Off to a 2-2 start that has been marred by inconsistent play, the Cincinnati Bengals will get an up-close look at the NFL gold standard for consistency this afternoon when they face the New England Patriots at Paul Brown Stadium.
Despite frequent turnover on the roster and coaching staff, the Patriots have strung together 12 consecutive winning seasons and reached the playoffs in nine of the past 10. And they appear to be a lock to add to those numbers after getting off to a 4-0 start in 2013.
“This is a team we’ve got to play very well against,” Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said. “It’s probably a time which is unique to us, that will fit well to what we need to get done. We need to play better football. We can draw things, and put words on paper and do all those things, but we need to go out and execute and play winning football.”
While many of the pieces have changed from year to year, and even week to week, the two constants in New England’s decade-long run of success have been head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, who at 36 years old is still one of the premier quarterbacks in the league.
“Brady is one of the best, and he’s a competitor,” Bengals cornerback Adam Jones said. “He hates losing. And I’m talking about not games, I’m talking about plays. When you have a guy like that leading the group, it makes all the other guys play a whole lot better. Brady is unbelievable.”
Last year’s three leading receivers have yet to catch a pass from Brady in 2013. Wes Welker is in Denver, Brandon Lloyd is out of the league and Rob Gronkowski has been sidelined with forearm and back injuries, although there is a chance he could make his debut today.
Even without those weapons, Brady has the Patriots unbeaten through four games for the first time in six years.
“I think he might be better now because I think he’s bringing younger guys along,” Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer said. “A lot of that has to do with him. The offense always goes through him. They can pretty much do anything. They can run the football well, they’ve got good play action. He controls a lot of it.”
Whether Zimmer can slow down Brady or Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and the offense can out-gun him, a victory would go a long way toward erasing the disappointment of last week’s loss in Cleveland. It also would keep Cincinnati tied with the Browns for first place and foster some faith that the team is capable of shedding its inconsistent label as it prepares to play four of the next five on the road.
“There is still lots of room for improvement,” Dalton said. “I think we haven’t played to our potential yet. We’ve done some good things and we’ve done some things that have hurt us. The biggest thing is, we’ve got to keep getting better.
“I expect that, especially this week.”
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