Sunday night's 43-17 New England victory over the Cincinnati Bengals showed that this Patriots team is capable of a complete victory against a quality opponent. We don't know whether they can do it again next week in Buffalo, and whether their offensive line issues have suddenly been solved. We do know that Brady, Bill Belichick and the Patriots enjoyed every minute of this game.
The Patriots pushed around the previously unbeaten Bengals by going back to basics. They called power runs up the gut to great effect, with Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen combining for 206 yards. They protected Brady well and returned to their two tight end offense, with Rob Gronkowski and Tim Wright combining for 185 yards. Brady was barely hit. The Patriots played fast, running 82 plays. And they forced three fumbles, winning the turnover battle.
There was undeniably an extra edge to the entire Patriots team after last week's meltdown in Kansas City. They took the opening drive for a touchdown, with Brady rushing three times and actually throwing the ball down the field. Gronkowski got in the faces of defenders all night and looked more explosive than he'd been all season. The team celebrated on the sidelines like it was a playoff game, like they had a point to prove.
The Bengals, who dominated so completely in their first three games, didn't know what hit them. Andy Dalton couldn't keep passes outside the numbers inside the field. Their pass rush was undone by New England's protection schemes and run action all night. But football is often a game of emotions, and the Patriots wanted this desperately. And they knew how to take it.
It's not a surprise that the Patriots beat another AFC team at home -- Tom Brady has done it 40 straight times. It's not a surprise they responded to an embarrassing defeat with their best performance -- they've done it countless times. The real story of this 2014 New England team doesn't truly start to be written until November. Belichick spends the first few months of the year figuring out what his team has, and what they don't have. And they consistently peak late in the year.
Sunday night's game proved this Patriots squad are capable of an explosive offensive performance. It gave Belichick some proof of what his team can do well and was probably among his most satisfying regular-season games. But it's only one performance, and it happened in early October. Belichick knows more than anyone that last week means nothing in the NFL. On to Buffalo.