November 07, 2002
Preview: Pats Back In The Hunt
BY: Ian Logue/PatsFans.com
FOXBORO, MA -- It's amazing how much things can change in just one week.
The Patriots were down and out just one week ago when they were preparing to head to Buffalo to take on the Bills and former New England quarterback Drew Bledsoe, but after a 38-7 victory they now find themselves right back in hunt for the AFC East with eight games left to play.
The win improved them to 4-4, and with Miami sitting in first place at 5-3 along with Buffalo in second at 5-4, the race for the AFC East is heating up, with New England now poised to head to Chicago to take on a reeling Bears team who themselves have lost six in a row after their own 2-0 start. They played well last weekend but lost 19-13 in what was a frustrating defeat after their offense had gained 207-yards in the first two quarters, only to manage just 53-yards in the second half.
New England is no stranger to frustration themselves. After starting out 3-0 they had dropped four in a row prior to their win over Buffalo last weekend so they know full well what the Bears are experiencing.
"They're obviously in a tough stretch right now, something that if anybody can relate to it, we can and the way we approached the Buffalo game last week," said Belichick on Wednesday. "To me that's the kind of game that I am expecting from Chicago out there."
"I have a lot of respect for that organization and that football team. We're going into a little bit different environment playing in a college stadium and college markings on the field and that kind of thing. Some of those are a little bit different; we're going to have to make adjustments to those in a tough environment."
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is also aware that the Bears aren't as bad as their record shows, and isn't taking them lightly.
"They're still a pretty good team, and you're playing them in Champagne [Illinois]," Brady told reporters on Wednesday. "They've had some tough losses this year, they started off 2-0, they've lost two overtime games, two games have come down to basically the last play or the last series of the game."
"They could have beaten Philly last week. I watched that tape and that defense played pretty well against Philly. It's going to be a challenge every week, as we all know, it's whoever shows up and plays well."
New England played real well against the Bills last weekend, with runningback Antowain Smith rushing for 111-yards on 29-carries. He also scored three times, twice from the air and one rushing on a day where the Patriots offense ran screens especially well against the Bills defense. Bears head coach Dick Juaron admitted that there's no easy answer for stopping that play when facing a team that executes them so effectively.
"I don't think there's any one answer to it," said Juaron when asked how to counter them. "In the course of the game, there is give-and-take and there is a cat and mouse game. You don't always make the right calls. You can call to it, whatever you think is your best stopper for that particular play, but you don't know when they're going to run it. That's true of every play in the course of a game."
"Guys just have to make plays. You have to get great reaction and you have to have players make plays in the open field."
As for Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher he simply feels that his defense will need to stop the run and put the Patriots in third-and-long, a situation where New England struggled during the course of their four game losing streak.
"I still think we have to stop the run every game and that's how we have to be successful," said Urlacher. "We have to stop the run first, I think we have to get them in a third and long, second and long where we get good chances to blitz. If we can stop the run I feel like we can be successful."
As for the Bears offense quarterback Jim Miller's status remains up in the air. Miller is officially listed as "Probable" on the team's injury report, but is suffering from tendinitis in his right elbow and admitted earlier in the week that the injury hampers his throwing. Miller has thrown 10 touchdowns so far this season (4th in the NFL with three others tied for third with 12) compared to just six interceptions, but the Bears offense hasn't exactly put up big numbers. Chicago is currently ranked 29th in the NFL in total yards.
But despite how bad the Bears may look on paper, NFL football games aren't played that way. A team that takes anyone lightly will have problems, and Belichick will likely remind his football team how important this game is for his team as they continue to try and turn their season around.
"I don't think you can look at any game and feel it's going to be anything other than a competitive game in the National Football League," said Belichick. "[We know] what has happened the last couple of weeks to [Chicago], I don't think has any bearing on anything just like last week we were talking about one team on a roll, another team on a losing streak and that didn't really have any bearing on that game."
"I think what is important for us, for our team the Patriots, to take the best possible approach that we can to play in this game. If we do that and then can go out there and execute and play a physical, energetic, smart, tough, football game against the Bears then I think we might have a chance and it will be a competitive game. It will take all of that to do it."
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