CINCINNATI (AP)—Rookie running back Laurence Maroney got New England’s offense rolling like old times.
Maroney ran for 125 yards and a pair of touchdowns Sunday, restoring balance to the Patriots’ off-keel offense and setting up a 38-13 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals that had a familiar feel.
“Kind of like the Patriots you guys were used to seeing,” smiling quarterback Tom Brady said.
Only a week earlier, New England (3-1) was so pitiful on offense that Brady uncharacteristically waved his arms in frustration during a loss to Denver. The only time he lifted his arms Sunday was to signal another Patriots touchdown.
Maroney got the biggest ones.
Playing on the field where teammate Corey Dillon broke the single-game rushing record for Cincinnati in 2000, Maroney dodged and stiff-armed his way through the Bengals (3-1) on touchdown runs of 11 and 25 yards that set the tone.
“We knew coming in that the running game was going to play a major part in the game,” said Maroney, who ran for only 18 yards against Denver. “That was No. 1 on our list—get the running game going.”
He made three tacklers miss on his second scoring run, which put New England up 21-13 and allowed Brady to forget his frustrations and do what he does best— efficiently take a defense apart. He was 15-of-26 for 188 yards and a pair of touchdowns, setting up the Patriots’ highest-scoring game in two seasons.
“Yes, this is a statement game for us,” safety Rodney Harrison said. “It felt good to come in here and play Patriots football. This is what I’m used to around here.”
The final touch came from Dillon, who was tormented by losing during his seven seasons in Cincinnati.
His 1-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter put New England up 31-13 and drew another round of boos and catcalls. Dillon then reared back and threw the ball high into the same stands where he tossed his helmet, cleats and jersey after his final game for the Bengals in 2003.
Dillon was inspired for his homecoming.
“I think you could see it all week,” coach Bill Belichick said. “He had some excitement and energy for this game. He always runs hard. It was just a little something extra for him to come back here.”
Dillon finished with 67 yards on 17 carries and, in another throwback moment, declined interviews afterward.
“Ain’t nothing changed,” he said. “I got things to do.”
Brady, Maroney and Dillon weren’t the only ones who had a throwback day against the Bengals, who couldn’t sustain their momentum from a 28-20 win in Pittsburgh a week earlier. New England’s patchwork defense also did a number on Carson Palmer.
Palmer was hit repeatedly, sacked four times and lost a pair of second-half fumbles that set up touchdowns and turned it into a blowout. Palmer was 20-of-35 for 245 yards in his least-productive showing since he returned from a major knee injury.
“It’s tough to say after a loss like this, but hopefully well be able to look back in a month or two and say we needed this,” Palmer said. “I don’t know if we were too cocky or too confident, but I know this is a team that we should’ve beat. Hopefully, well get another shot at them. I know if we play our best football, we can beat them.”
With starting cornerback Ellis Hobbs and safety Eugene Wilson sidelined by injuries, the Patriots had to improvise. Receiver Troy Brown reprised his role as nickel back, lining up on passing downs the way he did each of the last two seasons when New England was beat up.
That knack for improvisation helped the Patriots win three Super Bowls this decade. It worked again on Sunday.
“They knew they couldn’t stop us, but you need the team as a whole to succeed,” receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh said. “There aren’t any (defensive backs) on that team that can cover us. That’s why they played the coverages they did. They did a good job of mixing it up.”
The Patriots haven’t lost consecutive games since December 2002. The 53-game streak matches Denver (1976-79) for second-longest since the NFL and AFL merged in 1970. San Francisco has the longest streak, 60 games from 1995-99. … New England ran for 236 yards overall. Brady had 22 on a third-quarter scramble, the longest run of his career. … Maroney is the first Patriots rookie running back to score more than one touchdown in a season since Robert Edwards had nine in 1998. … Bengals WR Chris Henry was inactive, punishment for his latest off-field incident. Henry, one of six Bengals arrested in the last nine months, was a passenger in a vehicle stopped early Monday morning. Linebacker Odell Thurman, who was behind the wheel, was charged with drunken driving.