CINCINNATI — It was the great football philosopher William Belichick who once proclaimed that stats were for losers.
As he often is, Belichick was proven correct. One statistic in particular added up to a loss for the Patriots on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals. Tom Brady’s streak of games with a touchdown pass, which dated to the 2010 season opener, was snapped at 52.
Death, taxes, and TB12 touchdown passes were all certainties, until Sunday.
The Bengals kept Brady out of the end zone at Paul Brown Stadium and put the Patriots (4-1) in the loss column for the first time this season, dealing New England a 13-6 defeat.
You can debate the meaning — and merit — of a streak like consecutive games with a touchdown pass, especially in today’s pass-a-palooza NFL, where fantasy football is the reality. But there is no misinterpreting the end of Brady’s TD pass streak, two games shy of tying Drew Brees’s NFL record. It represented a setback for the Patriots’ work-in-progress offense and the plan of moving on without Wes Welker.
This was unsightly offensive football with a few ignominious “first time since” footnotes attached for emphasis.
The Patriots finished with more punts (eight) than points in 12 possessions. They were 1 for 12 on third down, and barred from the end zone for the first time since a 16-9 loss to the New York Jets back in the second game of the 2009 season.
It was the first time since the ’09 season finale in Houston — a game played Jan. 3, 2010 — that Brady failed to throw a touchdown pass. That was the game in which former Patriots wide receiver Welker tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee, as the Patriots’ personal gridiron grim reaper, Bernard Pollard, closed in for a tackle.
“I’m bummed we lost. I think that’s all that really matters,” said Brady of the streak.
This game threw the Patriots’ passing game into reverse after it appeared to have taken a major step forward the previous Sunday in Atlanta, producing 30 points and two 100-yard receivers.
Rob Gronkowski can’t come back fast enough to restore the natural offensive order in Foxborough. Perhaps, he can get a permission slip from Papa Gronk for next week.
We knew there were going to be bumps in the road for Brady and the offense without Gronkowski and Welker, who, by the way, has as many receiving touchdowns for Denver as the Patriots team (seven). But Sunday represented a sinkhole.
“You can’t expect to kick two field goals and win many games in the NFL,” said Brady, who finished 18 of 38 for 197 yards and an interception and was sacked four times.
“We can do a better job than that, and we are going to have to if we want to win these games. We had too many silly execution errors and mental mistakes today. It is hard to drive the ball down the field if you keep making those mistakes.”
Truthfully, the Bengals weren’t much better. The game was a stalemate worthy of Republicans and Democrats. Both teams had more punts than points in a 3-3 first half.
The Patriots punted five times in seven first-half possessions and LeGarrette Blount fumbled at the Cincinnati 25 to kill a drive. The Bengals punted four times in seven possessions. Quarterback Andy Dalton threw an interception to Brandon Spikes at the Patriots’ 5 on the final play of the first quarter that was the equivalent of quarterback malpractice.
Cincinnati pitched a shutout until the Patriots’ final possession of the half, when Stephen Gostkowski hit a tying 42-yard field goal with eight seconds left.
Welker replacements Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman both came agonizingly close to extending Brady’s streak, after Cincinnati took a 13-3 lead on 1-yard touchdown by former Patriot BenJarvus Green-Ellis on fourth and goal.
One play after hitting rookie Aaron Dobson for a 56-yard gain that left the ball on the Cincinnati 17, Brady hit Amendola with a 16-yard pass.
Amendola, back after missing three games with a groin injury, went to the ground to make the grab. Untouched, he tried to do a reverse Army crawl to reach the end zone. He got his body across the goal line, but not the ball, setting up first and goal at the 1.
“I knew I was close. I just thought I was going to roll in there,” said Amendola. “I’ll have to see it on film. I don’t even know what it looks like. Sometimes that’s just the way it goes, man.”
In a clear sign of how much the Patriots miss Gronk, Brady tried to lob the ball to left tackle Nate Solder, a former college tight end, on second and goal. On third and goal, Brady threw a fade to the 5-foot-10-inch Edelman, who almost made a spectacular snag over Adam Jones, but the ball popped loose as he took it to the ground.
“It was a bang-bang play,” said Edelman. “I don’t know if he got a hand on it. I should have come down with it.”
He didn’t. The Patriots had to settle for a 19-yard field goal.
The Patriots — and Brady — got one last chance, getting the ball back at their 35 with 1:48 left in a steady rain that turned into a momentary monsoon, before letting up.
Cincinnati did all it could to save Brady’s streak with a pair of penalties that helped the Patriots get to the Bengals’ 27 with 26 seconds left. But Brady’s last pass was intercepted by a falling Jones.
Streak over. Game over.
If Brady had thrown a touchdown pass against the Bengals, he could have tied Brees’s record next week in Foxborough against the Saints.
Instead, he and the Patriots were thrown for a loss.