The New England Patriots played poorly in the first half Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, but like so many times this season, the defense stepped up and made the key plays to secure a victory.

The Patriots forced five turnovers, including four interceptions, and earned a 34-13 Week 15 win over the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium to maintain their position as the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoff picture. New England also clinched a playoff berth with their 11th win of the season.

The Bengals led 10-7 at one point in the second quarter, but the Patriots went on a 27-3 scoring run to blow the game open in the second half. New England's offense struggled again, but there were encouraging developments in both the passing and rushing attacks that the team can build on over the final two weeks of the regular season.

Let's take a look at four instant overreactions from the Patriots' win and assess their merit.

1. N'Keal Harry will play a crucial role for rest of 2019 
Verdict
: Not an overreaction

Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels talked earlier in the week about finding ways to get the ball to Harry more often, and the Patriots did a pretty good job of that Sunday. The rookie wide receiver tallied two receptions for 15 yards, including a third-quarter touchdown the Patriots desperately needed. Harry also ran the ball twice for 22 yards.

 

Harry should've had three receptions, but a great diving catch he made deep downfield was nullified due to a false start penalty by Julian Edelman.

The Patriots made Harry a larger part of the offense against the Bengals and the result were positive. He has the size, strength and raw skill to make big plays, and that was very evident on his touchdown reception. Harry received only two snaps last week versus the Chiefs, and after Sunday's performance, he should be a focal point of the offense for the remainder of the season. It's not like the Patriots have a bunch of other options, so they might as well give the rookie a shot.

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2. Pats' run defense is a concern
Verdict
: Not an overreaction

The Bengals ran for 67 yards on eight carries during their first drive of the game, and it led to Cincinnati scoring its first opening-drive touchdown of the entire season. Bengals running back Joe Mixon had five carries for 43 yards by himself on that opening possession. Cincy finished with 164 rushing yards on 31 attempts (5.1 yards per carry), and Mixon accumulated 136 of those yards.

The Patriots run defense got off to a great start in 2019 and still ranks high in several statistical categories, but the unit has been less effective in recent weeks. New England gave up 159 rushing yards to the Cleveland Browns in Week 8, 210 yards to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 9, and 109 yards to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 12.

A failure to stop the run allows teams to dominate time of possession and keep the Patriots offense off the field for long stretches, which is far from ideal for a New England team that's struggling to score (averaging 20.3 points scored over the last six games) and needs all the possessions it can get. The Ravens executed this strategy to perfection against the Patriots last month.

3. Stephon Gilmore is the best defensive player in the NFL this season
Verdict
: Not an overreaction

Gilmore intercepted two passes in the third quarter Sunday, and he returned one of them for a touchdown that increased New England's lead to 27-10. He also tallied two tackles and four pass breakups.

Gilmore already was the league's best cornerback before this game, and he further strengthened his case for the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award with this performance. He now leads the league with six interceptions (including two pick-6s), and the list of top-tier wide receivers he's shut down this season also is quite impressive. Gilmore's spectacular play has been the main reason why the Patriots lead the league in several important passing stats such as interceptions, opposing QB rating, yards allowed per attempt, completion percentage, while also ranking No. 2 in passing yards allowed per game.

 

A Patriots player has never won the Associated Press' NFL DPoY award, but Gilmore deserves to be the first one as the MVP of an elite New England defense.

4. Joe Burrow will save the Bengals
Verdict
: Overreaction

No one player is going to save this inept Bengals franchise, not even LSU quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow. The Tigers quarterback is having a tremendous season with 4,715 passing yards, 48 touchdowns and only six interceptions. He's even drawn comparisons to Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

Cincinnati needs a lot more than a franchise quarterback to return to the playoffs, though. The Bengals' receiving corps is unimpressive, and the team's best wideout, A.J. Green, could leave as a free agent in March. The defense is giving up more than 25 points per game, and the coaching staff leaves a lot to be desired as well. Earning the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft and selecting Burrow would be a great first step for the Bengals, but they have plenty more roster issues to address before being a contender again in the AFC.