Posted: 11:55 a.m.
FOXBORO, Mass. - Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis had warned his team Thursday night's bout was going to be AFC North-like with the big, physical Patriots. Some numbers can be a bit deceiving and both team's starters began coming out in the second quarter.
But the Bengals had to be pleased holding the Patriots to 108 yards rushing the ball and while the first offensive line could average just 2.9 yards per rush, it appeared it allowed only one of the four first-half sacks after scrambles and blitz assignments.
And there was this: The Bengals beat the NFL's gold standard at home. Even if it is August, that gives people a lift.
Lewis said, "You can't put much stock in it," but he also alluded to a possible playoff matchup, "This is big-time football. We hope we have an opportunity to play the Patriots again here some time later in the season."
Or, as running back Cedric Benson said, "I think it is a motivational builder. It's something to build on. We've still got such a bad taste when you lose. Just getting a win any way you can get it feels somewhat good."
Asked if he was pleased how his new offensive line held up against the Pats' varied fronts, Lewis said he wanted to look at the tape but from "my sideline view I was pretty pleased with our protection and we got knocked back in there a couple of times but overall I think we had a good pocket. I think there was one time J.T. (O'Sullivan) had a difficult time seeing down the field ... but let's look at it."
What the Bengals can look at is they did end up with 173 yards rushing, much of it coming on running back DeDe Dorsey's 45-yard run in the third quarter. O'Sullivan also had time against that first defense to rack up a second straight triple-digit rating by completing 10 of 13 passes for 141 yards that included a 24-yard touchdown pass to Chris Henry.
Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham, the former Bengals offensive lineman, also had a sideline view at Gillette Stadium.
"Is the Patriots (defensive) front better than the Bengals (offensive)? I don't think there's any doubt about that," Lapham said. "They're better than a lot of guys. I don't think there was a jail break (with guys running free). Could it be a lot better? Oh yeah."
But although he had just 28 yards on 10 carries, Benson thought the offense got out of it OK physically. His longest run was 11 yards, and he did get some breathing room as the game went on. After one of his early runs that got gummed up the middle, he recovered his own fumble, his second in as many games.
"I think we did; there were a couple of mistakes," Benson said. "We're our own worst enemy. We hurt ourselves ... you've got to work hard against this team to create some lanes in the run game. But I think we were able to do that. There were some nice lanes.
"I'm sure it would have gotten better as the game went on. (Being physical) is a big part of it in this division. We just hurt ourselves."
There will be a lot of tape watched, but you don't need to watch it to know the defense played well. Their first unit has now gone against Drew Brees and Tom Brady and allowed just a field goal. Brady got the points last night on the first series, a no-huddle that looked to be one of his patented touchdown drives until Bengals cornerback Johnathan Joseph got physical with wide receiver Randy Moss and knocked away a third-and-six pass in one-on-one coverage that forced the Pats to kick a field goal from the 14.
"All three strings did a great job. We stopped the run and that's what it's all about," said defensive tackle Domata Peko. "Forcing them to make passes. I think we did well across the front. We dominated the line of scrimmage."
Peko admitted it was a lift to stop Brady at his own game and in his own building.
"We worked against the one-minute, the no-huddle and the flush formations they had," he said. "We got the adjustments from the coaches and we were able to settle down and we were able to hold them to three. That was big for our defense to hold them to three."
When Brady left the game after New England's second series, it also just so happened that about to make his debut was the Bengals prized second-rounder, backup SAM linebacker Rey Maualuga, one of Cincinnati's huge answers in the physical game. Lewis said that both Maualuga and third-rounder Michael Johnson had an impact on this one.
Maualuga did what he's supposed to do. He had three tackles (one for a loss) and he added a quarterback hit, and on his first NFL snap he wasted no time teaming with safety Corey Lynch to drop running back Fred Taylor for no gain. Then he was off the field for a snap because they went to a passing defense.
"The one thing we know about Rey," Lewis said, "is that it won't be too big for him."
"It seemed like there was just one speed out there and it was football speed," Maualuga said. "What I think about it, (are the) linemen bigger and stronger and they're going to knock me down? But it's just football. You line up, see the ball, get the ball. It didn't wow me. I just lined up and played football."
Maualuga has been around long enough to sense this defense is building something.
"This defense has an opportunity, like what Coach said, we have an opportunity to be as good as we want to be," he said. "There is going to be a defining moment on how good we are going to be this year."
NELSON BIDS: Rookie free agent defensive back Tom Nelson from Illinois State didn't play much in the preseason opener and he has yet to return a punt (he's got a fair catch), but his versatility continues to make him a roster possibility because he can play both safety and cornerback and he came up with a big fourth quarter Thursday.
Signed as a safety, he came up with two huge plays as a cornerback in the nickel package, sacking quarterback Brian Hoyer on a blitz and then securing the game with 3:49 left when his hit on running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis at the Bengals 12 turned into safety Marvin White's fumble recovery.
"They ran a draw and I just saw it early. I shed a block, got my hat on the ball and I was glad my teammates were there to get it," Nelson said. "I was just trying to deliver a blow and the ball went my way."
On his blitz off the edge, Nelson said he was matched up on the tight end, but it looked like he missed the assignment. But one man's ... . It could help Nelson in the long run if the Bengals keep 10 defensive backs and he's the last guy because he can swing to play both.
"I'm trying to play everything I can and just try to take advantage," said Nelson, who says the fact he shares his alma mater with defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer doesn't give him an edge. "He jokes about it, but he hasn't been there since 19-whatever."
LEWIS TAKE: Lewis is a bit irked with how HBO's Hard Knocks portrayed him jumping all over Henry in the New Orleans game. He was upset with Henry for showing his No. 15 to the Saints sideline after he caught a first-down pass over there. It wasn't over his reaction to the touchdown. No one has been able to cover Henry this preseason (two TDs), but Lewis remains cautious because of time he missed last year.
"That was made up by TV. Those comments that you heard on the TV show were about the first-down catch," he said. "He didn't have any drops today. He played pretty well today. He just has to keep going. He's behind the other guys (in time)."