Bengals take on Patriots in Brady's season debut at home
CINCINNATI – Brandon LaFell won't have much insider intel to give his Cincinnati Bengals coaches and teammates before Sunday's game at Gillette Stadium.
LaFell, a former New England Patriots wideout, played just two seasons with the four-time Super Bowl champions. Besides, he knows head coach Bill Belichick is much too smart for that. He also knows the Patriots will be primed and ready for quarterback Tom Brady's home debut coming off suspension.
“If you think it was tough in Dallas, it's going to be even tougher up (there) in New England,” LaFell said.
Yes, things were tough in Dallas, where the Cowboys ran roughshod over Cincinnati on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Two fourth-quarter touchdown catches by LaFell made the 28-14 final score respectable but did little to mask the Cowboys' dominance. The Bengals were dominated on both sides of the line of scrimmage as Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 134 yards.
LaFell knows a little something about how to respond to tough defeats. And the Bengals can attest to it. In 2014, New England was coming off bad losses to the Dolphins and Chiefs, sparking a nationwide narrative that the Patriots' dynasty was dead.
Behind a dominant performance by Brady, the Patriots flipped the script by routing the Bengals 43-17 at Gillette, setting the stage for another Super Bowl title.
“He doesn't lose in that stadium hardly ever,” LaFell said. “It's going to be hard. But every phase of the game has to play hard. We have to start fast. Everybody has to do their job and hold each other accountable.”
LaFell, who missed most of the preseason with a hand injury, appears to be getting comfortable in his new offense.
Through five games, LaFell has 21 catches for 276 yards and two touchdowns, which puts him on pace to have the finest season since 2011 by any Bengals receiver not named A.J. Green.
LaFell was signed as a free agent this past offseason to provide veteran cover for Green after the departures of Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu, who were also free agents.
The Bengals don't expect LaFell to return to his 2014 form, when he had 74 catches for 953 yards and seven touchdowns for New England. But coming off an injury-riddled 2015 campaign, LaFell is getting more comfortable each week with quarterback Andy Dalton and first-year coordinator Ken Zampese.
“Things have been good with Brandon since he's been here,” Dalton said. “Very confident in what he's able to do. He's a guy you can trust to make plays for you.”
LaFell will need to make a few plays on Sunday against his former teammates.
Cincinnati (2-3) hasn't won at New England since 1986. The Patriots have won nine of 11 meetings at home.
Winning at Gillette Stadium would be a monumental task. But after the loss at Dallas, the Bengals need to respond. Falling to 2-4 would put Cincinnati in dire straits, especially in terms of contending in the AFC North and reaching the postseason for a sixth consecutive season.
“We've got to find a way to win games,” LaFell said. “Even if it's a different way every week.”