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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Michael Braithwaite

3 big takeaways from Patriots’ 22-18 loss vs Bengals

A week after their last-second choke-away loss against the Las Vegas Raiders, the New England Patriots took on the Cincinnati Bengals at home on Christmas Eve.

A miserable first half left New England desperate for any kind of positive momentum later in the game. They found it in the second half, fighting their way back and nearly coming away victorious against a tough Bengal defensive front.

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Unfortunately, a late-game fumble by running back Rhamondre Stevenson was recovered by Cincinnati, and the Patriots were not able to capitalize on their final offensive drive, ultimately falling to their opponent 22-18.

Here are three takeaways from the game.

The offense was dead. Then, it wasn't

The Patriots’ offense was absolutely dead to rights in the first half. They could not get any sort of offense going, either through the air or the ground. Even Stevenson, who has basically encapsulated the entirety of New England’s offense this season, was unable to generate much momentum on the ground.

In total, the Patriots had 70 yards of offense and no scores at halftime, whereas the Bengals had amassed a 22-point lead off 303 total yards, and were making New England’s defense look like they belonged more in a Bowl game than on an NFL field.

The fans at Gillette Stadium were letting the team know about their poor performance too, as The Boston Globe’s Ben Volin tweeted.

However, a 69-yard pick-six by Marcus Jones put the Patriots back into the game. The every-play spark plug seemed to work his magic again for New England, as, after the play made the team’s deficit down to 16 points, both the offense and the defense seemed to finally wake up.

The Patriots very nearly came back from the 22-point deficit, but Stevenson’s fumble effectively iced the game in Cincinnati’s favor.

Quarterback Mac Jones finished the game 21/33 passing for 240 yards and two touchdowns after an absolutely abysmal first half. Stevenson finished with just 30 yards on 13 rushes.

While the second half was certainly more productive for the Patriots than the first half was, the ending of the game was fit for the offensive product they have put on the field this season.

They finally used Kendrick Bourne, and it turned out great

After halftime, the Cincinnati offense that had toyed with the defense all game long began to stall. On the flip side, the Patriots’ offense began to pick up. The team turned to one of their more underutilized weapons this season: wide receiver Kendrick Bourne.

Bourne has barely been utilized in New England’s offense this season after offseason reports came out that he and de facto offensive coordinator Matt Patricia had some beef in the offseason, but this game showed that he deserves to get the ball far more.

After taking the ball for 29 yards on an end around earlier in the game, Bourne had a 19-yard catch down the sideline and then had a great snag for 32 yards in triple coverage. Then, he caught the ball in the back of the endzone to give the Patriots their second score of the game.

On the next drive, Bourne made a sensational catch along the sideline for 28 yards, barely getting two feet in bounds and maintaining control of the ball through contact with the ground. The play was initially ruled incomplete, but New England challenged the call and it ended up being overturned.

Bourne finished the game with 100 receiving yards and a touchdown on six catches, and showed why he should have been way more involved in New England’s offense all season long.

Special teams, yikes

Special teams has been a facet of the game that New England has struggled in recently. Unlike Patriots teams of years past, this one has been sloppy in their special teams play, and has committed blunder after blunder that has lost them multiple games this season.

On Saturday, this poor special teams play reared its head yet again, though this time it came out for both teams. In single-digit temperatures, the football became hard as a rock and incredibly hard to kick, as ESPN’s Mike Reiss noted pregame.

Kicking was an issue for both teams all game long, though it mattered far more to the Patriots. Cincinnati’s Evan McPherson missed two extra points and a field goal while the Bengals were building their lead, but then New England’s Nick Folk missed two crucial extra points as the Patriots were trying to make their comeback.

Punter Michael Palardy also contributed to this special teams slop fest for the Patriots, fumbling a punt near the end of the first quarter after catching it from long snapper Tucker Addington, who is filling in for the injured Joe Cardona.

Although the snap was good, Palardy dropped the ball, and nearly had the punt blocked as he got his second attempt off.

The special teams play of this Patriots team has been emblematic of their overall performance this season. The endless number of mistakes and blunders is far below what people expect from New England.

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