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Brady strong in home debut as Patriots rip Bengals

FOXBOROUGH, Massachusetts — Tom Brady says he’s not all the way back in two games after missing the first four games of the season serving his Deflategate suspension.

Given the numbers, that’s a scary thought for upcoming New England opponents.

“I could do some things better out there and I think offensively we can too,” Brady said after throwing three touchdown passes to power the Patriots to a 35-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday.

In two games, both wins, Brady is 57 of 75 for 782 yards, six TDs and no interceptions. Sunday, he notched the 73rd 300-yard game of his career and the 47th with at least three touchdown passes no zero interceptions — second-most all-time.

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“It’s good to be 5-1. I think we’re in a decent place,” Brady said. “Just gotta string these games together — there’s a ton of football left.

Hearing chants of “Brady, Brady, Brady” in his 2016 home debut, Brady was 29 of 35 for 376 yards, throwing two touchdown passes to running back James White and one to Rob Gronkowski.

Brady, who went over the 5,000-completion mark, was sacked three times but didn’t make a serious mistake — and the offense got a boost from two major contributions from the defense to come from behind to win.

In improving to 49-1 at home against AFC opponents with Brady at the helm since 2006, the Patriots scored 15 points in 4:07 in the third quarter to take control.

The defense, which looked shaky at times, staged a first-half, goal-line stand and also came up with a safety — Dont’a Hightower sacking Andy Dalton in the end zone — to help the Patriots to that spurt.

Brady took advantage of a crucial third down penalty call against the Bengals, and then hit five straight passes for 74 yards and a first-half touchdown. He was 4 of 4 for 69 yards on another.

Gronkowski, questionable after missing Friday’s practice because of illness, caught seven passes for a career-high 162 yards and was involved in a pair of fourth-quarter verbal altercations with the opposition, earning a flag on one.

He has 12 catches in the past two games, a sign that he’s both healthy (recovered from a hamstring injury) and that he has his quarterback back.

“Good to go,” Gronkowski said after the game. He added: “It’s cool that I got a career high and everything but most important to me is getting that win.”

LeGarrette Blount scored from the 1-yard line with 57 seconds left and was then given New England’s second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty of the game. It was Blount’s sixth TD in six games this season.

White caught eight passes for 47 yards while Martellus Bennett, joining Gronkowski in the Patriots’ two-headed tight end monster, had five grabs for 48 yards.

The Bengals (2-4) lost for the fourth time in their last five games. They are 0-4 at Gillette Stadium.

“They capitalized on their opportunities,” Cincinnati defensive end Michael Johnson said. “They had the opportunities in this game and they did a better job with field position.

“They are a good team and you can’t let them do that.”

Andy Dalton threw for one touchdown and ran for another, finishing 21 of 31 for 254 yards. A.J. Green caught six passes on 88 yards while former Patriot Brandon LaFell caught a touchdown pass in the loss.

“We have a lot of season left and we’ve got to get back on track this week,” Dalton said. “We’ve got to take this thing and get to 3-4 and then we’ll move from there.”

The Patriots have lost only one regular season home game with Brady at the helm since Nov. 12, 2006, going 49-1 since, with the only loss coming in the final game of the 2014 season with Brady only playing a half. They have lost three home playoff games behind Brady in that span.

They have also won 23 straight home games against non-division AFC foes.

New England kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who kicked two field goals, missed on an extra point try, his first miss since the distance moved back last year. It was his first miss in his last 479 tries in the regular season, the longest streak in NFL history.

NOTES: The Patriots have notched safeties in back-to-back games for the first time in team history. … New England TE Rob Gronkowski cleared the 100-yard receiving-yard mark for the 22nd time in his career, tying Jackie Smith for third place all-time among tight ends. Gronkowski also passed Irving Fryar and moved into fourth place in all-time Patriots receiving yards. … Bengals TE Tyler Eifert missed his second straight game with back and ankle injuries. … CB/R Cyrus Jones, New England’s top pick in the 2016 draft who has struggled and was ejected from last week’s game for throwing a punch, was a healthy scratch while LB Jamie Collins was out with a hip injury. … The Patriots, who have already played four home games, are at Pittsburgh and Buffalo the next two weeks before the bye and aren’t back at Gillette Stadium until a Nov. 20 visit by the San Francisco 49ers. … The Bengals host Cleveland and Washington the next two weeks. … The Patriots are 169-14 when scoring 23 or more points in a game under coach Bill Belichick.


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