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Three Takeaways From A Tough Patriots Loss

The Patriots essentially ended their playoff hopes and dropped under .500 in a tough 22-18 loss that ended up being a tale of two diametrically opposed halves. Here are the key takeaways for the Patriots.

The Patriots May Have Their Number One Receiver, ONLY If They Use Him Properly

Kendrick Bourne did a little bit of everything. His statline of six catches for 100 yards (129 total) and a touchdown speaks for itself, but still underestimates his impact. He carried the ball, he made catches both in short-yardage situations and down the field, including multiple excellent catches in traffic, and even prevented an interception with an excellent deflection on a Mac Jones overthrow. Simply put, this game would have been a blowout Bengals win if not for him.

Bourne’s speed, route running, sure hands, and natural football sense make him a natural fit for this offense and Mac Jones, and this was fully on display from him, for the first time to the extent as it was last year. It’s easy to forget just how much chemistry he and Jones had last year, but Bourne had 55 receptions, 800 yards and five touchdowns (all career-best figured) and had the Patriots’ only touchdowns in their playoff game against the Bills

Of course, this begs the obvious question of the offense: why wasn’t he used more? Coming into this game, he had 24 receptions on merely 32 targets without a touchdown. More than just targets, the confusing aspect was his lack of snaps. Early in the season, his usage rate was in the single digit percentages, and at times, players like Lil’Jordan Humphrey were getting more usage than him. Likely this had a lot to do with his relationship with Matt Patricia and some conflicts with Carolina during joint practices.

Once he did start getting significant action, he was still getting acclimated and wasn’t getting plays called for him, and this is the first game where he was actually used properly, begging questions of how the Patriots would be if he were handled properly. In the end, the handling of Bourne has been one of many errors from Patricia, but if they have better offensive leaders next season, the Patriots may have the number one receiver they need already in uniform.

The Bonehead Mistakes Need To Stop

A tight, mistake-free ship had always been one of the hallmarks of a Belichick-led Patriots team. This season has been a serious aberration from that. In a mixture of execution errors and poor coaching, the Patriots have cost themselves drives and even games in shocking and inexcusable ways all season, and while there have been issues other than that, without these mistakes the Patriots could be significantly better.

Today was no exception. The Patriots committed a littany of penalties, from drive-killers from the oft-penalized offensive line to drive-extenders from their defense. In total, they had a whopping 10 penalties for 82 yards, including four that created Bengals first downs. To couple with that, the fumble from Rhamondre Stevenson turned an almost sure scoring situation into a loss – the Patriots were at the five-yard line and given how they were moving the ball, would have likely scored.

Two shocking missed extra points from Folk added to the comedy of errors by the Patriots and kept the Patriots from being able to kick a field goal at the end. Both somewhat rooted in the otherwise reliable Stevenson, the Patriots have found two bizarre ways to blow each of the last two games, and with those two plays taken away, the Patriots could have been in extremely good position for the playoffs, rather than at the brink of elimination.

Both The Offense And Defense Were Resilient, But Put Themselves In Too Much Of A Hole To Begin With

There’s no doubt that the Patriots put themselves in an admirable position given a 22-0 deficit, and that the offense and defense both stepped up in major ways to make it happen. Offensively, Kendrick Bourne got going in a big way in the second half, and Mac Jones made some huge throws down the stretch, and turned a horrible first half into an admirable statline of 21/33, 240 yards, and two touchdowns, and the Patriots delivered on six straight third downs.

The defense, after allowing the Bengals offense to walk all over them when they allowed a quick 15 points in just over a quarter. However, they buckled down. Josh Uche and Matthew Judon each got a sack, and the Patriots created three turnovers, including an interception touchdown by Marcus Jones. The Bengals were barely able to get anything going in the second half (just six first downs) and didn’t score a single point.

However, it’s the first half struggles of these units that made this game so complicated in the first place. Defensively, to be fair, they were up against a high-powered Bengals attack, but surrendered 22 first-half points, as well as a total of 442 yards, 369 from the air. The multidimensional attack and the depth of weapons that the Bengals possess, with Chase, Higgins, Irwin and Mixon leading their well-rounded attack and a more-than-competent QB in Burrow, hurt the Patriots, as well-rounded attacks like the Bills and Vikings did in the past.

Offensively, in the first half, the Patriots continued a lot of what has plagued them all season. Offensive line troubles got Mac Jones sacked four times and hit seven times. The Patriots were not only shut out in the first half, but also had a mere 34 passing yards, three first downs, and couldn’t convert a single third down (0-7).

The combined struggles of the offense and defense early led to complete game control by the Bengals, and in the first half, Cincinnati had more first downs (22) than the Patriots had plays (17), and dominated the time of possession battle, having over 70% of the possession. While resilience is admirable and the Patriots shockingly put themselves in position to win late against an elite Bengals team, the Patriots put themselves in a hole to begin with that they shouldn’t have.

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