QB Tom Brady: Easy pick? Sure he is. But he’s the correct one, also. Brady was masterful, completing 25-of-35 passes for 258 yards, three touchdowns and no picks. He was at his best on the 14-play fourth-quarter drive that blunted all the momentum Cincy built up in the third quarter, going 7-for-7 and converting three third downs, the final one for a touchdown. Brady looked like he was worth every penny today.
S Patrick Chung: The defense was first up, then down, but one thing that seemed to come across consistently was how much this second-year player has improved. Chung finished the game with 16 tackles, was outstanding taking down ballcarriers in the open field, and looked like he was simply operating at a different speed than he has in the past. With Brandon Meriweather relegated to sub packages, and James Sanders playing in the base, Chung was the only every-down safety for New England. He showed pretty clearly why.
NT Vince Wilfork: After Chung and Brady, there are a handful of offensive players who could jump in this spot, but Wilfork did more to alter the game than any of them. Cincinnati stayed away from the middle in the running game, content to try and hit the perimeter rather than go at Wilfork. That was a big factor in New England holding the Bengals to 3.5 yards per carry. He also showed some push in the nickel, particularly on the sack split by Tully Banta-Cain and Myron Pryor on the first third down of the game.
CB Darius Butler: After their Twitter war this week, Chad Ochocinco got the better of Butler. Not all of his 12 catches and 159 yards were on the Patriots second-year corner, but enough were, including Ochocinco’s 28-yard touchdown to make it a game again in the third quarter. Butler did come close to a pick down the sideline, on a throw to Jermaine Gresham, but that was his problem last year — Being close but not quite close enough. It’ll be interesting to see if he can close that gap going forward.
K Stephen Gostkowski: Not one of the better efforts of the Patriot kicker’s five-year career, Gostkowski missed field goals of 47 and 56 yards in the first half. Terrible misses? No, those are long tries. But I think if given the outlay of those two attempts, the team would probably expect he’d hit at least one of them.
C Dan Koppen: The Patriots center struggled some at the point of attack, though he was the leader for an offensive line that did a stellar job keeping Brady clean. He also drew a costly third-down holding penalty to negate a conversion and force a punt in third quarter, allowing the Bengals to build some momentum and get back in the game.