Patriots' win over Bengals can mean everything to everyone

Tom E. Curran

Do you know what's convenient about what happened in Cincy on Sunday? It can be whatever you want it to be.

Signs of offensive life for a group that could barely fog up a mirror for the past five weeks? Sure.

Further evidence that, whatever the New England offense can't provide in terms of explosive plays, the 2019 Patriots can lean on their defense and special teams will.

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The moment N'Keal Harry burst through the swinging doors and swaggered into the 2019 season like vintage Vince McMahon? Why not?

A resurgent running game powered by Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead?

Your reality can be that the team is 11-3, in first place in the AFC East, just got a toehold after two weeks of slipping and will now begin its triumphant climb upward just like last year.

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All you footie pajama-wearing Patriots fans who want to keep standing on the beach and marveling at the surf, not realizing that's actually a tsunami, you can luxuriate in the Patriots 34-13 win. A win powered by five turnovers (two secured by the brilliant Stephon Gilmore), the 175 rushing yards (89 from Michel), the two catches for 15 yards from Harry (with two others erased by penalty) and the notion that the whiny Bengals got what they had coming to them after trying to step to the Patriots and Kraft Sports Entertainment!

OR! Orrrrrr…

For you miserable, ungrateful, insufferable, Chicken Littles who have never witnessed an iteration of the Patriots that is in the same hemisphere as "bad," Sunday just further cemented your belief that this ain't it.

That Tom Brady is in steep decline, his elbow is raging, his skills are fading, his accuracy is gone, he's seeing phantoms, ghosts, ghouls and apparitions and the game has passed him by after a 15-for-29, 128-yard day. (Aside: There's an astounding number of these people invading my Twitter regularly on game days, furiously shoveling dirt on the guy … weird).

That the offensive line is still porous and a threat to Brady's health and the planet's future.

That the 175 rushing yards was rolled up against a flat-lining defense that's so stout it's carried the Bengals to a total of one win. Over the Jets.

That the offense actually "drove" for a total of 10 points. The first touchdown of the game. A field goal in the second quarter. The other points came from a pick-six by Gilmore and three drives that started on the Bengals' side of the field after two interceptions and a muffed punt. You might get that from the Bengals and Andy Dalton. You can't count on that against "good" teams.

That the Patriots ballyhooed defense got gashed by Joe Mixon and the Cincinnati running game to the tune of 164 rushing yards – 136 from Mixon.

So those two sides – the Far Yay! and the Far Nay! – can lock themselves in a room and fight it out.

For most of the rest of you – the ones living on equal doses of hope and trepidation – it's probably a mix of the two viewpoints.

You look at Harry and think that this may be the start of something very positive. After playing just two snaps last week against the Chiefs, Harry making significant contributions on a day when Julian Edelman clearly didn't have any juice (two catches, 9 yards), Phillip Dorsett was invisible and Mohamed Sanu and Brady couldn't get hooked up was a sign that he's battling through the butterflies and learning curve.

His touchdown at the back of the end zone when he restarted his route to get available so Brady could rip a bullet that Harry snared with a tremendous hands catch was what you thought you might be getting before he got hurt in the first quarter of the first preseason game four months ago.

But you look at Edelman and Sanu and wonder if one is sawdust after being ridden all season and the other is just not seeing things the same way Brady is.

You look at Gilmore and J.C. Jackson and the special teams. You believe that, with Gilmore back there, the Patriots defense is going to be able to match whatever highly-paid, greatly-hyped receiver any other playoff hopeful will roll out there. And that his presence has the potential to make the rest of the defense feast. And that Jackson is a very underrated playmaker and that the punt coverage unit and the surprisingly reliable Nick Folk are going to make a huge difference in tight postseason games.

You look at the second-level tackling on Sunday and wonder if this is an issue that's been cropping up intermittently throughout the year that has the potential to bite them hard against a Lamar Jackson, a Tyreek Hill or a Travis Kelce.

You look at the game-planning done by Josh McDaniels that featured so many different looks for the Bengals on the first drive of the game that Cincy didn't know where the next punch was coming from.

And you also see that the difficulty for McDaniels after he shows his initial hand is something the Patriots have encountered a fair amount this year.

You see a team that's 11-3, is holding on to a first-round bye and has a head coach that's the best to ever blow a whistle and say you're happy to take your chances no matter what it looks like now.

And you also see a team that's lost its last three to AFC teams that are playoff-bound and you realize that – after 14 games and 15 weeks – the best chance to find out what the 2019 Patriots are comes next Saturday against the Buffalo Bills.

PERRY: How Harry got his groove back>>>

Patriots' win over Bengals can mean everything to everyone originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

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