Beating the New England Patriots is already difficult enough. Beating the New England Patriots after gift-wrapping two touchdowns on special teams is impossible. Just ask the Chicago Bears, who came up one yard short of stunning the Patriots with a miraculous comeback after allowing two special teams touchdowns earlier in the game.
On Sunday, the Bears hosted the Patriots and jumped out to a 10-point lead in the first half before succumbing to an inevitable win machine. The Patriots quickly erased that deficit by capitalizing on the Bears’ miscues, which included allowing two special teams touchdowns and two interceptions in Patriots territory. What started as an entertaining, back-and-forth affair turned into what looked like a familiar Patriots blowout before it eventually resulted in a slim 38-31 win.
Just when it looked like the Patriots were pulling away, the Bears, trailing by 14 points midway through the fourth quarter, pieced together an improbable comeback that came up one yard short.
After they picked off Tom Brady, scored a touchdown to cut the deficit to seven points, and forced another stop in the final minute of the game, the Bears needed to journey 80 yards without any timeouts to force overtime. The Bears proceeded to manufacture just enough yards to get into Hail Mary range with two seconds showing on the game clock.
On the final play of the game, Mitchell Trubisky hoisted a prayer downfield. His prayer was answered by Kevin White, who made a leaping grab at the 1-yard line with his back to the end zone. He tried to turn his body and stretch the ball over the goal line, but a horde of Patriots provided enough resistance to turn him away at the last possible moment. And that’s how the Patriots won a mistake-filled, crazy game.
If there were any lingering doubts about the state of the Patriots, their past two wins should erase such doubts. Over their past two games, the Patriots have beaten the previously unbeaten Chiefs and a tough, but flawed Bears team in Chicago. They made way too many mistakes — the kind of mistakes that could doom them come January — but they’re a good enough team to overcome mistakes. Even without Rob Gronkowski, who was absent with a back injury, the Patriots won a road a game against what was the league’s top defense by DVOA.
Tom Brady was his usual efficient self, completing 25 of 36 passes for 277 yards, three touchdowns, one interception, and a 108.2 passer rating. Josh Gordon broke out with 100 yards. James White fueled the offense with 97 yards and two touchdowns. And Chris Hogan finally got involved with six catches and 63 yards.
At 5-2, the Patriots’ 1-2 start is nothing more than a meaningless memory.
Bears make too many mistakes
At 3-3, the Bears’ 3-1 start is also nothing more than a meaningless memory. The Bears have now dropped two straight games. In both games, they looked like a mistake-prone young football team that isn’t ready to make the leap from promising to good. In other words, they look more like what we expected entering the season.
Let’s talk about special teams first. In the second quarter, the Bears allowed a 95-yard touchdown return mere moments after they took a 10-point lead. In the third quarter, the Bears allowed a touchdown on a blocked punt, which turned a tie game into a seven-point Patriots lead. Those are the kinds of mistakes teams can’t make against the Patriots and expect to win.
So. Much. [email protected] goes 95 yards to the HOUSE!
?: CBS #GoPatspic.twitter.com/7rh79ipuRK
Blocked by @zeus30hightower.
Returned by @KVN_03.
TOUCHDOWN, #PATRIOTS! #NEvsCHI | #GoPatspic.twitter.com/Y0nY4oHr5z
The second issue was Trubisky. Over his previous two games, Trubisky finally played like a good quarterback, throwing for 670 yards and nine touchdowns. On Sunday, he morphed back into the quarterback we saw during the first few weeks of the season.
For most of the game, he was terrible as a passer. His final statline received a substantial bump due to the final few minutes of the fourth quarter, but even with those final two drives and that completed Hail Mary, he finished only 26 of 50 for 333 yards (6.7 YPA), two touchdowns, two picks, and a 69.8 passer rating. Outside of those final two drives, Trubisky couldn’t hit the side of a barn.
Trubisky was fortunate that the Patriots dropped two interceptions in the end zone, but he still managed to throw two picks in Patriots territory.
One wasn’t really his fault. It was more on Josh Bellamy, who couldn’t make a contested catch, than Trubisky, who didn’t have much to lose by throwing a high-risk pass on third down. Trubisky’s second pick came as the result of an incredible one-handed catch by Jonathan Jones deep downfield, but don’t let the quality of the catch make you forget about the quality of the throw. If Trubisky had put more air under the ball and hadn’t underthrown his target, it would’ve been a touchdown.
The Bears’ biggest problem thus far has been their quarterback. It seems like Trubisky has no happy medium between bad and great. He either drops in an incredible dime or he misses his target by multiple yards. He either looks unstoppable or incompetent. This isn’t on Matt Nagy, who continues to scheme up open downfield throws for his quarterback. This on Trubisky for not providing any sort of consistency to a team that just needs a quarterback that’s capable of hitting open throws.
Trubisky runs wild
Let’s give Trubisky credit, though, because he still managed to be the Bears’ most dangerous weapon. He did that by running all over the Patriots.
He provided the Bears a 10-7 lead in the first quarter by running 77 yards on what went down as an eight-yard touchdown.
At the beginning of the third quarter, Trubisky put the Bears in a position to retake the lead when he manufactured 39 yards — again with his legs. When it looked like he would step out of play at the 20-yard line, he cut back inside and didn’t go down until he was a yard away from the end zone. The Bears would score a few plays later.
Trubisky finished with 81 rushing yards. He was fantastic as a runner and deserves credit for that.
Josh Gordon breaks out
Hello, Josh Gordon. Welcome to the Patriots.
Gordon, who landed in New England in mid-September, finally broke out and submitted his best performance with the Patriots. He caught four passes for 100 yards, including one incredible fourth-down conversion and another huge catch and run that set up a Patriots touchdown.
Jesus, Josh Gordon pic.twitter.com/fbjkroowFl
[email protected]_GORDONXII making catches and breaking tackles. #NEvsCHI | #GoPatspic.twitter.com/DqArwTfoeK
After the game, Patriots receiver Julian Edelman thanked the Browns for sending Gordon to them.
It’s understandable why it took a month for Gordon to finally reach full speed after switching teams in the middle of the season. Now that he has broken out, it’s scary to imagine what this Patriots offense will look at full strength.
Sony Michel leaves with knee injury
But the Patriots might not reach full strength for a while. While Gronk is expected to return next week, the Patriots will likely be without first-round rookie Sony Michel, who left in the first half with an ugly-looking knee injury.
After he hobbled off the field without putting any weight on his leg, he was carted back to the locker room. He was initially deemed questionable to return with a knee injury. By the time the second half started, he’d been ruled out.
Entering Sunday’s game, Michel was on a three-game 100-yard streak. He got off to a good start against the Bears, too. At the time of his sudden departure, he’d accumulated 35 yards on five touches.
James White: Mr. Reliable
It’s a good thing that the Patriots still have James White, who functions as Brady’s most reliable weapon. Without Michel to spearhead the running game, the Patriots opted for a more pass-heavy approach. And that meant White was busy.
He totaled 97 yards on 19 touches. He also scored twice, making the Bears’ defense look slow as hell in and around the goal line.
Sweet Feet at [email protected]_White | #NEvsCHI | #GoPatspic.twitter.com/FEnG839f8E
A short pass + a quick run = @SweetFeet_White’s second TD of the day.#NEvsCHI | #GoPatspic.twitter.com/n4mZM17e1Y
If Michel misses a ton of time, expect White’s workload to only increase.
Patriots uncharacteristically sloppy
It wasn’t just the Bears who were sloppy. So were the Patriots.
While Cordarrelle Patterson returned a kick for a touchdown, he also fumbled one of his returns in the second quarter, which preceded a Bears touchdown.
On the Patriots’ next series, Michel fumbled (on the hit that ended his day). That fumble also led to a touchdown.
Twice in the first half, they had to burn timeouts defensively when it looked like the Bears had them confused. At the end of the first half, Edelman muffed a punt — the ball bounced off his facemask — but the Bears failed to recover a recoverable ball at the 5-yard line and Edelman pounced on the loose ball to avoid disaster. After they were forced to punt, the Patriots got called for unsportsmanlike conduct with under 20 seconds left in the first half, giving the Bears a chance to pick up points before the break. The Bears ultimately came up just short of field goal range, so it didn’t come back to hurt the Patriots, but the mistakes were mounting.
Late in the game, when it looked like the Patriots were putting the finishing touches on a surprising explosion of points that would turn the game into a blowout, Brady threw a ball into tight coverage that got deflected and wound up in the arms of a Bear.
That interception gave the Bears life. They turned that turnover into seven points, which resulted in a one-score game. Their comeback would fall one yard short, but the Bears shouldn’t really have been afforded the opportunity to launch a comeback.
Don’t expect those mistakes to continue. Bill Belichick will likely sort them out.
Bears pass rush disappears again
One final area of concern for the Bears: Their pass rush has disappeared over their past two games. They failed to sack Brock Osweiler a week ago. And on Sunday, they brought down Brady only once.
Khalil Mack has been invisible and it certainly looks like that ankle injury is bothering him. Leonard Floyd’s disappointing season continued. We hardly heard Akiem Hicks’ name on the broadcast. The gameplan by defensive coordinator Vic Fangio can also be called into question. He dropped Mack and Floyd into coverage repeatedly, and the Patriots burned them.
The Bears’ defense relies on pressure. That’s what makes them great. Without Mack at full strength, the Bears’ defense has gone from the best in the league to an average unit.
The Dolphins and Patriots have figured out that the best way to beat the Bears is to run the ball and use short, quick passes, which negates the pass rush.
The Bears’ tour of the AFC East continues. Over the next two weeks, the Bears play the Jets and Bills. After losses to the Dolphins and Patriots, the Bears are 0-2 against the AFC East. But if they can win their next two games against very beatable teams, the Bears should remain very much alive in a competitive NFC North.
The Patriots, meanwhile, head to Buffalo in a game that might be the biggest mismatch of the season. They’ll then play the Packers and Titans before their Week 11 bye.
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