The Bengals looked like they were going to blow the Patriots out at halftime of Saturday’s game in New England, but the second half wound up being a much different affair.
Cincinnati’s 22-0 lead dwindled to 22-18 thanks to a Marcus Jones interception return for a touchdown and a pair of Mac Jones touchdown. A fumble by Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase gave the Patriots the ball in Bengals territory and the Patriots were able to drive for a first down on the five-yard-line with a minute left, but running back Rhamondre Stevenson got stripped by Vonn Bell and Josh Tupou recovered for Cincinnati.
The Pats had all three timeouts and were able to force a Bengals punt, but they were only able to move the ball to their 34-yard-line before facing a fourth down. Rather than try to replicate last week’s final play against the Raiders, they let quarterback Mac Jones try a deep pass that was knocked away to seal the Bengals win.
Cincinnati is now 11-4 and a step closer to the AFC North title. The Patriots loss also means that the Ravens have clinched a playoff berth in the AFC.
Joe Burrow threw a pair of interceptions in Patriots territory that helped keep the Bengals from stretching their lead, but finished the day 40-of-52 for 375 yards and three first half touchdown passes. Tee Higgins had eight catches for 128 yards and a score while Trenton Irwin caught the other two touchdowns.
Mac Jones went 16-of-28 for 206 yards in the second half. His second touchdown came on a strange sequence of plays. He was penalized for intentional grounding on a play that the Bengals challenged as a fumble and then had a pass to the end zone knocked down into the hands of wide receiver Jacob Meyers for a touchdown.
That was a better result for Meyers than his ill-fated backward pass to Chandler Jones last Sunday, but Stevenson wasn’t able to reverse his own late-game fortunes and the Patriots were left with another painful loss.
The Patriots are now 7-8 with games against the Dolphins and Bills on tap. They probably can’t afford to lose either one if they’re going to make the playoffs, but the second half rally gives them some hope that they can find a win.