Of all the annoying things about the New England Patriots—their fans, Tom Brady’s insanely charmed existence, the plastic-y fake cheese that I assume their owner, Bob Kraft, invented—perhaps the most irritating is the presumptive way they include an entire geographic region as their home. As far as I can tell, nobody from Vermont has anything at all to do with this football team. People from Rhode Island are just grateful if you remember that the state exists, and Maine is too busy trying to remind people that it isn’t Canada to care about football. For all I know, it has a CFL team. Everybody from Connecticut pretends they are from New York so they can follow the Yankees and the Giants. So why not just call them the Boston (or the impossible to spell Massachussetes….Massachusettes…Mass…hell, let’s go with Boston) Patriots. Once somebody from Mass. tells you that Good Will Hunting is “literally the greatest movie evah” and then shotguns a lite beer, the first thing you always notice is the Red Sox hat and the Tom Brady obsession. So let’s stop pretending. There were, approximately, 45,000 Patriots fans around me as I watched the game on Sunday and I’m pretty certain that not one of them would spot that I forgot New Hampshire in my opening paragraph.
Oh, anyway, pretty much nothing happened of interest during the first half of the (Boston) Patriots-Bengals match up; Geno Atkins mauled Brady for a sack pretty quickly, Andy Dalton threw his first ever Red Zone interception, AJ Green looked moody, and Carlos Dunlap continued to defy the expectations of a post-contract year by forcing another fumble. This game featured (on offense) first-ballot Hall of Famer Tom Brady, hopefully future Hall of Famer AJ Green, a slew of first- and second-round weapons including Gio Bernard, Jermaine Gresham, Andy Dalton, Tyler Eifert, and Aaron Dobson. At halftime, the score was 3-3. I’ve seen football (soccer) games with higher scores at halftime.
Fortunately the gargantuan efforts of Mike Zimmer’s defense were somewhat matched by the offense, a long march down the field eating the clock, aided by a wonderfully clutch 3rd down pass from Dalton to Marvin Jones, and finally capped by former Patriot BenJarvus Green-Ellis bundling a touchdown behind the increasingly-used fullback Domata Peko to give the Bengals a tense lead.
At this point, the Bengals did something unlikely. Ten points down with 7 minutes to go is Tom Brady’s bread and butter (or whatever sort of flax-and-seed based concoction the personal chef knocks up for him and Gisele). Yet the Bengals stepped up. Gio Bernard fumbled, but the defense—with Vontaze Burfict tripping, slamming, harassing the Pats’ offense; backup DE (and fabulously named) Wallace Gilberry recording two sacks; Chris Crocker blowing back the years—held Brady three times from the one-yard line. With time ticking down, the brave Bengals gripped a 13-6 lead with tired and cramping fingertips.
Bengals fans prayed to the football gods—Brady has 38 fourth-quarter comebacks in his career; two minutes is plenty of time and the Bengals failed to make first down backed up on their own line—and they listened. First, came the weather, launching a monsoon upon the players. Driving wind, torrential rain, poor visibility, slippery field, ball, and lead. Second came Kevin Huber. Obviously spurred by last week’s coronation as my Man of the Match, Huber boomed a 69-yarder through the miasma to pin the foe back.
The officials threw a flag for every raindrop in an effort to ensure that Brady never had to step in a puddle, like they were all Sir Walter Raleigh and Brady was Elizabeth I, but to no avail. His final pass was acrobatically snagged by Adam Jones, the NFL’s dreamboat picked off by its nightmare, and the Bengals sank into the mud, as exhausted as can be, but gloriously victorious.
Bengals 13, Patriots 6
Man of the Match: The whole defense was unimaginably good, with Burfict, Gilberry, Jones, and Terrence Newman all making heroic plays. But in such a team effort, I’m giving the award to the one member of the defense to make a difference on both sides of the ball. Just short of the Patriots goal line, defensive lineman Domata Peko came in at fullback. He immediately committed a penalty and sent the team back five yards. But with a resolve that summed up the entire effort of the day, he went back in two plays later and bulldozed his way into the opposite numbers, clearing the path for the game’s only touchdown.