for New England. He can catch. He can block. He's an athlete. He came up in Nick Saban's program. The only problem is there seems to be very little chance Howard is available at pick No. 32. 

The good news for the Patriots? It's such a deep tight end class, Mayock rattled off a handful of other names who could potentially find themselves in a huddle looking at Tom Brady in 2017. 

"As you drop down and look at the other tight ends after [Howard], there's some really good pass-catching tight ends that would be more like an [Aaron] Hernandez," Mayock said. "You start talking about David Njoku of Miami, he's an absolute freak, and he's also tough enough to learn how to block. Again, I don't know if he gets to the Patriots [at No. 32].

"Evan Engram and Gerald Everett are the two guys that are kind of the move wide receiver tight end. They can play in the slot. Jake Butt had an ACL at Michigan at the end of his season, but he's one of those in-line blockers. Tough guy. Good enough athletically to catch the ball short and intermediate.

"This is a great tight end class. You can get second and third-round tight ends that make a lot of sense. I think down the road a little bit, Michael Roberts from Toledo is a big guy that needs to block better, but he's got some pass catching skills. New England's going to have their choice of a bunch of different tight ends in this draft and get them in the first three rounds."

Defensive back is another area where the Patriots may be able to wait to find an impact player, Mayock suggested. One of the first names that popped into Mayock's mind when it comes to what intrigues Belichick was a safety who played his college ball in the area.

"I think a guy that would have to be interesting to New England is Obi Melifonwu from Connecticut," he said. "Six-foot-4, 219 [pounds], and he's probably going to run sub 4.5 [40-yard dash]. If he runs in that range, I think teams are going to start looking at him as a corner and a safety.

"The reason I think New England, with Matt Patricia, I think they're the best matchup group in the league. Look what they did with Eric Rowe from the Eagles, what they did with [Kyle] Van Noy -- two guys that were kind of cast-offs. They brought them there for matchup reasons. That's what they do. I look at Melifonwu, he looks like a guy that could cover a tight end one week and go out wide and cover a big wideout the next week. I think he'd be interesting.

"[Another] a really good football player that nobody talks about is Lorenzo Jerome of Saint Francis. And what he runs this week is going to be important. But I think he can play both safety positions, and he's really, really a good football player. Like him a lot . . .

"Other names: Des King, who is a corner from Iowa that I think is going to be a nickel or safety, and I think New England always has success moving those guys around a little bit . . . I like Des King; I like Kevin King from Washington who is a corner that can play some free safety; and I like Chidobe Awuzie from Colorado, who (is a corner that) I think might be better off as a safety."

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