By Michael Felger
A handful of thoughts on a Moss- and Mankins-free Monday.
Do you now see the problem with diva, pain-in-the-ass receivers? I promise, this isn't about Moss. It's about the guys on the other side.
The Bengals were totally unprepared to play that football game on Sunday. There were many examples of it throughout the day, but perhaps none was more striking than the scene that played out just before the half. With the Pats leading, 24-3, and driving into field-goal range, Chad Ochocinco headed off the field and into the tunnel to the locker room. Moments later, apparently feeling that's the way business is done with the Bengals, Terrell Owens followed suit.
The only problem was that the game was still going on. When Stephen Gostkowski's long field-goal attempt drifted wide, the Bengals found themselves with the ball at their own 46 with one second left on the clock and a chance for a Hail Mary. Unfortunately, they were without their best receivers for the play, which would up being completed to Jordan Shipley at the Pats' 3-yard line as time expired. While Ochocinco and Owens were unlacing their cleats, Moss was on the field as a safety defending the play. Score one for the Pats' DPITAR (diva, pain-in-the-ass receiver).
Again, there were a lot of examples of the Bengals' lack of preparedness. That was just the most glaring.
Ochocinco wound up with a big statistical day (12 catches, 159 yards, touchdown) but the majority of it came after the game was out of hand. Owens also put up a few numbers (7 catches, 53 yards) but had embarrassingly little impact spending most of his day up against a rookie, Devin McCourty.
In a recurring theme from last season, the Pats were outscored by the Bengals in the second half, 21-14. When you consider that seven of the Pats' points came on the opening kickoff, that deficit looks worse. This happened repeatedly last season, as the Pats lost five games in which they were leading or tied at half (at the Jets, at Denver, at Indianapolis, at Miami and at Houston).
So, was this a case of history repeating itself?
This one was purely circumstantial. First, the Bengals were bound to show some life in the final 30 minutes -- and so they did. The Pats, leading 31-3, were bound to let up a bit -- and so they did. Second, the Pats seemed on their way to scoring on their first full drive of the third quarter when a Dan Koppen holding penalty nullified a first-down conversion pass to Alge Crumpler. Finally, the Pats had a chance to put points on the board on their final, garbage-time drive in the fourth quarter but instead took the air out of the ball.
Maybe the second half will prove to be an issue going forward. Maybe it won't. We'll find out. But as far as Sunday was concerned, it was a non-story.
I know the tight ends looks great, and I know Moss is still the most dangerous receiver in the league and that Brandon Tate looks legit. But, to me, the the heart-and-soul of the Pats offense remains Brady-to-Wes Welker and Brady-to-Kevin Faulk in the possession game. That's still the bread and butter.
Welker (8 catches, 64 yards, two touchdowns -- all team highs) was huge on the most underrated drive of the game, which occurred after the Bengals had closed the gap to 31-17 and the Pats got the ball back to start the fourth quarter. Welker moved the chains on third-and-3 and third-and-4 and the Pats were on their way.
Faulk, meanwhile, rebounded from a few early drops and a heavy hit to record four catches for 47 yards and three carries for 23 more.
Time will tell whether or not the Pats truly have a good defense. But at this point, you can definitely say it's younger and faster. Pat Chung (team-high 16 tackles) and Jerod Mayo (12 tackles) were active in the middle of the field and the young defensive backs more than held their own. Yes, Darius Butler gave up his share of plays to Ochocino, but he also made his share, too.
This is a game where stats lie. The Bengals had more yards (428-376), first downs (26-20) and time of possession (31:50 - 28:10) -- but the Pats' defense still carried the day when it counted.
The Pats have found the perfect role for Laurence Maroney -- as a fifth-string, emergency running back who will remain in street clothes until injuries necessitate his activation.
In the meantime, Fred Taylor is a pleasure to watch.
Felger's report card posts Tuesday morning. Email him HERE and read the mailbag on Thursdays. Listen to him on the radio weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 the Sports Hub.