For 2 ½ quarters Sunday it looked as though the Cincinnati Bengals had put their season-long struggles behind them as they held a four-point lead at New England.
But in the span of 4 minutes and 7 seconds, the Patriots went from four down to 11 ahead on a safety and a pair of Tom Brady touchdown passes on the way to a 35-17 triumph at Gillette Stadium .
New England outscored the Bengals 25-3 over the final 22 minutes behind a nearly perfect performance by Brady in his first home game since serving a four-game suspension.
Brady completed 29 of 35 passes for 376 yards and three touchdowns with a passer rating of 140.0 to send the Bengals to 2-4 with their fourth loss in five games.
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Here are seven things to know about the game:
New England capitalized on three Bengals penalties for three scores, one of which was the momentum-swinging safety midway through the third quarter.
Cedric Ogbuehi’s holding call not only negated a completion from Andy Dalton to A.J. Green for a third-down conversion, it pushed the Bengals back to their own 8, and one play later Dont’a Hightower sacked Andy Dalton in the end zone.
The Patriots would add a pair of touchdowns in the next four minutes and 7 seconds to turn a 14-10 deficit into a 25-14 lead.
“You can’t have a careless penalty like that,” Marvin Lewis said. “We’ve got to do better.”
A more egregious penalty occurred in the first half when cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick got flagged for illegal contact on a third-and-18 incompletion. The Patriots took advantage of the automatic first down by putting together an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to take a 10-7 lead.
And in the fourth quarter, cornerback Adam Jones got called for defensive holding on a third-and-12 incompletion. New England used the automatic first down to eat another three minutes off the clock before Stephen Gostkowski hit a 31-yard field goal to take a 28-17 lead.
The Bengals finished with seven penalties for 46 yards, with three of the flags giving the Patriots first downs.
Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict got into a jawing match with New England tight end Rob Gronkowski after back-to-back plays in the fourth quarter, the second of which resulted in Gronkowski drawing a taunting penalty.
Burfict was not penalized in the game, but he could end up getting fined for a questionable shot he took on tight end Martellus Bennett’s knee a few plays before the arguments with Gronkowski.
After the game, Bennett said Burfict apologized to him, saying he didn’t mean to hit him in the back of the knee. Then Bennett added, “But he probably did.”
Burfict was suspended for the first three games of the season for repeated violations of player-safety rules, so it’s obvious the league will be on the lookout for any further infractions.
Ineffective play and an injury forced the Bengals to make some changes on the offensive line.
Ogbuehi was benched after the safety that was set up by his holding call and replaced with Eric Winston.
“Felt like he needed to settle down and you know, we had to pay a penalty,” Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said.
Ogbuehi returned for the final drive of the game with 57 seconds remaining. Lewis declined to comment on whether Ogbuehi would start Sunday against Cleveland.
On the final play of the third quarter, center Russell Bodine suffered a right leg injury and was carted off. T.J. Johnson replaced him.
The Bengals looked to be on the verge of taking the lead midway through the second quarter when they had first and goal at the 6.
Trailing 3-0 at the time, the Bengals got a 5-yard run by Giovani Bernard on first down to set up second and goal at the 1. But Bernard got stopped for no gain on second down, Dalton threw an incompletion on a fade attempt to A.J. Green on third down, and Bernard got stuffed again on fourth down.
“I’m going to go for it inside the 1-yard line, early in the football game, particularly,” Lewis said.
It marked just the second time this year the Bengals have failed to get any points after reaching the red zone.
Tight end trouble
The Bengals defense held New England tight ends Gronkowski and Bennett to two catches for 41 yards (both by Gronkowski) through the first 38 minutes.
But on the first offensive play after the safety, Brady hit Bennett for 24 yards. Three plays later he hooked up with Gronkowski for a 38-yarder. And one play after that the Brady-Gronkowski combination produced a 4-yard touchdown.
Gronkowski finished with seven catches for a career-high 162 yards, while Bennett contributed five receptions for 48 yards
New England opened the game with an eight-play, 47-yard drive that ended in a Gostkowski 46-yard field goal.
It was the third game in a row and fourth in six overall that the Bengals have surrendered points on the opponent’s opening drive of the game.
The Bengals got the ball first to start the third quarter and went 80 yards in nine plays, with Andy Dalton hitting Brandon LaFell for a 5-yard touchdown and 14-10 lead.
It was the first time this year the Cincinnati offense scored on its first possession of the second half.
• Rookie wide receiver Tyler Boyd had four catches for a career-high 79 yards.
• The Bengals defense surrendered a season-high 437 yards.
• Burfict and Pat Sims recorded their first sacks on the season, and Michael Johnson registered his first full one.
• Dalton finished with a passer rating of 103.4, marking the second consecutive game in which he’s topped 100 in a loss. Prior to those two games, the Bengals had been 27-3 in games in which Dalton posted a rating of 100 or higher.
• The Bengals are two games under .500 for the first time since 2012.
• Sunday’s 18-point loss comes on the heels of a 28-14 defeat at Dallas, marking the first time the Bengals have lost back-to-back games by at least 14 points since 2010, when they dropped 49-31 decision at home against Buffalo in Week 11 before going to New York and losing to the Jets 26-10.