Patriots vs. Bengals takeaways: Pats can’t complete comeback, fall 22-18

There was no Christmas miracle for the New England Patriots against the Cincinnati Bengals on Saturday.

The Patriots offense was as cold as the frigid temperature at Gillette Stadium for most of the day as it didn’t score until the fourth quarter. They cut the 22-point deficit to four with a valiant comeback effort, but a late-game gaffe proved costly as the Bengals escaped Foxboro with the 22-18 win.

New England had possession of the ball at Cincinnati’s five-yard line with one minute left on the clock and a chance to take the lead. Unfortunately, a Rhamondre Stevenson fumble sealed the Patriots’ fate and marked their second consecutive week with a costly late-game miscue.

While Mac Jones and the Patriots struggled just to get past midfield through the first three quarters, Joe Burrow and the Bengals put on an offensive clinic. Cincinnati’s star quarterback finished 40-for-52 with 375 yards and three touchdowns. Jones outplayed Burrow in the second half and although his comeback fell short, he finished with a respectable stat line: 21-of-32 for 240 yards and two late TDs.

The loss doesn’t take the Patriots out of playoff contention, but sneaking into the postseason is a long shot with two games remaining on the schedule. Their penultimate game of the campaign will come on New Year’s Day against the Miami Dolphins.

Here are our takeaways from the Christmas Eve defeat.

Too little, too late for the Pats’ inconsistent offense

We knew heading into Saturday’s matchup that Cincinnati’s offense was superior to New England’s, but the difference between the two units was jarring. Especially in the first half.

Burrow set the tone for the day with 11 consecutive completions to start the game. He led an easy touchdown drive on the game’s opening possession and another on the Bengals’ second drive to jump out to an early 12-0 lead.

Meanwhile, Jones and the Patriots couldn’t get anything going. And all. They notched only 10 yards in the first quarter and were unable to get a first down.

By the end of the first half, Burrow had more completions (28) than Jones had passing yards (23). Burrow ended the half with 284 yards and three TDs while Jones had just 34 yards and no TDs. The Bengals had 22 first downs to the Patriots’ three.

There were some signs of improvement from New England in the second half, but not enough to inspire much optimism heading into Week 17.

Jones finally took some shots downfield, including an accurate deep ball to Tyquan Thornton. The rookie wide receiver dropped the ball in yet another frustrating moment for a Pats offense that didn’t cross midfield until the end of the third quarter.

The Patriots quarterback showed poise and when push came to shove, he gave his team a chance to win. Of course, he wouldn’t have had to lead a comeback in the first place had the offense been even remotely competent in the first half.

The offense’s bright spot was a wide receiver we haven’t seen much of this year, for whatever reason…

Kendrick Bourne needs more playing time

Kendrick Bourne was expected to be a focal point of the Patriots offense in 2022 after a strong debut season in New England. That hasn’t been the case since Matt Patricia replaced Josh McDaniels as play-caller.

On Saturday though, Bourne showed the Patriots coaches what they’ve been missing. He was the MVP of the offense with a handful of key plays that gave his team life when all hope appeared to be lost.

Bourne first made his presence felt with a 29-yard carry. The Patriots had just 31 total yards of offense prior to the run. His next play was a 19-yard reception that gave him nearly half of his team’s yardage through three quarters.

From there, Bourne took over. He made multiple clutch catches including the Patriots’ first offensive touchdown of the day.

He finished with six catches for a career-high 100 yards to go along with his 29 yards on the ground. Regardless of what the gripe this Patriots coaching staff might have with Bourne, he needs to be involved more in these final two games.

Marcus Jones spreads some holiday cheer

One of the biggest positives in an otherwise lackluster Patriots season has been rookie swiss army knife Marcus Jones. The third-rounder has been a major contributor in all three phases of the game and that continued on Saturday.

Jones gave the Patriots much-needed momentum by putting them on the board with a pick-six late in the third quarter. He became the fifth player in NFL history with a receiving TD, interception TD, and punt-return TD all in the same season.

Jones also had a fumble recovery with 3:12 remaining in the fourth quarter and added a reception for 15 yards. There have been very few things for Pats fans to cheer about this season, but Jones absolutely is among them.

Mac Jones quiets the Bailey Zappe chants

Patriots fans lost patience with Mac Jones during the dismal first half of Saturday’s loss, and it was warranted. There were loud boos and “We Want Zappe” chants at Gillette Stadium as Jones entered the locker room with only 34 passing yards and zero points on the scoreboard.

On the CBS halftime show, analysts Bill Cowher and Boomer Esiason called for the Patriots to play rookie QB Bailey Zappe over Jones in the second half. Belichick stuck with his second-year QB, and the “We Want Zappe” chants weren’t heard for the rest of the day.

Jones made several impressive throws down the stretch to bring his team within striking distance of a Christmas Eve miracle. He was unable to finish the job, but the effort should put the Zappe talk to rest for at least another week. At this point, it’s probably best for Belichick to just ride out the season with Jones under center and start fresh with a new offensive coordinator (perhaps Bill O’Brien?) in 2023.

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