There were still more than three minutes left on the clock in the fourth quarter when the Patriots started their final possession of Sunday’s game, but the celebration was already on at Gillette Stadium.
The Patriots led 28-17 and the Bengals had just punted the ball away despite having little reason to believe that they’d get the ball back often enough to tie or move ahead of the Patriots before the end of regulation. Whatever slight hope they might have had after all but waving the white flag evaporated when Julian Edelman returned the punt 23 yards to midfield and then went for eight yards on a reverse on the first offensive play.
Edelman would have another catch and LeGarrette Blount ran it in from a yard out to send the score to 35-17.
It was all academic from there on a day highlighted by Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. Brady was 29-of-35 for 376 yards and three touchdowns in his first game at home this season and Gronkowski caught seven passes for 162 yards and a touchdown. Gronkowski did draw a taunting penalty after one catch, which might have killed the Patriots’ chances for another touchdown, but the day was everything we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from the Brady-Gronkowski connection.
Brady became the fourth player with 5,000 completions during the game and had his 73rd career game with at least 300 passing yards. He’s third all-time in that metric and his two-for-two start to this season suggests plenty more will be coming down the line.
The Bengals offense had some good moments as well, but their inability to score from the one-yard-line in the second quarter and settling for a field goal early in fourth meant too many points were left on the table to get a road win. Their pass protection also broke down close to their own end zone, allowing Dont’a Hightower to sack Andy Dalton for a safety and touch off a 25-3 run that led the Patriots to their fifth win in six tries this season.
They’ll be in Pittsburgh next Sunday to try for a sixth win and a spot at the top of the conference that will be hard to argue through seven weeks of the season.