October 01, 2014

The regression of Tom Brady is well-documented, leading many to question if the New England Patriots quarterback finally has reached the twilight of his career.

Bill Belichick isn't providing any answers, choosing instead to move on from Brady's latest lackluster performance and focus on Sunday night's showdown with the unbeaten Cincinnati Bengals in Foxborough.

Brady has led the Patriots (2-2) to three championships under Belichick, though none have come since the 2004 season. Now in his 15th year, Brady appears to be a shell of the future Hall of Famer who led New England to five Super Bowls.

His 79.1 passer rating ranks 29th in the league and he's completing a career-worst 59.1 percent of his passes. He went 14 of 23 for 159 yards with two interceptions - one returned for a touchdown - and lost a fumble in Monday's embarrassing 41-14 loss at Kansas City.

Brady was pulled in the fourth quarter with the game out of reach, and rookie second-round pick Jimmy Garoppolo led a late scoring drive.

"Like (Belichick) always says, ignore the noise and just stay focused on what we need to do, stay focused on what our process is to try to make the improvement," Brady said. "We've got an important job to do this week and the clock is ticking."

Belichick was asked to reflect on the latest performance, especially Brady's.

How difficult is it to move past the adversity of Monday night's game and get back on track?

Is Brady's age - 37 - becoming a factor?

Has he done enough to help Brady?

Belichick had the same evasive response to each question at his weekly press conference: "We're on to Cincinnati."

His reluctance to elaborate could be a sign of frustration, but those questions likely will continue pouring in if Brady and the Patriots - 29th in total offense at 298.5 yards per game - can't turn things around. It won't get any easier against the Bengals (3-0), who allow a league-low 11.0 points per game and come to town rested after their bye week.

Cincinnati possesses a well-balanced offensive attack with quarterback Andy Dalton and a running game led by Giovani Bernard, who ran for two touchdowns in a 33-7 win over Tennessee two weeks ago.

"They have a lot of good players. They're well-coached. They're tough, they're physical, they're explosive," Belichick said. "It's been a while since I've seen a team that's as complete as they are."

Dalton's 33 victories since he entered the league in 2011 are second to Brady's 39. Dalton went 20 of 27 for 212 yards as the Bengals beat the Patriots 13-6 at home last season, but he's trying to deflect this contest being about a Dalton vs. Brady matchup.

"At the end of the day, you're not going against the quarterback, but everybody is going to compare you to the other quarterback," Dalton said. "Anytime you can win against guys like that, it's big. It shows what this team is capable of doing. I've got a lot of confidence. You go into those games expecting to win."

Cincinnati is the lone remaining unbeaten in the AFC after going 11-5 last year but losing to San Diego in the wild-card round, remaining without a playoff win since 1990.

Victories over Baltimore and Atlanta to open the season have the Bengals feeling they can compete with the league's heavyweights, and a win at New England would only further that notion. The Patriots have won 10 consecutive home games, including the playoffs.

"Over the last couple of years we've been winning the games like that, the ones we're supposed to win," left tackle Andre Whitworth said of the win over Tennessee. "It's more the big games we haven't shown up as well. We started our year (against the Ravens) and we did show. That was taking another step and we have to be ready to take another step in New England."

Many of the Bengals aren't putting much stock in last year's win over the Patriots heading into this week.

"We're a totally different team and I'm sure they're a totally different team," said defensive end Wallace Gilberry, who had 1 1/2 sacks in last season's contest. "That mindset (about the past) is gone."

For all of Cincinnati's success to start the season, Dalton has yet to throw a red-zone touchdown pass. The return of receiver Martin Jones could give Dalton another viable target inside the 20.

Jones, who has yet to play because of a foot injury, caught 10 TD passes last season.

"You get in the mode," Jones told the team's official website. "Once you get close to the red zone, those are the opportunities you need to get. You can tell when we hit that point everyone wants to make a play."

The Patriots have allowed five red-zone touchdown passes, tied for third-most in the NFL.

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