FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — This summer during training camp, New England Patriots fans never missed an opportunity to let Tom Brady know they were thinking about him.
He was weeks away from the start of his four-game “Deflategate” suspension, and every time he stepped on the field he was showered with cheers and serenaded with “Brady! Brady! Brady!” chants.
After a successful regular-season debut at Cleveland last week, Sunday is Tom Terrific’s homecoming.
“I think we’ll see how it plays out,” Brady said. “But yeah, I know they’re expecting a good crowd. We’ll be fired up, too. I mean we’re playing a great team. We’re 4-1, it’s not great, but we’re in a decent position.”
It will also be the latest challenge for a Bengals team that has had very limited success against Mr. Brady.
Cincinnati (2-3) is coming off a 28-14 loss at Dallas last week and is trying to avoid its first 2-4 start since 2010, when it finished 4-12 — its worst season under Marvin Lewis. The Bengals also would match their regular-season loss total from 2015, when they tied the club record with a 12-4 mark.
Brady enters Sunday 5-1 overall and 3-0 at home against Cincinnati, which has never beaten the Patriots since they moved into Gillette Stadium in 2002.
Bengals receiver Brandon LaFell, released by the Patriots in March after two seasons in New England, said he knows they will get Brady at his best.
“He doesn’t lose in that stadium hardly ever, so it’s going to be hard,” he said.
The Bengals haven’t won at New England at all since 1986, dropping their last six, including 43-17 loss in 2014.
That meeting came a year after Cincinnati’s 13-6 win at home, in which Brady had a streak of 52 straight games with at least one touchdown pass ended. Otherwise, Brady has had his way with the Bengals, throwing for 12 touchdowns and just two interceptions in his five wins against them.
“It ultimately comes down to how well you’re playing as a team,” he said. “It’s never where you play, it’s really how you play.”
Here are some things to watch for in Sunday’s game:
FLATTENED BENGALS: Cincinnati’s defense has been roughed-up, allowing three touchdown passes of more than 40 yards and a 60-yard touchdown run in the last three games. Dallas ran for 180 yards its win last Sunday against a defense that allowed the second-fewest points in the NFL last year. Even with linebacker Vontaze Burfict back from a three-game NFL suspension, the defense has suffered from regular breakdowns.
“Obviously having Brady back helps out their offense a lot,” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. “It will be the hardest challenge probably that we have all year from our side of the ball.”
LAFELL’S RETURN: LaFell played two seasons in New England before signing with the Bengals as a free agent to replace Marvin Jones. LaFell caught his first two touchdown passes of the season in Dallas, an indication he’s starting to settle into the offense. With teams trying to clamp down on A.J. Green, the Bengals need another consistent threat at receiver.
“Hopefully we can continue to build on that and continue to connect more, and more so in crucial moments of the game, not when the game is out of hand,” LaFell said.
DALTON GOES DOWN: Andy Dalton has been sacked 17 times, tied for second most in the NFL. He’s on pace to eclipse his single-season record of 46 sacks in 2012, his second year in the league, Dalton was sacked only 20 times in 13 games last season. The sacks have put the offense in tough spots and contributed to a significant decline in scoring. In 2015, the Bengals scored at least 24 points in each game while starting 5-0. This season, they have yet to score 24 in any game.
GRONK’S HEALTH: After missing the first two games of the season with a hamstring injury, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski played in a season-high 81 percent of the offensive snaps and had five catches for 105 yards in last week’s win at Cleveland. “I felt like myself last week, just getting into the groove now. Every single week, week in and week out now, just got to stay in a routine, stay in a groove. …I’m out there now, I’m rolling now, so there’s no excuses.”
OCTOBER FEST: The Patriots are an NFL-best 50-17 in the month of October since the 2000 season. They are 29-5 at home during that span in October, and 21-12 on the road.