Nothing ends pretty, otherwise it wouldn't end.
Tom Brady had thrown a touchdown in 52 straight NFL games dating back to September 12, 2010. It was the second-longest streak in NFL history behind only Drew Brees' 54. But now, after a historically miserable Patriots performance against Cincinnati, the streak is over, as is New England's unbeaten run this year. Cincinnati won 13-6, holding New England to its lowest point total in 117 games.
Every trap the Patriots dodged in their initial four games snapped shut on their fingers and toes this week. New England couldn't hold onto the ball, whether Brady handed it or passed it. The offensive line surrendered four sacks. The gaggle-of-unknowns that make up the Patriots' receiving corps reverted to stone-handed humans. And Brady himself posted one of the more pathetic games of recent vintage, completing just 18 of 38 passes with an interception.
Nowhere were the Patriots' problems more apparent than in the final drive. Granted, the team was trying to run a two-minute drill in a sideways rainstorm. But Brady can usually engineer two-minute drives for the win while checking his texts on his phone. This time, though, the offense was slow to develop, the receivers dropped pass after pass, and the game came to an inglorious end with a tipped interception that Cincinnati's Adam Jones reeled in just in front of the end zone.
Would the presence of healthy receivers like Rob Gronkowski or since-departed ones like Wes Welker have helped Brady? Without a doubt. But take nothing away from the Cincinnati defense, which was able to shut down Brady in a way no one else has managed in years.
Fluke or foreshadowing? It's too early to predict doom for the Patriots just yet. But the sooner they forget about this afternoon, the better.