Brady, Patriots look to get offense going vs Bengals

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              New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) warms up during an NFL football practice, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Tom Brady says he is still having fun playing football, even in the midst of one of the most challenging seasons of his career.

“I love it,” he said on Friday, though he balked at saying whether he likes it as much as he used to.

The defending Super Bowl champions head into Sunday’s game against Cincinnati in a prolonged slump, losing two in a row and three of their last five games. Since the start of Week 9, they are 30th in the NFL with an average of 17.6 points per game; only the Bengals and Jaguars are worse.

Brady said the Patriots (10-3), who can clinch a playoff berth with a win Sunday, are making progress.

“Guys are working really hard and that’s been great to see and that’s what we’ve got to keep doing,” he said. “Things just don’t kind of happen magically, so we’re working pretty hard at it.”

It’s not uncommon for the Patriots to have struggles during the regular season. They had a similar slump last year in December but went on to win their sixth Super Bowl since 2001.

“Every year, it’s a little bit different. The challenges are different,” Brady said. “You just can’t rely on, ‘Oh, well. We’ll just do exactly what we used to do,’ or, ‘We’ll do exactly what we did last week.’ You have to kind of reinvent yourself every week. … It’s always a little bit of a challenge, but football season is not supposed to be easy.”

The Patriots lost to the Houston Texans two weeks ago and Kansas City last week, just the ninth time since 2003 that they have lost back-to-back games. They have not lost three straight in that span.

Never in Brady’s career has the offense struggled so much. It is 17th this season in third-down conversion percentage (37.4%) and scoring on 48% of the trips inside the 20-yard line, which ranks 27th in the league.

“We’ve got to maximize our potential, and I don’t know what our potential is,” Brady said. “If we do it well one time, it’s how well can we do it consistently? I think part of it’s just consistently we haven’t done a great job, and I think that when you’re not consistent, it just leads to other issues. Trying to be consistent and dependable is what a great offense is all about, and when you have really great play-making ability, all those things make it very hard to defend.”

New England is one game in front of Buffalo in the AFC East. The Bills come to Gillette Stadium next weekend.