CINCINNATI -- A review of four hot issues following the New England Patriots' 13-6 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals:
Offensive struggles: In a script that has been flipped from recent years, it's the defense carrying the offense at this point. Quarterback Tom Brady was held to fewer than 200 yards passing for the second time this season, as the Bengals defense controlled the game at the line of scrimmage. "We scored six points; I don't even remember the last time we've done that," Brady said Monday morning on sports radio WEEI. The last time the Patriots scored fewer points was a 21-0 shutout loss at Miami on Dec. 10, 2006. Looking for a place to start when it comes to turning around the fortunes of the offense? Start up front with the offensive line, where all five starters return and a better performance than what was put forth Sunday in Cincinnati is expected.
Rob Gronkowski's potential return: The tight end has missed the first five games of the regular season, but he could return Sunday against the Saints. The Patriots couldn't convert in their one trip inside the red zone Sunday, and Brady threw incomplete to left tackle-turned-eligible tight end Nate Solder in the end zone. Gronkowski, who figures to be managed upon his return to the field, could at least help in the red zone.
Tommy Kelly and defensive tackle depth: The veteran defensive tackle left Sunday's game with a right knee injury in the fourth quarter and didn't return. Kelly said after the game that "everything was good" with the knee, and he wasn't walking with a limp or with the aid of crutches, although it's still a bit unclear what that means. The Patriots are thin at defensive tackle after losing Vince Wilfork to a season-ending Achilles injury, and if Kelly is sidelined for any period of time, it would further deplete the ranks. Rookies Joe Vellano and Chris Jones are the only other defensive tackles on the roster, while Marcus Forston and A.J. Francis are on the practice squad.
Banged-up running back group: With veteran Leon Washington leaving Sunday's game with an ankle injury and not returning, Shane Vereen on short-term injured reserve, and Stevan Ridley sidelined Sunday with a knee injury, the Patriots were down to just two running backs -- LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden. Both had miscues that hurt the team -- Blount a second-quarter fumble and Bolden two drops. As the passing game struggles to produce consistent results, it would help to be able to turn to the running game. But it's a depleted group and we'll be interested to see if Washington's injury leads the team to consider injured reserve as an option.