Pats roll past Bengals, 38-24
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Tom Brady survived a frightening car crash, signed a rich contract and ended his week with what he wants most: a win.
The quarterback who makes headlines on and off the field threw two of his three touchdown passes to Wes Welker, who returned after a speedy recovery from a serious knee injury, and led the New England Patriots to a 38-24 opening win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
“I’m glad it’s over,” Brady said, “but it was a good week.”
It was pretty special for Welker, too. He caught eight passes for 64 yards less than nine months after tearing a knee ligament in the final game last season and less than eight months after surgery. Many doubted he’d be back for the opener, but he and Brady were confident.
“I had pretty much instilled it in my mind that I would be back,” Welker said. “I still have a ways to go. … I have this stupid knee brace I hate. I can’t wait to burn it..”
He had the most impact of any receiver, surpassing the Bengals’ new much-hyped tandem of Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens, who combined for 19 receptions for 212 yards and a touchdown.
On Sunday, the Patriots’ dominance was complete as they also scored on defense with Gary Guyton’s 59-yard interception return and on special teams on Brandon Tate’s 97-yard runback of the second-half kickoff.
“Obviously, you allow a kickoff return for a touchdown and an interception return for a touchdown, that’s hard to overcome,” Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis said. “It’s hard to see through the muck, but there were some positives.”
Not many for his defense, though.
“We weren’t ourselves today,” Bengals cornerback Leon Hall said. “Today was really unacceptable.”
Welker led the NFL with 346 receptions the past three years, the last coming on Jan. 3 in the regular-season finale at Houston. He hurt his knee on the play and missed New England’s 33-14 first-round playoff loss to Baltimore.
The Ravens led that game 24-0 in Gillette Stadium. On Sunday in the same stadium, the Patriots led the Bengals by the same score.
New England quickly boosted a 24-3 halftime lead to 31-3 on Tate’s touchdown.
Cincinnati cut that to 31-17 on Carson Palmer’s scoring passes of 1 yard to rookie tight end Jermaine Gresham midway through the third quarter and 28 yards to Ochocinco with 22 seconds remaining in the period.
Then, Brady regained control by leading a 14-play, 81-yard march that was capped by a 1-yard scoring pass to Rob Gronkowski, another rookie tight end. It was his first pro touchdown and, before lining up to block for the extra point, he handed the ball to Brady for safekeeping on the sideline.
Brady completed 25 of 35 passes for 258 yards. Palmer, forced to throw because of the big deficit, finished 34 for 50 for 345 yards and two touchdowns. Ochocinco had 12 catches for 159 yards, and Owens added seven receptions for 53 yards.
“Apologies to Cincy fans,” Owens tweeted, “tough loss today, only week 1, we’ve a long season ahead, all of you be blessed, 1 luv.”
Cedric Benson scored on a 1-yard run for Cincinnati with 3:57 left in the game.
While the Patriots’ offense was expected to be strong, the young defense was suspect but was very stingy in the first half. The Bengals’ first five possessions ended with three punts, a lost fumble and Guyton’s touchdown that made it 24-0 with 5:38 left in the half.
On their first offensive play, Palmer threw about 35 yards down the left sideline toward Owens. Rookie cornerback Devin McCourty, a first-round draft pick, stayed with him step for step and broke up the play.
“Devin is a real mature kid,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “He’s still got a lot to learn, but he’s done a good job for us.”
On the Patriots’ first offensive play, Welker caught a 5-yard pass over the middle. He ended that drive with a 9-yard touchdown. Stephen Gostkowski’s 32-yard field goal made it 10-0, and Welker struck again with a 4-yard scoring catch about 6 minutes into the second quarter.
“I feel like it was just another game,” Welker said. “You go out there preparing and, you know, ’This is the big comeback or whatever,’ but for me it was just going out there and playing and be out there with my teammates and trying to contribute to a win.”
Notes: Welker has at least six catches in 27 of his last 31 games. … Brady is 8-1 in season openers. … Owens became the third receiver in NFL history with 15,000 yards receiving. His seven catches for 53 yards gave him 1,013 receptions for 15,004 yards.