Expect anything less? The Patriots don’t.
The Patriots remained one of the NFL’s four unbeaten teams Monday night— and, so far, the best of the bunch—by beating the Cincinnati Bengals 34-13 with a performance that showed their versatility.
They’ve only just begun.
“I think we’re doing more as an offense,” said Morris, who ran for 117 yards—the second-best total of his career—and a touchdown. “We just want to keep it going.”
New England (4-0) is off to its best start since 2004, when it won the Super Bowl for the third time in four years. An offense energized by the addition of receivers Randy Moss, Donte’ Stallworth and Wes Welker showed it can grind it out, too.
Especially against a team like the Bengals (1-3), who had trouble just getting a defense on the field—and counting to 11 while they were at it.
Cincinnati’s performance was so maddening that coach Marvin Lewis screamed at his players in the locker room for several minutes.
“If you don’t want to be on this team, please don’t show up!” Lewis said, yelling so loud that reporters outside could hear. “You don’t call the offense, you don’t call the plays. You just play.
“Nowhere in the NFL do guys act like this. We’ve got to figure this out.”
There was plenty to get him screaming mad.
Cincinnati was missing middle linebackers Ahmad Brooks and Caleb Miller, leaving a big hole in one of the league’s worst defenses. When Lemar Marshall hurt an Achilles’ tendon in the first quarter, the Bengals moved rookie safety Chinedum Ndukwe into a linebacker’s spot.
It was an invitation to run the ball right through the middle of the defense — which is exactly what the Patriots did.
“We go into the game and see what’s working,” Morris said. “We were able to grind it out, so we kept at it.”
The Patriots had more linebackers in their offense on goal-line plays than the Bengals had in their defense on many plays. And one of them—Mike Vrabel— caught a 1-yard touchdown pass in a Super Bowl flashback.
Missing their top runner didn’t slow the Patriots.
Morris, an eighth-year journeyman playing for his third team, got to take center stage because Laurence Maroney was out with a strained groin. He had the second 100-yard game of his career, including a 7-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-1 put the Patriots in control in the third quarter.
Morris’ 49-yard run—the second-longest of his career—set up Brady’s 1-yard touchdown pass to Vrabel, who has nine career catches, all for touchdowns. Two of them have come in the Patriots’ Super Bowl wins.
Brady, the two-time Super Bowl MVP, didn’t have to do anything sensational against a depleted defense. He was 25-of-32 for 231 yards, including touchdown passes of 7 and 14 yards to Moss.
Moss, who declined to talk to reporters, had nine catches for 102 yards. He’s the first player in NFL history to have 100 yards in receptions in each of his first four games with a new team.
“He was a great player before he got here,” Brady said. “He’s still a great player. He adds a lot to this offense.”
Brady has had many great moments for the Patriots, but has never been this good for this long. He leads the league with 13 touchdown passes, his best total in any four-game span of his career.
The NFL’s most efficient passer made an uncharacteristically sloppy mistake, forcing a third-down throw for only his second interception of the season. That set up Carson Palmer’s 1-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
That’s the only one the Bengals would get.
Late in the third quarter, the crowd of 66,113—the largest ever to seen a Bengals game in Cincinnati—started filing out, sensing the futility. The Bengals fell into last place in the AFC North heading into their bye week.
And, they didn’t go there gracefully.
Palmer had words with Chad Johnson when the Pro Bowl receiver ran a different route than he expected, resulting in Asante Samuel’s interception near the goal line late in the first half. They had more words on the sideline, and Johnson was still jawing at the Pro Bowl MVP quarterback as they left the field at halftime.
“I made a mistake,” said Palmer, who was 21-of-35 for 234 yards with two interceptions. “I got on Chad, but I made a mistake. I lost my cool. I threw a ball I shouldn’t have thrown.”
It got worse.
The Bengals stopped a third-down run, but were penalized for having 12 men on the field. The penalty set up a fourth-quarter field goal that extended an amazing streak of consistency: New England has scored in every quarter this season and its last 36 overall.
Moss has seven touchdown catches, most in the NFL. It’s the most by a Patriots receiver since David Patten had seven in 2004. … Moss is the first Patriot to catch a TD pass in four straight games since Daniel Graham did it in five consecutive games over the 2003-04 seasons.