CIN-NE grades: Another dominant day for Brady, Gronkowksi
New England Patriots 35, Cincinnati Bengals 17
Here are the top-graded players and biggest takeaways from the Patriots’ 35-17 win over the Bengals.
Quarterback grade: Andy Dalton, 84.1
Dalton continues his solid 2016 season
Bengals QB Andy Dalton is quietly having a strong season, and currently ranks sixth among all NFL quarterbacks in overall grade for the 2016 season. Dalton was at his best with a clean pocket against the Patriots, completing 16 of 21 passes for 168 yards and a touchdown, good for a passer rating of 114.8 when he faced no pressure. He also found success attacking the deep part of the field, finishing three-for-five for 84 yards on passes thrown 20+ yards in the air. Dalton even produced with his legs, adding a rushing touchdown on a speed-option play late in the second quarter.
Top offensive grades:
LT Andrew Whitworth, 84.9
QB Andy Dalton, 84.1
RG Kevin Zeitler, 83.3
WR Tyler Boyd, 76.0
WR A.J. Green, 70.9
Bengals’ rushing offense continues to struggle
Cincinnati’s rushing offense has struggled in 2016, and this game was no exception. The Bengals’ 3.4 average yards per carry this season ranks 28th in the NFL, and 61 percent of their rushing yardage has come after contact. RG Kevin Zeitler was the only starting offensive lineman to earn an above average run-blocking grade against the Patriots. 2015 first-round pick RT Cedric Ogbuehi finished with a 42.9 overall grade, earning negative marks in both run blocking and pass protection before being benched for veteran tackle Eric Winston. Zeitler and LT Andrew Whitworth were bright spots for the Bengals; both were perfect in pass protection, and Whitworth currently leads all NFL tackles in pass-blocking grade.
Top defensive grades:
CB Adam Jones, 73.5
S Shawn Williams, 70.9
DT Geno Atkins, 69.9
LB Rey Maualuga, 67.4
CB Joshua Shaw, 50.0
Cincinnati’s linebackers overmatched in the passing game
The Bengals’ linebackers were no match for New England’s tight ends and running backs in pass coverage, as Tom Brady shredded Cincinnati’s defense through the air. Brady finished 19-for-19 for 262 yards and three touchdowns when targeting Karlos Dansby, Vontaze Burfict, or CB Josh Shaw in coverage. The Bengals rank 29th in team pass-coverage grade this season, and Dansby has been one of the primary causes for that mark. Dansby has earned a positive coverage grade every year since the 2006 season, but does not look like the same player this year, currently ranking 62nd among qualifying NFL linebackers in coverage grade.
Quarterback grade: Tom Brady, 84.5
Brady close to perfect
Tom Brady was able to find open receivers on nearly every pass play in this game. After removing two passes that were clear throwaways, and another attempt where he was hit in the act of throwing, Brady finished 29-for-32 for 376 yards and three touchdowns, good for a passer rating of 146.9. The Bengals defensive line was able to pressure Brady in the first half, but their issues in pass coverage were exposed when the Patriots’ pass protection improved in the second half. Cincinnati sent blitzes at Brady just eight times, producing a sack, but Brady was five-for-seven for 102 yards (14.6 yards per attempt) and a touchdown on the other snaps.
Top offensive grades:
TE Rob Gronkowski, 89.3
QB Tom Brady, 84.5
RG Shaquille Mason, 78.6
LT Nate Solder, 77.7
RT Marcus Cannon, 77.7
Gronkowski dominates for the second straight week
TE Rob Gronkowski was unstoppable as a receiver, catching seven of the eight balls thrown his way for 162 yards (23.1 yards per catch) and his first touchdown of 2016. Gronkowski had receptions of 29+ yards against four different Bengals in coverage, and looks like he is finally healthy after a slow return. He has 12 catches for 271 yards in the past two weeks, and has forced five missed tackles. RB James White was also excellent, catching all eight passes thrown his way for 47 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Top defensive grades:
CB Malcolm Butler, 95.9
LB Dont’a Hightower, 89.9
LB Elandon Roberts, 84.7
DT Malcom Brown, 80.0
DE Rob Ninkovich, 79.8
Butler and Hightower lead the defense
Even though he surrendered a touchdown to former teammate Brandon LaFell, Patriots CB Malcolm Butler finished with the best grade of his career. Butler was targeted seven times, allowing three completions for just 17 yards (2.4 yards per attempt), and broke up three passes. LB Dont’a Hightower recorded two sacks and three hurries on just 10 pass rushes, with one of the sacks causing a safety. Hightower is about as dominant a pass-rusher among off-the-line linebackers as you will find, and currently leads all NFL linebackers in pass-rushing grade for the second season in a row. Rookie LB Elandon Roberts got his first career start in place of the injured Jamie Collins, and more than held his own. Roberts earned positive marks for run defense, pass rushing, and coverage; the sixth-round pick looks like a steal.
PFF Game-Ball Winner: Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski
PFF’s player grading process includes multiple reviews, which may change the grade initially published in order to increase its accuracy. Learn more about how we grade and access grades for every player through each week of the NFL season by subscribing to Player Grades.