December 12, 2010
Patriots Bear Down In Very Windy City
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
CHICAGO -- It doesn't always seem so, but Chicago is not the only cold weather city in the country.
Too much snow on the Mall Of America Stadium roof in Minneapolis caused a roof collapse and the moving of the Vikings-Giants game to Detroit. Pittsburgh and Cincinnati dueled in a freezing cold Heinz Field. Cleveland and Buffalo didn't suffer from hypothermia at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
And the Patriots? Last time they played in snow, they won 59-0.
It looked like another 59-0 game would break out on Sunday at Soldier Field. But it was the Patriots who were blasting the Bears and not vice versa. Shocking the hardy home folk, not to mention the home team, the Patriots blistered their way to a 33-0 halftime lead and cruised on home with a 36-7 victory in a game featuring division leaders. It was the second straight week the Patriots played a team that was either leading their division or tied for it, and once again the Patriots won going away.
The victory, through a bunch of convoluted algorithms that only the league office knows, clinches a playoff berth for the Patriots. The Patriots become the first team in the NFL to qualify for the 2010 postseason. The Patriots still need more separation from the Jets to clinch the division and a first round bye, but they will at least be in the dance.
The way they are playing, the Patriot playoff destiny seems like a foregone conclusion unless the last three games turn into trap or reverse-lock games.
The Patriots attacked and dominated the Bears much the way they did against the Titans at Gillette Stadium last year, the aforementioned 59-0 whitewash. The Patriots moved the ball at will against a normally stout Bear defense, held down Jay Cutler and Patrick Forte most all game long, and were frighteningly methodical and efficient in doing so. Other than kickoff return coverage, the Patriots once again excelled at just about everything.
In a maelstrom of wind, cold and snow, the Patriots showed absolutely no ill effects. Kicker Shayne Graham hit a field goal on a perfect left fade shot by aiming at the right upright. Though he would later push an extra point wide right, Graham's field goal symbolized how perfect the Patriots were all game long.
Tom Brady threw for 369 yards and two touchdowns with no picks. He tied the late Don Meredith with six straight games with at least two touchdown passes and no interceptions. He connected with Wes Welker and Deion Branch for eight catches each, with Branch collecting a career-high 151 yards and Welker 115 yards. Brady was sacked three times, but protected the ball very well and once again made no mistakes.
The last play of the first half summed up Brady's day pretty well. With five seconds left and the Patriots at their own 41 and facing third and nine, you figured that Brady would take a knee up 26-0. Brady instead playfaked and rolled to the left, then lobbed a perfect pass down the left sideline to Branch, who had streaked by Charles Tillman who looked like he had sold out on a kneeldown. Branch went 59 yards for the touchdown, and the Soldier Field crowd booed lustily.
As unfazed by the elements as Brady and the offense were, the defense was equal to the task. Gameplanning by Lovie Smith and offensive coordinator Mike Martz really didn't matter, as neither Jay Cutler nor Patrick Forte were able to do much of anything against the developing young Patriot defensive squad. Even minus Brandon Spikes, the Patriots held the Bears off the board until midway through the third quarter.
If anything else, it looked like the Bears were psyched out by the weather and not the Patriots. On the first play after Danny Woodhead ran it in from three yards out to put the Patriots up 14-0, Cutler tried to hit Johnny Knox in the left flat. Knox caught the ball at the Bears 35, but was blasted by Devin McCourty and coughed up the ball. Gary Guyton picked up the loose ball and rumbled 35 yards for a touchdown. Smith challenged the fumble ruling and lost, and it was 21-0 Patriots midway through the second quarter.
Eventually the Patriot defense would induce a few interceptions from Cutler. Guyton picked Cutler off at the Patriot 16 late in the third quarter, and the next and final offensive possession by the Bears ended in a Brandon Meriweather pick in the end zone. In both cases Cutler basically threw the ball to the Patriot defender while on the run. Guyton had two takeaways for the game in his fill-in role for Spikes, underscoring the depth the Patriots have.
If Bill Belichick wants to complain about anything, it is special teams. The Bears had seven kickoff returns for 196 yards and a 28-yard average. Danieal Manning had 124 return yards, Devin Hester had 74 yards. Of course, the fact that Chicago had seven kickoff returns means the offense was doing rather well. Also, Julian Edelman had a 71-yard punt return for a touchdown late in the first half called back on a holding penalty on Dane Fletcher. As mentioned earlier, Graham did miss one extra point, but it turned out to be inconsequential and very forgivable in the howling wind swirls of Soldier Field. But Belichick will want to work on kickoff coverage this week.
With the Jets losing at home 10-6 to Miami, the Patriots now hold a two-game lead on the Jets in the AFC East. The Patriots will draw a Green Bay team at home next Sunday night which is off a 7-3 road loss to Detroit and their quarterback, Aaron Rodgers being knocked out of the game with a concussion. Miami is back in the playoff picture which could make the season finale at Foxborough difficult. But if current form holds, the Patriots literally have the top seed for the taking as long as they don't lose focus or intensity and suffer a Cleveland-like loss.
The Patriots can count on cold weather the rest of the way to Dallas, if that's where the Patriots are destined to finish their season. Patriot Nation will probably root for snow in each of the remaining games in December and January. If the Patriots continue this sort of play in the snow (a combined 95-7 point total against Tennessee and Chicago in snow games), they may wish that the Super Bowl had come to New York this year instead of a few years down the road.
The bottom line is that the Patriots are laying the best teams in the league to waste, home and away. Patriot Nation should spend the rest of the holiday season with visions of Super Bowls dancing in their heads.
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