FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – The Patriots travel to China for an exhibition game next summer. If they fail next Sunday to stop the big play against the Bengals, the trip home from Cincinnati might seem just as long.

They haven’t done a very good job of it so far and Cincinnati “is one of the most explosive offensive teams I’ve seen in a while,” New England coach Bill Belichick said Monday. “I’m sure they can’t wait to get a hold of us.”

His defense has allowed five touchdowns this season. Four were pass plays covering 32, 46, 71 and 83 yards. The other was an 18-yard run.

So Belichick has no time to think about that game at Workers Stadium in Beijing next Aug. 8 against Seattle. He’s too busy trying to figure out how to stop Carson Palmer and the quarterback’s big-play wide receivers, Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chris Henry.

“Right now, I really couldn’t care less about China or any place else. Cincinnati, that’s the only destination I’m really concerned with,” Belichick said. “That stuff is so far in the future that I don’t know if China will be there a year from now. I don’t know if I’ll be there a year from now.”

Barring the demise of the most populous nation in the world and the most successful NFL team over the past five seasons, both should still be around.

And just because the Patriots struggled offensively and allowed big plays defensively in Sunday’s 17-7 loss to the Denver Broncos, they still could have a successful season.

“I don’t think you can sit there and say, “this team’s going to the Super Bowl or we’re not going to the Super Bowl’ based on our performance to date, ” linebacker Rosevelt Colvin said.

Punter Josh Miller may have been the Patriots’ most effective player against the Broncos. He pinned them at their 2-, 3- and 5-yard lines on three of their kicks, but each time they got at least one first down.

“Football’s a game of field position,” Colvin said. “A couple of times we got them in third-and-long (plays) but they converted a first down and now they line up on the 15 and they move the ball a little bit. Now they’re punting the ball a little deeper.”

The Patriots gave up 17 points in each of their three games but won the first two against Buffalo and the New York Jets.

The Denver defense is much tougher than both those teams so the New England defense needed to be stingier.In the 19-17 win over Buffalo, the Patriots gave up an 18-yard touchdown run to Anthony Thomas.

In the 24-17 win over New York, they allowed touchdown plays of 71 yards by Jerricho Cotchery and 46 yards by Laveranues Coles.

Denver’s Javon Walker scored on plays of 32 and 83 yards.

All four plays came on third down.

“Tackling is a problem,” Colvin said. “You’ve got 40, 50 plays defensively, I think that’s a good effort. You go in there and you’ve got 70 plays, you’re doing something that you need to get corrected.”

The Broncos ran 64 plays, 12 fewer than the Patriots, but New England couldn’t turn them into many points.

“We need to be more consistent. That goes for everybody – rookies, 15-year veterans, 30-year veteran coaches,” said Belichick, who began his NFL coaching career in 1975. “It wasn’t terrible but it just needs to be better.”

With the game scoreless early in the second quarter, Laurence Maroney lost 1 yard on a fourth-and-1 at the Denver 36. With the Broncos leading 3-0, rookie Stephen Gostkowski had his second consecutive blocked field goal attempt, a 37-yarder that Belichick said was kicked low.

“There were other problems, too,” on the play, he said.

The costliest problems, though, occurred while the Patriots tried to cover Walker.

The Broncos led just 3-0, but Jake Plummer’s 32-yard touchdown pass gave them momentum and a 10-0 lead 50 seconds before halftime. Then, early in the fourth quarter, Plummer connected again deep over the middle for the 83-yard touchdown and a 17-0 lead.

“Believe me, we don’t have any defenses where it’s if they run this (play) we’ll give up a 70- or an 80-yard touchdown. That’s not really the way we design it,” Belichick said. “You can’t be giving them up like that.”

AP-ES-09-25-06 1850EDT


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