By Art Martone
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.
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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 email@example.com.