CINCINNATI (AP)Joe Burrow succinctly summarized the wild inconsistency displayed by the Bengals offense on Saturday.

”First half was about as good as it gets,” the Cincinnati quarterback said. ”And then after that, we kind of shot ourselves in the foot over and over and over again.”

Burrow couldn’t seem to miss in the opening half against the New England Patriots, throwing for 284 yards and three touchdowns in running up a 22-0 halftime lead.

Just as the Bengals radio broadcasters wondered out loud whether Burrow might get a rest in the back end of a sure blowout, things started to go awry. Burrow threw an interception in the red zone. Then a miscommunication with Ja’Marr Chase led to a 69-yard pick-6 to Marcus Jones. Chase lost a fumble. The Patriots pulled within four points on a third-and-29 desperation heave by Mac Jones that was tipped to Jakobi Meyers for a touchdown.

It took safety Vonn Bell forcing a Rhamondre Stevenson fumble inside the Bengals 10 with less than a minute left to secure the 22-18 win, the seventh straight for Cincinnati.

”We are playing championship football and adversity happens during the games,” Bell said. ”Great teams always find a way to win, especially in unkind conditions, like it’s cold, it’s an away game, momentum shifts, and adversity, like I said. We just find a way to win and play team football.”

The Bengals (11-4) have already clinched a playoff spot and are one game ahead of Baltimore for the lead of the AFC North going into Week 17. The last two weeks of the season will dictate where and when Cincinnati will play in the postseason. The Bengals host the Buffalo Bills (12-3) next Monday night and finish against the Ravens (10-5) on Jan. 8.

WHAT’S WORKING

The Bengals defense was outstanding again, even with defensive end Sam Hubbard sidelined. The Patriots were shut out in the opening half and had just 285 total yards (compared with 442 for Cincinnati.) Mac Jones was sacked four times, and the Patriots punted six times.

”Defense found a way to win, they forced a turnover to win us the game,” Burrow said, ”They continue to make plays like that at the ends of games.”

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Burrow’s efforts have erased scoring deficits and brought the Bengals back from the brink in games all season. This time Burrow engineered a quick start that threatened to turn the game into a rout. Then came the collapse. The inconsistency and momentum shifts have to be concerning to the Bengals as they head into two critically important games.

”I’m never going to apologize for a win,” Burrow said. ”Just got to keep finding ways to do it.”

STOCK UP

Wide receiver Trenton Irwin has played mostly on the Bengals practice squad since catching on with the team in 2019. Going into this season, he had a total of three catches. His competent play as a fill-in when Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins were out with injuries earned him a spot in the rotation. On Saturday, he caught touchdown passes of 23 and 4 yards, his third and fourth TDs this season. He nearly had another, but the pass was just off his fingertips. Burrow and Irwin had hooked up on a pretty 45-yard flea flicker in the win over the Browns.

STOCK DOWN

Kicker Evan McPherson had a tough day. He missed two point-after attempts and a 43-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. … Rookie CB Cam Taylor-Britt, who has been inconsistent this season, didn’t get his head turned around fast enough to break up a short touchdown pass to New England’s Kendrick Bourne in the fourth quarter.

INJURIES

RT La’el Collins left the game with a knee injury and will reportedly miss the rest of the season. Hakeem Adeniji will likely start in his place. … Hubbard is still sidelined with a calf injury. Cincinnati’s other top edge rusher, Trey Hendrickson is playing with a broken wrist.

KEY NUMBER

36 – Number of years between Bengals’ road wins against the Patriots.

NEXT STEPS

The Bengals will strive for a more complete game at home against the Bills on Monday night with playoff seeding on the line.

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