Between the Patriots’ awful start and the terrible ending, Marcus Jones and Kendrick Bourne shined

The Patriots were terrible early, and made a mistake at the worst possible moment late.

John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
Marcus Jones stood out in many ways Saturday, including this 69-yard interception return for a touchdown.

Welcome to the Unconventional Review, an instant reaction to standouts, stats, and story lines from the Patriots’ most recent game . . .

And in the latest episode of “How Many Bizarre Ways Can The Patriots Lose?” a stirring, practically unbelievable comeback from a 22-0 first-half deficit falls short because of Rhamondre Stevenson’s final-minute fumble on the 5-yard line, and the Patriots fall below .500 with a 22-18 loss to a Bengals team that has talent to envy.

This one wasn’t as much of a kick in the shin as last week’s loss to the Raiders on an ill-advised — well, you know — but it’s frustrating nonetheless. The Patriots showed resilience — perhaps unexpectedly given their sluggishness early in the game — and that counts for something, but they just can’t get out of their own way when the outcome is at stake.


One thing that has to happen over the final two games: They must have better starts. It was embarrassing how overmatched they were in the first half Saturday. The big suspense for a while was whether Joe Burrow, who went 9 for 9 for 121 yards and two touchdowns in the first 9:41, got around to throwing an incompletion before Patriots quarterback Mac Jones would complete a pass.

After the first quarter, the Bengals had 189 total yards to the Patriots’ 10.

While the Patriots fought hard to rally from that deficit, it was too big to overcome. The Patriots were terrible early, and made a mistake at the worst possible moment late. It’s who they are, and it doesn’t make for much of a show.

Some further thoughts, upon immediate review . . .


Players suggested in the Unconventional Preview: Ja’Marr Chase, Josh Uche, Stevenson.

Marcus Jones: The rookie cornerback/return man/occasional receiver is the Patriots’ most exciting player, and with workhorse Stevenson possibly held together with athletic tape at this point and speedster Tyquan Thornton still acclimating to the nuances of the NFL, it’s not particularly close. Jones, the rookie fourth-round pick out of Houston, made what seems like his weekly explosive play to get the Patriots on the scoreboard with just under four minutes remaining in the third quarter. This particular explosive play came courtesy of Burrow, who threw the ball right to Jones, his intended receiver apparently at a different locale. Jones accepted the gift and bolted 69 yards down the left sideline for the score. Jones also contributed a 15-yard catch-and-run in the fourth quarter and led the Patriots with 14 tackles. He did make one somewhat damaging mistake, fumbling a punt out of bounds, which resulted in the Patriots having to begin their final possession at their 24 with 41 seconds left. Had he not muffed it, there was daylight.


Kendrick Bourne: I know, he’s had many moments of unreliability this season that we’ve seen, and probably a few more that we haven’t given that he has had a long-term lease in Matt Patricia’s doghouse. But he is one of the best playmakers on an offense that needs all the help it can get, he has chemistry with Mac Jones, and his performance Saturday was further confirmation that Patricia should have figured out a way to get past their differences much, much sooner. Bourne made one big play in the first half, a 29-yard run around left end late in the second quarter. He came alive as a receiver in the second, making a couple of exceptional catches, including a toe-tapping 28-yard catch along the sideline with 7:09 remaining in the game that was initially ruled an incomplete pass before replay revealed just how marvelous it was. Bourne caught the touchdown pass earlier in the fourth that cut the margin to 22-12, and he finished with six grabs for 100 yards and the score. Play him, Patricia.

Trenton Irwin: Star receivers Chase and Tee Higgins weren’t exactly neutralized Saturday, combining for 16 catches (eight apiece) for 207 yards and a touchdown. But it was Irwin, a reserve receiver who entered with 11 catches for 174 yards and two touchdowns this season, who made the Patriots pay as much as anyone. Irwin made three catches for 45 yards, but two of the catches went for touchdowns — a 23-yarder in the first quarter and a 4-yarder just before halftime that vaulted the Bengals to that 22-0 lead. He could have had a third TD, but dropped a Burrow dime in the end zone that would have gone for a 25-yard score in the fourth quarter.



It has to be Stevenson’s fumble, because it snuffed out the chance of completing a practically unfathomable comeback. First and goal from the 5, Patriots down 4, 55 seconds remaining . . . and he gets the ball stripped. He’s a wonderful player, but for the second straight week, he was involved in the worst-case late-game scenario coming true.


Predicted final score: Bengals 37, Patriots 15

Final score: Bengals 22, Patriots 18

Jakobi Meyers, last seen hitting a wide-open Chandler Jones for the winning touchdown last week, handled what will forever be known as the Las Vegas lateral with grace and accountability. So maybe what happened with 6:02 remaining in the fourth quarter is karmic payback. Meyers caught a deflection from Scotty Washington — a de facto Hail Mary given that the Patriots were facing a third and 29 and Mac Jones chucked it up for grabs – for a 48-yard touchdown, cutting the score to 22-18 . . . Ja’Whaun Bentley deserves more credit than he receives for becoming a complete linebacker. In the first half, he was excellent when many of teammates were not, making nine of his 11 tackles before halftime. He also broke up a third-and-10 pass on the first play of the second quarter intended for Joe Mixon in the end zone, forcing the Bengals to settle for a field goal . . . The obligatory shot, inevitably shown early in the second quarter of just about every NFL broadcast, of a team’s owners staying toasty warm up in their box usually elicits an eye roll here. But seeing Jerry Edmond — the fan who went viral for keeping his poise while a Raiders fan screeched in his face in the stands during last week’s game – sitting alongside Robert Kraft Saturday was cool to see.



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