Joe Burrow wanted to be happier after the Cincinnati Bengals walked off the field toting a 22-18 win over the New England Patriots on Saturday.
Burrow threw three touchdown passes and the Bengals offense had nearly 500 yards. But it took the defense forcing a late turnover in the red zone to preserve the victory.
He also knows that won’t be enough for his team to ultimately accomplish its goal this season.
“We got to do a better job on offense of putting teams away,” Burrow said. “Teams that want to win the Super Bowl put them away a little earlier.”
The Bengals (11-4) won their seventh straight and remained in the driver’s seat for a second consecutive AFC North title. They clinched a playoff berth by virtue of the New York Jets’ loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday, and still have a chance at the conference’s top seed and a first-round playoff bye.
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Despite leading 22-0 at halftime, the Bengals still let this one come down to the wire.
The Patriots had the ball on the Cincinnati 5 with just over a minute to play when Rhamondre Stevenson was hit by Vonn Bell and fumbled, leading to Josh Tupou’s recovery. The Bengals punted it back four plays later, but the Patriots turned the ball over on downs.
“I was trying to make something happen,” Stevenson said. “Probably doing more than I was supposed to do. Probably should have just went down but ultimately, he took the ball from me and I fumbled.”
Stevenson was stopped at the line of scrimmage and pushed backward before fumbling. Referee Craig Wrolstad was asked after the game by a pool reporter if there was consideration to blowing the play dead before the ball came out.
“In order to have forward progress, the runner has to be controlled by the defense,” Wrolstad said. “He has to be held and controlled, and basically have his feet taken away. We felt that he still had his feet. So, we did not feel that he was held and controlled by the defense. He was still free to gain yardage and then also, obviously, there was still a chance that he could fumble.”
Burrow finished 40 of 52 for 375 yards and two interceptions. Trenton Irwin had two touchdown catches. Tee Higgins had eight catches for 128 yards and a TD.
The Patriots (7-8) entered the week one game outside of the final AFC playoff spot. They have lost four of five.
Mac Jones finished 21 of 33 for 240 yards and two touchdowns. New England had 10 penalties for 82 yards and managed just 285 total yards. Nick Folk also missed two extra points on a day when the game-time temperature was 17 degrees and a wind chill of 4.
Cincinnati led 22-18 and was facing third down with less than four minutes to play when Ja’Marr Chase caught a short pass from Burrow and was stripped by Matt Judon. The ball was recovered by Marcus Jones on the New England 43.
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A defensive holding penalty on the Bengals and 15-yard completion from Mac Jones to Marcus Jones put the ball on the Cincinnati 31.
The frigid temperature did little to slow down the Bengals offense early, which scored on each of its first three possessions.
Cincinnati dominated the first half, compiling more first downs (22) in the opening 30 minutes than the Patriots had plays (17). New England managed just three first downs, 70 total yards and amassed 44 penalty yards.
Things changed in the second half. First an errant pass by Burrow was intercepted by Marcus Jones and returned 69 yards for a touchdown.
The Patriots offense, which was showered with boos at different points in the game, then pulled within 22-12 early in the fourth on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Mac Jones to Kendrick Bourne.
The Bengals appeared to be on the verge of responding, but kicker Evan McPherson’s field goal attempt missed wide left from 43 yards out.
The Patriots were threatening again at the Cincinnati 30 when Jones was called for intentional grounding, setting up a third-and-24. It was moved back another 5 yards following a false start.
Facing third-and-29, Jones avoided the Bengals pass rush and got off a pass that was deflected at the goal line and fell into the hands of Jakobi Meyers for a 48-yard TD. Folk’s extra point was no good, leaving the score 22-18.
Cincinnati won at New England for the first time since 1986.
“We’re going to be happy with the win because they are so hard to come by, and seven in a row, our guys have that confidence that we’re playing good football,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said.
Bengals: OT La’el Collins limped off in the first quarter with a left knee injury and was ruled out.
Patriots: ST Brendan Schooler left in the first quarter with a shoulder injury but was able to return. … TE Hunter Henry left in the first quarter with a knee injury and did not return. … TE Jonnu Smith was checked out early in the fourth quarter for a head injury. … Judon walked of on his own power after being shaken up on a play in the fourth and was able to return.
Marcus Jones’ Pick-6 marked the sixth defensive TD of season for New England, tying a franchise record. It was also the Patriots’ third straight game with a defensive score, which they haven’t done since 2004.
Bengals: Host Bills in Monday night matchup on Jan. 2
Patriots: Host Dolphins on New Year’s Day.