By: Bob George/BosSports.net
November 10, 2002

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- To be a champ, you gotta win the Super Bowl.

To stay a champ, you gotta win games like the Patriots did on Sunday.

You get a cupcake opponent, who is playing in a temporary home while their permanent home is getting a 2-year facelift. This team is on a six-game losing streak and has blown two fourth-quarter leads already this season. This team features a head coach who got Coach Of The Year last season because whoever voted for him contracted temporary insanity, a backup quarterback whom the Patriots pounded into submission last year in Atlanta, and guys on defense who basically are less well known than whoever this column listed yesterday as former Patriots who played at the U of I.

Okay, folks, repeat after me: Trap…game…trap…game…trap…game…

Whaddayaknow. At one time this thing was 27-6 in favor of "Duh" Bears, a far cry from their halcyon days of Mike Ditka and their pretty good days of Dave Wannstedt. The Patriots cut a stinky stinker against these sad sacks in 2000, a game in which nobody would have objected if Bill Belichick had gotten fired after it. Sunday's game was developing into the Mother of all stinkers.

Coming off their 38-7 pasting of Buffalo and Drew Bledsoe last week, how could the Patriots possibly play so poorly during the first 40 minutes of this game? How could a team so buoyant after handing Bledsoe his head and his posterior on a silver platter on the road come into a place like this and absolutely stink the joint out? How could the Patriots once again come to this region against a weak team and basically get pushed around like they were the revolving door to Bob Newhart's apartment building?

The Bears may have been the best 15-1 team in NFL history in 1985, but they were the worst 13-3 team in history last year. They looked like 11 Barney Fifes out there in January when Philadelphia ousted them from the playoffs in their own stadium. They have since tumbled down to 2-6, have nothing resembling a quality quarterback, and greatness exists only at middle linebacker. Other than that, this is not a team that should do what they did to the Patriots on Sunday.

Patriot Nation is simply not used to this.

By "this", I mean that the Patriots are "defending champs" for the first time in team history. Why should it shock anyone when the Patriots go up against weak sisters, and those weak sisters suddenly turn into a bunch of Aunt Esthers (Fred Sanford's sister-in-law) and Inspector Twelves (that old underwear commercial)?

Such as life as defending champs. The Bears played over their heads because of their opponent. You perhaps will never hear Chris Berman mention the names Leon Johnson, Marcus Robinson, Bryan Robinson, Alex Brown or Stanley Pritchett again this year (the reason being that if he did, it is because it happened during a "highlight"). These guys came up big against the Patriots on Sunday, and the Patriots nearly got caught in the classic trap game syndrome thanks to these anonymous guys.

But being the champs they are, the Patriots were able to shake off that 27-6 deficit and rally to beat Duh Bears, 33-30. The Patriots rode the crest of a superhuman fourth quarter from Tom Brady, two replays that went their way, and an incredible catch by David Patten to seal the win. In a nutshell, the champs played just well enough to win, and the chumps just well enough to lose.

Some of the tidbits which built the legacy of this unbelievable game will tell the tale better than trying to generalize.

The Patriots did not convert their first third down until the third quarter, and amazingly wound up with a better conversion percentage (35-33) than Chicago at game's end.

Four Bears completed passes. Two of them are listed in your programs as quarterbacks. Johnson took a pitch from Miller in the second quarter and hit Marty Booker with a 27-yard pass down the right sideline. In the third quarter, Booker ran a reverse right and threw a 44-yard touchdown strike to Marcus Robinson, who had Tebucky Jones beaten by a mile. These two gadget plays made the Patriots look stupid, especially after the second one, which made the score 20-6 Bears at the time.

The Patriots had 76 offensive plays and only 19 of them were runs. That, of course, is skewed thanks to the fourth quarter rally. But before this rally took place, the Patriots had about a 3-1 pass-to-run ratio. Charlie Weis still refuses to run Antowain Smith like he did last year, and it's becoming harder all the while to figure out why.

Brian Urlacher had a studly game in defeat, with an interception, a stuffed two-point conversion attempt, and leading his team by example by flying to the ball on nearly every play. This guy is to fast what Dick Butkus was to mean.

It is hard to say exactly what caused the Patriots to suddenly come back to life and get back into the game when they were down by 21 points. If you could pin it down to one play, it might be in the interminably long third quarter (31 combined points by both teams) where Smith caught a 19-yard pass from Brady to get the Patriots to the Bears' 36-yard line, and both Brown and Reggie Austin went down with injuries on the same play.

From that point on, the Patriots went on their 27-3 run to bring them home. They scored on their last five drives of the game, notching three touchdowns and two field goals. And they did it in workmanlike fashion, with nothing truly spectacular until the final drive.

On the drive which gave the Patriots the lead, the game turned into a fusion of Super Bowl XXXVI and the Snow Bowl. They had 1:50 to work with and no timeouts, one less second than the Big Show, and they would be aided with two booth replays which turned to their favor.

They began at their 44, and Brady went right to Patten for 19 yards. After an incompletion and a seven-yard toss to Faulk, it was third and three at the Bears' 30. Brady stepped back and hit Bryan Robinson right in the numbers with a bullet. Robinson bobbled the ball, and Brady hit him in the act of bobbling. He fumbled, but Roosevelt Colvin covered the loose ball. Bears' ball, game over.

While Memorial Stadium erupted in ecstasy, referee Bob McElwee was beeped from upstairs. A review was in order. Replays showed Robinson bobbling the ball, was hit, and then the ball popped loose. Robinson never had possession of the ball, and thus the play was an incomplete pass. McElwee did his best Walt Coleman imitation, and the Patriots were alive.

On the touchdown to Patten which decided the game, he kept his right foot in bounds and dragged his left big toe in the end zone. Replay confirmed it. Touchdown, Pats lead, Bears fans went into immediate shock. Twenty-one seconds and three offensive plays by the Bears later, it was over.

And the Patriots got a win that only champs get.

So, don't listen to everyone who rants all over how badly the Patriots played on Sunday, including Yours Truly. The only important thing about this game is that the Patriots won.

It was a display of champs being champs. Period.


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