The New England Patriots spent last week being asked repeatedly by everyone and their grandmother how the world would continue after being blown out in Kansas City in front of a Monday night national television audience.
They finally answered those questions on Sunday night at home in Gillette Stadium against the Bengals. They answered them emphatically.
That’s how the world continues.
Now, it’s the Bengals’ turn to hear from everyone and their grandmother. Cincinnati’s media mass isn’t the same size and density of Boston, so maybe there won’t be as many grandmothers around this week, but the questions will still linger until Sunday at 1 p.m. when next kickoff comes against Carolina.
How does the Bengals’ world continue after such a resounding first defeat of the season? After another embarrassing performance in front of a national audience?
"I can’t be fearful; it is not in my control," said head coach Marvin Lewis after the game. "All I can do is control what we can do and we didn’t play well enough to win the game tonight."
The Patriots under head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady have earned the benefit of the doubt following a loss — or at least they deserve that benefit considering all they have accomplished. There is a reason that organization has lost consecutive games just five times since 2003 and never more than two in a row. That reason isn’t luck.
The Bengals haven’t earned that benefit of doubt. The franchise hasn’t won a playoff game since the 1990 season, including five losses under Lewis. Under the lights of prime time scrutiny, like those of a Sunday night game, they’ve faltered. They are now 6-19 under Lewis when they play a game while the rest of league watches, including the playoffs.
Yet that can’t be their focus this week. In the next three weeks they’ve got home games against the Panthers and Baltimore sandwiched around a trip to Indianapolis. All three teams are 3-2 at this point. If the Bengals don’t forget about New England and move on they could find themselves looking at a 3-4 record. They’ve won 10 straight regular season games at home but playing at Paul Brown Stadium isn’t some magic elixir that automatically cures what’s ailing the team.
The Bengals don’t have to look any farther than at the team that just whooped them when it comes to rebounding.
"It’s hard to be oblivious to things," said Brady. "We all have TVs or the Internet or the questions I get and the emails that I get from people who are concerned. I’m always emailing them back like, ‘Nobody died. It’s just a loss.’ I think we’ve always done a great job putting losses behind us quickly and trying to move forward. It doesn’t always go right. In football season you don’t always go undefeated every year."
Brady had been a pedestrian player through the first four weeks of the season. Sunday night he got back to being Tom Brady, completing 23 of 35 passes for 292 yards and two touchdowns. He eclipsed the 50,000-yard passing plateau for his career during the game, something only five other players had ever done before him. Most importantly, he brought an intensity from the opening snap that his teammates matched. The Bengals didn’t.
It was 7-0 after one drive. Then 14-0. Then 20-3 at halftime. There was a moment in the third quarter, following a sequence when the defense forced a punt, Pacman Jones returned that punt into New England territory and quarterback Andy Dalton hitting wide receiver Mohamed Sanu with a touchdown pass that cut the deficit to 10 points, 20-10, when you thought the Bengals were back in the game.
Then the Patriots regained control with a touchdown drive and returning a fumbled kickoff for another score.
"We knew we were going to get their best, especially after the game that they had last week," said Dalton. "We got down early and we tried to come back, but we weren’t able to do enough. At the end of the day, that’s the story of the game."
Yes, the story of this game.
It’s up to the Bengals to make sure it doesn’t turn into the story of their season. The Patriots ran for 220 yards, the most the Bengals have allowed since Baltimore ran for 221 in the 2011 season finale. New England totaled 505 yards of offense, the most the Bengals have allowed since a 51-45 loss at Cleveland on Sept. 16, 2007 when the Browns had 554 yards.
One o’clock on Sunday won’t get here fast enough for the Bengals.