By: Bob George/BosSports.net
November 26, 2006

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FOXBOROUGH -- Da Bears were 9-1 going into this game, so they say.

They are, of course, 9-2 at press time, following a 17-13 loss to the Patriots at Gillette Stadium on Sunday. But the Bears, who are the dominant team in a conference where most everyone is 6-4, showed that they do not have a quarterback who can take them to the Promised Land. Meanwhile, the Patriots showed that they are not the Arizona Cardinals in that Grossman can enjoy a wide margin for error in victory, though the Patriots did give it a decent shot to make Dennis Green proud.

The Patriots had five, count ?em, five turnovers in this game. But the Bears had four of their own, and that plus an offense which has zero consistency at all combined to allow the Patriots to defeat a 9-1 team with a wide margin for error. Some very questionable penalty calls against the Patriots also made things close, but the Patriots eventually came out ahead because they have a great quarterback and the Bears do not.

The defenses were pretty much a push. Both are among the best in the league and played like it. The Patriots deserved more praise than the Bears in their effort, not because their side won and allowed fewer points, but rather because of their ability to hang on despite Junior Seau being lost for the season (and maybe for his career) with a broken arm in the second quarter. Mike Vrabel had to come in and play inside linebacker, which hurt the run defense a little bit (Thomas Jones came up one yard short of 100, and Cedric Benson averaged 4.6 yards per carry). But in the end, the Patriot defense was able to make the plays it had to, thanks largely to three interceptions by Asante Samuel.

In the end, people in Chicagoland are going to scream for Brian Griese to take over at quarterback. Grossman?s final numbers were pretty wretched: 15 of 34 passing, 176 yards, and three interceptions. His passer rating was 23.7. He was only sacked once, but was pressured several times and hit nine times by the Patriot defense.

It isn?t like Grossman lacks offensive weapons. Bernard Berrian and Muhsin Muhammad are a good wide receiver tandem (Berrian had 5 catches for 104 yards), the latter of whom opposed the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVIII when he was with Carolina. Desmond Clark is a solid tight end. In Jones and Benson, you have a good running back tandem with the speed of Jones and the physicality of Benson (these two guys gained 145 rushing yards combined, about double the output of Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney). This is an offense which can move the ball, as evidenced by the fact that the Bears gained 324 total yards of offense, only 30 fewer than the Patriots.

But Grossman is inconsistent. In his only other loss of the season, to Miami, he threw three picks and had a rating of 36.8. In the wacky win at Arizona last month, he threw four picks and had a rating of 10.2 but won the game thanks to two defensive touchdowns and a special teams touchdown. On the other hand, five times this season he has exceeded 100 passer rating points, but the teams he had that success against have a combined record of 24-30 (three of those teams have losing records).

Tom Brady, on the other hand, was able to come up with the right formula in dealing with a tough defense. He finished 22 of 33 passing for 269 yards and a touchdown, and led the first offense of the season to run up more than 300 yards of total offense (354) against the Bears. He did have two interceptions, but both were off tipped balls and neither could be blamed on the quarterback. Take away those two picks and Brady?s passer rating would have been 101.7. While Grossman often times looked confused and misfired on several of his tosses, Brady was ever in control on the brand new Gillette Stadium Field Turf, showing none of the symptoms of being confused as he had been showing early on in the season.

The Chicago defense, however, did its part to try to allow Grossman enough wiggle room to try to win. The Patriots suffered four fumbles and lost three of them, two of them coming off pass receptions from Ben Watson. Lance Briggs and Danieal Manning each forced two fumbles, exemplifying the extreme physical style of defense the Bears feature.

A play which best illustrated what kind of day it was for the Bear defense occurred in the third quarter. Facing third and eight at the Patriot 45, Brady found Watson in the left flat. He took off down the left sideline and made it to the Bear 22. Then Briggs hit Watson from behind, and the ball popped straight up in the air. Reche Caldwell was right there to catch the ball, and he took off to the end zone. He ran to the Bear 13 before he himself was hit by Manning and coughed up the ball. Manning made the recovery, completing a play where the Patriots fumbled twice on one play.

One thing that helped the Patriots was where the turnovers occurred. On three of the five turnovers, the Bears took over inside their own 20. The Bears turned those three turnovers into two of their own plus a blocked field goal attempt. The other two turnovers set the Bears at their 47 and their 22; the former turned into a touchdown (the only points off turnovers the Bears were able to get), but the latter turned into a game sealing interception, the third by Samuel.

The Patriots were nearly done in by some questionable officials? calls. On the drive where the Bears scored their only touchdown of the afternoon (beginning at their 47 off of a Charles Tillman interception; Tillman had both Bear interceptions), Grossman threw a deep ball to Berrian who was well defended by Artrell Hawkins. Hawkins looked at and played the ball completely, but was still called for pass interference. Two plays later, Ellis Hobbs was called for holding Muhammad near the goal line in an area where Hobbs was allowed to make legal contact with the receiver and never appeared to hold Muhammad. One play later Benson ran it in from two yards out to tie the game at 10-10.

On the ensuing drive, Berrian got another gift call on a deep ball, this time being covered by Hobbs. Hobbs was called for interference on Berrian; despite replays showing some contact by Hobbs, the ball seemed out of reach for Berrian. This penalty yielded only a 32-yard field goal by Robbie Gould.

The Bears showed that they are a team which you can defeat if you can stop Grossman. Despite the defense being as advertised, it is a flaw that sooner or later will be exposed by perhaps their Super Bowl opponent, assuming no other NFC team can overcome such a matchup deficit. It is clear that the Bears are the class of the NFC, but if they can somehow overcome the problem at quarterback, they have a decent chance at bringing home their first Vince since 1985.

Until they do, they can only sit back and wonder where they would be if they had Brady instead of the Patriots.


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