By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — How you feel right now about the Patriots’ loss in Cincinnati wholly depends on how you felt about the Patriots heading into the weekend.

If you thought they were a Super Bowl team that had very impressively earned a 4-0 record, then you were likely disappointed in the performance as a whole. But if you thought they were what they actually are — an above-average team that nevertheless will have to fight and scrap each week in order to win games — then the end result probably wasn’t too devastating.

It’s not Week 2 anymore — an offensive struggle shouldn’t surprise anyone. It’s a disjointed offense complicated further by injuries. Could they have made some plays that were there to make? Of course. But with Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Rob Gronkowski all injured, and with Danny Amendola playing just his second real game with the team after missing three weeks, not even Tom Brady can make it all magically work. Could anyone?

With the offense being what it is, there are going to be steps backward, which is exactly what Sunday was for the Patriots. The season’s not over, but by now it’s pretty clear that it’s not going to be an easy one.

That’s not going to get in the way of any leftover thoughts, though, so let’s get to ’em.

–Really, the game was lost before it even began, when Bill Belichick inexplicably broke character and elected to receive after winning the toss. When the broadcast crew said this, I figured it had to be a mistake, because Bill’s most consistent trait is to defer until the second half. Yet he chose to receive, and the rest is history.

The last time the Patriots won the coin toss and elected to receive? That would be Sept. 7, 2008. Better known as The Day Bernard Pollard Ruined Everything Ever.

Considering that history, maybe everyone should be happy that a 13-6 loss is the worst thing that happened to the Patriots and Tom Brady on Sunday.

–The Patriots didn’t score a touchdown on the first drive of the fourth quarter because:

Julian Edelman tackled Aaron Dobson on what probably should have been a touchdown:

Julian Edelman collides with Aaron Dobson. (Screen shot from

Julian Edelman collides with Aaron Dobson. (Screen shot from

Danny Amendola, after making a ridiculous catch, lost track of where his body was and didn’t realize he could have rolled his way into the end zone. LeGarrette Blount couldn’t punch it in from the 1-yard line, the team wasted a play by throwing a pass to Nate Solder, and then Edelman was unable to haul in a pass in the end zone which would have been an admittedly difficult catch but nevertheless hit him in the hands.

Julian Edelman (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Julian Edelman (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

They settled for a field goal.

Aside from the receiver-on-receiver crime, the plays the Patriots missed on varied in degrees of difficulty. Yet it’s the lack of execution that costs points and loses games.

–That catch by Amendola, by the way, required the same change of body positioning as the infamous Super Bowl drop by Wes Welker. This catch by Amendola actually had a much bigger degree of difficulty, considering he had to fully turn his body back from the direction which he was running. Amendola was running more east-west than north-south, but he still managed to spin and secure the ball.

So to all those people who’ve yelled for 15 months that Brady threw a bad pass to Welker and deserves blame for the drop, behold the amazing sight of someone actually catching it. Amazing, right?

–It’s still weird to see Brady finish all of these games with such low passing yard totals, and it’s even weirder seeing him rank 16th in passing yards, 31st in yards per passing attempt and 13th in touchdown passes. He was not good on Sunday (don’t put too much stock in his final six attempts, which took place during a 100-year flood), but I’d still love to hear an interview with Tom after someone slipped him some truth serum. To see Peyton Manning have the offensive arsenal he deserves, and then to see Brady trying to piece things together with Scotch tape, pipe cleaners and glue sticks, it’s just not right. It’s a joke, and it’s a bad one.

Think about it this way: Brady is 36 years old. Realistically, he will not be a great quarterback when he’s 39 years old, because most men aren’t good quarterbacks when they’re 39 years old. That gives him … 43 regular-season games left in his career as a top-of-the-line quarterback in this league, and at least 11 of them are going to be played in an offense that signs Austin Collie midweek a month into the season. It’s not right.

–Oh, and if there was anyone who believed the Patriots were right to let Welker leave New England, well, he has seven touchdowns this season. The entire Patriots offense has scored eight touchdowns.

(Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)

(Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)

–Pink penalty flags are a horrible idea. They are the worst idea. The point of a penalty flag is for it to stand out on a football field. But with pink shoes, pink gloves, pink towels, pink athletic tape and pink sweatbands, the pink flags just blend in to everything else on the field. I’m all for this pink month, it’s great, but can we keep the penalty flags yellow? The NFL might as well make penalty flags green with stripes of white for the month of November.

–So the Bengals have a player named Wallace Gilberry, and he was kind of everywhere on Sunday afternoon. With a name like Wallace Gilberry, he sounds more like someone who should be teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts to Harry Potter or traveling with Frodo Baggins on a quest for a ring. Instead he was sacking Tom Brady, which is a worthwhile feat in itself.

–Brandon Bolden’s drop on the screen pass with 5:30 left in the first quarter may have been the costliest play of the game. That may be putting too much weight on a mistake made with 50 minutes left on the game clock, but when you consider that Bolden likely would have been able to gain in that one play twice as many yards as the Patriots as a team ended up gaining in the entire first quarter, is it really?

Kyle Arrington (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)

Kyle Arrington (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)

If Bolden’s drop was the costliest play on offense, Kyle Arrington’s lack of ball awareness on a third-and-15 from the Cincinnati 2-yard line was the costliest play on defense. Arrington had decent coverage on Marvin Jones, but he didn’t get an arm up to break up the pass, and Jones hauled it in for a gain of 28 yards. The Bengals ended up scoring the game-winning points later on that drive. Had Arrington been able to break up the pass, the Bengals would have instead been rushing a punt out of their end zone, and the Patriots would have taken over on the Cincinnati side of the field, trailing just 6-3. Huge play.

–Andy Dalton’s interception to end the first quarter was one of the worst passes you’ll ever see in professional football. The rushing of it, the needlessness of it, the getting-picked-by-Brandon-Spikes-who-is-maybe-the-worst-coverage-linebacker-in-the-NFL aspect of it, the red zone aspect of it, the momentum-killing part of it, so much. Such a bad pass. At home. In the first quarter. Wow.

–CBS showed a graphic saying that 31.9 percent of all of the Bengals’ receptions came from tight ends, as they operate a two-tight end system that was made pretty famous in New England. This year, just 4.5 percent of Brady’s completions have been to tight ends, which is kind of insane. Last year, 28.9 percent of the Pats’ receptions were made by tight ends, and that number was 42 percent two years ago. Now it’s down to 4.5 percent.

It tells you how unique Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski are. There’s just no other human who can replace either of them. There are no excuses in football, but when those two are out, and Julian Edelman plus rookie receivers are the only options, and Ridley and Vereen are out, it’s not entirely surprising to see the offense look as ugly as it did on Sunday.

It was an odd strategy for the Patriots to let Nate Solder start at left tackle, even though it was clear the guy did not show up to Paul Brown Stadium. He and Logan Mankins paid no attention to All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins on the team’s first passing play, giving the 300-pounder a clean shot on the quarterback.

Geno Smith sacks Tom Brady. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Geno Smith sacks Tom Brady. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Solder later got spun around by Gilberry on the Patriots’ second drive, leading to a sack on third-and-2.

Wallace Gilberry sacks Tom Brady. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)

Wallace Gilberry sacks Tom Brady. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)

The Patriots punished Solder by … running a play for him to be a receiver in the end zone. Odd.

–As for punishments, which Belichick clearly hands out to people for things like fumbling or talking about feet, I find it hard to fault LeGarrette Blount for his fumble. It wasn’t anything complicated — just Carlos Dunlap, a 280-pound man, landing a wild haymaker right on the ball. Sometimes it’s hard to hang on in such a situation. I mean, a 6-foot-6, 280-pound man has never punched me (not yet, at least), but I imagine such a blow carries some force.

LeGarrette Blount fumbles after getting hit by Carlos Dunlap. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)

LeGarrette Blount fumbles after getting hit by Carlos Dunlap. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)

–I’m calling shenanigans on the second-and-2 play where Aqib Talib and Dont’a Hightower stopped Jermaine Gresham short of the first down marker, but Gene Steratore quickly walked to the ball and gave the Bengals a first down. I’ve tried to go back and watch the play 10 times on NFL Game Rewind, but the play conveniently skips forward three seconds before Gresham’s brought down. Shenanigans, I tell you. Shenanigans.

Also calling shenanigans on the missed facemask penalty when Adam Jones stuck his hand inside Brandon Bolden’s helmet and twisted his head back. Dan Dierdorf explained that it was legal as long as the player lets go, which is true, except for the part where it’s not factually correct. The rulebook doesn’t say “A player can twist a player’s head as hard as he wants … as long as he lets go eventually.”

Brandon Bolden (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Brandon Bolden (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

— “You can’t kick two field goals and win many games in the NFL,” Tom Brady said, a pained look spread across his face, despondently resigned to the absence of the Jaguars from the Patriots’ schedule.

From a positive standpoint, one thing that stood out to me in a big way was how the Patriots handled the end of the first half. When you watch games across the league, it’s very rare you’ll see a team aggressively call timeouts in order to get the ball back when the offense had been as bad as New England’s for the better part of 28 minutes. Yet the Patriots burned their three timeouts, forced a punt and then picked up 21 yards in one play (they had just 124 yards to that point) to get into a field-goal range. They headed to the locker room tied 3-3, whereas most teams would have not tempted fate and instead chosen to go to halftime happy to only be trailing 3-0.

Bill Belichick (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)

Bill Belichick (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)

Bill Belichick was pretty spectacular in his postgame press conference. He was asked why the offense was out of whack, and he said, “We didn’t perform well enough.” He was asked how Danny Amendola looked in his first game back, and he said, “I don’t know. I’ll have to go look at the film.” And he was asked about the pressure the Bengals got on Brady, replying with, “I don’t think we did a good enough job anywhere. Part of it is a running game, and part of it is a passing game. We’ve got to do a better job all the way around.”

Thanks, Bill.

–There’s also this: Who in the AFC is definitely going to the Super Bowl? Sure Denver is a monster, but the Broncos’ defense looked like a high school squad on Sunday in Dallas. Do any other teams scare you? Do the 5-0 Chiefs make you worry? The 4-1 Colts? To me, they all seem right about where the Patriots are, which is to say that despite all their shortcomings, they can still be around in January. They may not be a dominant force that should win the AFC, but they’re good enough to hang with any team but Denver right now. And when Gronkowski returns and the offense better resembles an NFL unit, we’ll see just how well the Patriots measure up against the Broncos in Week 12.

For now, Sunday will serve as a learning day, which is needed for a lot of guys in that locker room.

But overall, no team is entirely frightening and no team can be completely overlooked. You can call it parity if you want, but that’s what we’re looking at in the AFC this year, and it was reinforced Sunday in Cincinnati.

Now let’s see how things go against the 5-0 Saints next week at Gillette.

Read more from Michael Hurley by clicking here, or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.



Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s