FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Tom Brady had a smooth regular-season home debut.
Playing his first game in Foxborough since the end of his “Deflategate” suspension, Brady had three touchdown passes and went over 5,000 completions for his career , and the Patriots beat the Cincinnati Bengals 35-17 on Sunday.
Brady finished 29 for 35 for 376 yards. Tight end Rob Gronkowski had seven receptions for a career-high 162 yards and a touchdown.
“I think I know how to get to that place where I need to be,” Brady said. “You only have so much energy, and at some point you gotta cut it loose when the moment’s right.”
Cincinnati dropped to 2-4 for the first time since 2010, when it finished 4-12 — its worst season under coach Marvin Lewis.
The Bengals had their moments offensively, scoring on a 2-yard touchdown run by Andy Dalton and 5-yard pass from Dalton to Brandon LaFell. Dalton finished 21 of 31 for 254 yards.
But New England (5-1) bounced back from some sluggish drives early with several big plays in the third quarter.
The Bengals scored on their first drive after halftime to briefly take a 14-10 lead. The Patriots swiftly responded with a safety and a pair of touchdown passes by Brady —first to Gronkowski, then to James White — to put the Patriots back in front.
Cincinnati has lost in its past six trips to New England. It hasn’t won in Foxborough since 1986.
QUOTABLE: Bengals coach Marvin Lewis on his team’s recent struggles: “It’s disappointing. We’re doing a lot of things right, and doing things good, and correct. But we’re not finishing things. We continue to be our own Achilles heel, way too often. Whether it’s a penalty on defense, which sets us back, or a key third down conversion. It turns out to be the key to the football game.”
TE Martellus Bennett on a late-game shoving match between several players on both sides following LeGarrette Blount’s 1-yard touchdown run: “That’s just what it is. We don’t back down. We’re not looking for trouble, but we don’t walk away from trouble either.”
MISSED OPPORTUNITY: The Bengals had a chance to score in the first half, but couldn’t convert on three straight plays from the 1-yard line.
New England led 3-0 early in the second quarter when Dalton hit Giovani Bernard for 32 yards to the 6-yard line. Bernard ran for 5 more on first down to put it inside the 1. On second down, though, Bernard was stopped for no gain. Dalton’s pass to A.J. Green in the left corner of the end zone on third down was well covered by Malcolm Butler, setting up a fourth-and-goal from a foot.
Bernard took the handoff and drove into the line, but the Patriots pushed him back and took over on downs.
The Bengals forced the Patriots to punt and then brought it back to the goal line on their next possession before Dalton ran it in himself from the 2 to make it 7-3.
TWO-MINUTE DRILL: Brady was efficient in the Patriots’ final drive of the first half. After throwing an incompletion and taking an 8-yard sack to begin the drive, he ended it with five straight completions, including a 39-yard pass to Chris Hogan to set up the 15-yard touchdown pass to White. The drive took just 2:09 off the clock.
GOING DEEP: Including the 39-yard reception in the second quarter, Hogan has five catches of at least 20 yards on the season. That is more than any other Patriots receiver.
SAFETIES SQUARED: Patriots LB Dont’a Hightower delivered his second safety in two weeks. He dragged down Dalton in the end zone in the third quarter to cut Cincinnati’s lead to 14-12. Hightower also forced a safety against Cleveland last week when he pressured Browns quarterback Cody Kessler into a backward pass that went out of the end zone.
GRONK GETS ON THE BOARD: After going three games this season without reaching the end zone, Gronkowski got his first touchdown reception of the season in the third quarter. Gronk got free over the middle and hauled in a 4-yard catch that put the Patriots up 19-14 after Stephen Gostkowski’s extra point. It was the first time that Brady and Gronk have connected for a TD this season. Gronk celebrated with his usual spike of the football.
INJURIES: Patriots LB Elandon Roberts left early in the second quarter with a head injury. Cincinnati center Russell Bodine limped off with a right leg injury in the third quarter. Patriots defensive lineman Woodrow Hamilton left the game in the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury.
UP NEXT: Cincinnati: Bengals host Browns on Sunday.
New England: Patriots travel to Steelers on Sunday.
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