CINCINNATI — The Patriots’ last-gasp bid for an overtime-forcing touchdown Sunday against the Bengals, with 26 seconds left, ended with a short, wobbly pass attempt from Tom Brady for Aaron Dobson that was tipped up and then intercepted by Bengals cornerback Adam Jones.
The play sealed a 13-6 win for Cincinnati and handed the Patriots their first loss of the season.
New England’s defense played well, but the offense could not put enough points on the board despite the low-scoring game. Brady completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes for the second time this season, and did not look sharp.
The Bengals’ talented defense sacked Brady four times, and the heretofore effective running offense for New England was also held at bay, with just 75 rushing yards between the team’s two healthy backs, Brandon Bolden and LeGarrette Blount.
The loss also marked the end of Brady’s consecutive-games streak with a touchdown pass at 52, two shy of Drew Brees’s record of 54.
It’s not usually a good sign when your punter is your most valuable player in a game, but that was the situation for the Patriots: rookie Ryan Allen was called upon eight times, and he responded by pinning the Bengals inside their 20 five times, including inside their 10 three times.
Given the at-times up-and-down play of the Bengals offense entering the game and during the game, burying them deep in their territory was a help.
New England won the coin toss for the first time this season, and made the highly unusual move of taking the ball to open the game, something it’s believed they haven’t done since the 2008 season opener.
Yards were hard to come by in the first quarter, as each team got three possessions and the first five ended with punts.
Brady was sacked on third down on New England’s first two possessions, both on play-action calls that took just long enough to develop for the Bengals’ stellar defensive line to break through and take down the quarterback.
The sixth drive, belonging to Cincinnati, finally saw movement past midfield. Bolstered by a 22-yard gain down the seam from Andy Dalton to rookie tight end Tyler Eifert and then a 13-yard run from former Patriot BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the Bengals were in the red zone.
But on second and 7 from the 9, Dalton double-pumped then rolled to his right, forcing a pass to Eifert even though he had other options. Brandon Spikes stepped in front of Eifert, and his interception ended the scoring threat.
It was the first red-zone interception of Dalton’s career, against 37 touchdowns.
The Bengals scored first, on a 39-yard field goal, and New England prevented a first-half shutout with its own field goal in the closing seconds, heading into halftime with a 3-3 tie.
Cincinnati added another field goal in the third quarter, and scored the game’s only touchdown in the fourth, on a 1-yard run by Green-Ellis.
New England got the ball back with 1:48 to play, in need of a touchdown to tie the game.
Starting at their 35-yard line, Brady could not connect with Bolden or Julian Edelman on first and second down, then on third down Bolden gained 6 yards on a screen pass.
The Patriots of course went for it on fourth down, and inexplicably safety Chris Crocker was whistled for offsides, giving New England the first down.
Then Cincinnati’s Wallace Gilberry was whistled for hitting Brady in the helmet on a follow-through on second down in Bengals territory, giving the Patriots another fresh set of downs from the 27.
But on the first snap after that flag, Brady looked to Dobson in the end zone, and the ball was short. Jones tapped it up, and as two teammates converged, he was the one to grasp the ball, getting the interception.Shalise Manza Young can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.