FOXBORO — Tom Brady threw three touchdown passes in his 2016 home debut and the New England defense came up with two huge contributions as the Patriots downed the Cincinnati Bengals 35-17 on Sunday.
Brady, suspended for the first four games of the season because of his role in Deflategate and a winner in Cleveland in his return last week, threw two TD passes to running back James White and one to Rob Gronkowski while also going over the 5,000-completion mark for his career.
In improving to 49-1 at home against AFC opponents with Brady at the helm since 2006, the Patriots (5-1) scored 15 points in 4:07 in the third quarter to take control of the game.
The defense, which looked shaky much of the day, staged a first-half, goal-line stand and also came up with a safety — Dont’a Hightower sacking Andy Dalton in the end zone.
Hearing chants of “Brady, Brady, Brady,” the quarterback, taking advantage of a crucial third down penalty call against the Bengals, hit five straight passes for 74 yards and a first-half touchdown, then was 4 of 4 for 69 yards on another.
Brady finished 29 of 35 for 376 yards — his 73rd 300-yard passing game and second straight since returning — and was sacked three times.
Brady is 57 of 75 for 782 yards, six TDs and no interceptions in his two games back.
Gronkowski, questionable after missing Friday’s practice because of illness, caught seven passes for a career-high 162 yards and was involved in a pair of fourth-quarter verbal altercations with the opposition.
LeGarrette Blount scored from the 1-yard line with 57 seconds left and was then given New England’s second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty of the game. It was Blount’s sixth TD in six games this season.
White caught eight passes for 47 yards while Martellus Bennett, joining Gronkowski in the Patriots’ two-headed tight end monster, had five grabs for 48 yards.
The Bengals (2-4) lost for the fourth time in their last five games. They have never won at Gillette Stadium.
Andy Dalton threw for one touchdown and ran for another, finishing 21 of 31 for 254 yards. A.J. Green caught six passes on 88 yards while former Patriot Brandon LaFell caught a touchdown pass in the loss.
The Patriots have lost only one regular season home game with Brady at the helm since Nov. 12, 2006, going 49-1 since, with the only loss coming in the final game of the 2014 season with Brady only playing a half. They have lost three home playoff games behind Brady in that span.
New England kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who kicked two field goals, missed on his third extra point try, his first miss since the distance moved back last year. It was his first miss in his last 479 tries in the regular season, the longest streak in NFL history.
NOTES — New England TE Rob Gronkowski cleared the 100-yard receiving-yard mark for the 22nd time in his career, tying Jackie Smith for third place all-time among tight ends. Gronkowski also passed Irving Fryar and moved into fourth place in all-time Patriots receiving yards. … Bengals TE Tyler Eifort missed his second straight game with back and ankle injuries. … CB/R Cyrus Jones, New England’s top pick in the 2016 draft who has been struggling to hold onto the ball and deciding when to return out of the end zone, and was ejected from last week’s game for throwing a punch, was a healthy scratch while LB Jamie Collins was out with a hip injury. … The Patriots, who have already played four home games, are at Pittsburgh and Buffalo the next two weeks before the bye and aren’t back at Gillette Stadium until a Nov. 20 visit by the San Francisco 49ers. … The Bengals host Cleveland and Washington the next two weeks. … The Patriots improved to 169-14 when scoring 23 or more points in a game under coach Bill Belichick.