A sorry exhibition

Patriots’ loss is forgettable

By Christopher L. Gasper
Globe Staff / August 21, 2009

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FOXBOROUGH - History was the order of the night at Patriot Place, as before the game Patriots founder and former owner Billy Sullivan and running back Jim Nance were posthumously inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame in a memorable ceremony. Last night’s preseason home opener against the Cincinnati Bengals, however, was not worthy of remembrance or commemoration in any way.

The best thing you could say about the Patriots’ listless 7-6 loss is that it is history.

“We have a long way to go. We have a lot of work to do,’’ said irritated coach Bill Belichick, who called his team “sloppy in every area of the game.’’

“We have a long week for Washington and we’ll take advantage of that time and try to get a few things straightened out so we can perform a little better in game conditions. So, that’s it.’’

The excitement of Tom Brady’s return to NFL action last week in Philadelphia gave way to the typical drudgery of preseason football. Playing in front of the home fans for the first time since his injury last Sept. 7 at Gillette Stadium, Brady quarterbacked the team’s first two possessions before he was replaced by Kevin O’Connell with 14:48 left in the second quarter.

Brady was 4 of 8 for 57 yards and led the Patriots to points - a 32-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski - on their first drive, which featured a four-wide receiver, no-huddle attack. The 10-play, 57-yard drive stalled at the Cincinnati 14 after back-to-back incompletions, including one into the end zone for Wes Welker.

Neither of the two backup quarterbacks did much to distinguish themselves. Second-year signal-caller O’Connell quarterbacked four first-half series and the final series of the game and led the Patriots to a field goal just before the half.

Undrafted rookie Brian Hoyer (11 of 19 for 112 yards), who played almost the entire second half, put no points on the board in his first NFL action, which consisted of four possessions.

That wasn’t totally his fault, though. Trailing, 7-6, Hoyer led a nice drive in the fourth quarter that started at his 5, driving the Patriots to the Cincinnati 12, but running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis fumbled on third and 10 and it was recovered by Bengals safety Marvin White with 3:43 remaining.

The Patriots reinserted O’Connell (8 of 15 for 84 yards, two rushes for 26 yards) for their final drive, which started at their 18 with 1:48 remaining. He moved the Patriots to their 40 before taking off on a 17-yard scramble on third and 12. But he failed to get out of bounds, ending the game.

“Those are the types of situations as a quarterback you got to love,’’ said O’Connell. “The ball in your hands with a chance to get points or go down and win it. Those are valuable reps for me and I’ll watch the tape and see maybe plays I can do better or maybe plays I did well and just move on and get better.’’

The biggest plus for the Patriots may have been that Brady took some big hits and looked none the worse for wear.

Brady said after the Philadelphia game that he was waiting to get blasted. He got his wish against the Bengals.

On the Patriots first drive, Brady threw the ball away as he was slammed to the turf by Cincinnati linebacker Keith Rivers. On first play of New England’s next drive, Bengals defensive end Robert Geathers blew past right tackle Nick Kaczur and blasted Brady.

“Well, he got hit for sure,’’ said wide receiver Joey Galloway, with a laugh. “I don’t know if that’s what he had in mind, but it’s football and of course you’re always happy when he gets up.’’

The Patriots defensive overwhelmed the Bengals for much of the first half, but New England still found itself trailing, 7-6 at halftime.

The Bengals were without their starting quarterback, Carson Palmer, who sat out with a high ankle sprain. J.T. O’Sullivan got the start and was replaced by Palmer’s younger brother, Jordan, with 9:18 left in the first half, but returned to later in the quarter to put the Bengals on top.

Cincinnati appeared to have taken the lead late in the second quarter on a spectacular one-handed 18-yard touchdown catch by Jerome Simpson, who beat Terrence Wheatley, but the play was negated by offensive pass interference. A disappointed O’Sullivan put his hands on his helmet.

Two plays later O’Sullivan’s disappointment was erased and so was the Patriots’ lead, as Chris Henry victimized Wheatley on a 24-yard touchdown pass from O’Sullivan on fourth and 17.

With placekicker Shayne Graham out with a groin injury, Bengals had flamboyant wide receiver Chad Ochocinco kick the extra point. The redoubtable receiver split the uprights to give the Bengals a 7-3 lead. He also kicked off.

That was about the most entertaining part of the faux football.

“I have been kicking since high school. It was easy. It was like riding a bike,’’ said Ochocinco.

“He was just letting it rip. I was impressed. I’m not going to lie,’’ said Patriots cornerback Shawn Springs.

The Patriots got another field goal before the half as O’Connell, operating out of the shotgun in the hurry-up attack, completed 4 of 5 passes for 55 yards to help move the Patriots from their own 17 to the Bengals’ 23. On fourth and 2, Belichick elected to have Gostkowski attempt and make a 41-yard field with 27 seconds left in the half.

O’Connell clearly wanted to go for it, waiting on the field in vain as Belichick sent out the field goal team.

“The first couple of drives we were just a play away,’’ said O’Connell. “We just couldn’t convert on some of those third downs. We did on the two-minute drive.’’

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