Monday, November 27, 2006
Coming into this game, the Patriots were 2-3 against .500+ teams. They lacked a win over one of the top teams in the NFL. The Bears were the class of the NFC, which isn't saying too much, but they were still 9-1 going into this game. The Pats have shown that they can and will beat bad teams, but against good teams, they had struggled and frequently found themselves losing.
The Patriots finally got a win against a top team, but it didn't come easily. Both teams had trouble hanging onto the ball. Had the Bears done a better job of capitalizing on turnovers, they would have easily won this game.
The Pats started their second drive of the game in great position on Chicago's 39. They got it up to the Bear's 24 but Brady threw towards Watson who couldn't pull it in, and it was intercepted by Chicago. Had Watson caught it, it would have been a touchdown. Instead, it was a turnover.
The Bears marched down to our 22 before being stopped and forced to try a field goal, which was missed after a false start penalty pushed the ball back 5 yards. A team playing great football against us could have turned our turnover into 7 points instead of 0.
We got the ball at our 35 and moved it all the way to Chicago's 11, thanks in large part to the 26 yard run by Dillon and the personal foul on Chicago after it. Maroney got the call on the next play but put the ball on the ground and it was recovered by Chicago. Two trips deep into Bear's territory and 0 points to show for it.
The Bears once again took the ball very deep into our territory before grossman fumbled on a botched handoff and Seymour pounced on it. It's important to note that against a team that was playing better than the Bears were, we'd probably be down 10- or 14-0 by this point. Instead we were still tied at 0.
The Pats put together a nice drive and Maroney punched it into the end zone to give us a 7-0 lead.
The Bears replied with a drive that ended with a field goal. The two teams exchanged punts, then we got the ball with less than 2 minutes in the first half. Despite having two consecutive plays overturned against us, we came away with points as Gostkwoski hit a career long 52 yard field goal.
We went into halftime with a 10-3 lead, but we easily could have been down by that point. Thankfully, the Bears were playing pretty poorly and weren't making us pay for our mistakes.
To start the second half, Chicago went 3 and out, then we did, then Chicago did again. We drove the ball and got to midfield. Brady threw to Watson who got as far as the Bear's 23 yard line before he fumbled. Caldwell recovered and moved the ball forward 8 more yards before the Bears stripped it and recovered the ensuing fumble. It seems like we've had a high number of these kinds of fumbles during what could be really big offensive plays.
Once again, the Bears drove far into our territory. Once again, they screwed it up. Grossman threw a pass to Asante Samuel, who returned the pick for 27 yards.
We weren't able to capitalize on the interception as Brady threw one that Brown couldn't reel in and the Bears picked it off at their 47. The net result of the two turnovers was beneficial to us (Bears lost 24 yards of field position), but we could have done much more. Even if we don't get a first down, we were in a good spot to punt the ball inside the 20 and take control of the field position battle.
The Bears were able to take advantage of this turnover and got into the end zone to tie the score at 10.
The Pats responded with a very nice drive. The big play was a 40 yard 3rd down pass to Watson. The Pats tried a double reverse that was just a bit too complicated double reverse, but it resulted in an 8 yard loss. Ironically, had it been a single reverse, the field was wide open. We seem to be trying gadget plays a lot, which is good, but they're often extremely complicated and result in big losses. After that, Faulk caught a 9 yard pass. It was his 262nd reception which sets a new Patriots record for receptions by a running back. On 3rd and 9, Brady had an excellent scramble for 11 yards, eluding Brian Urlacher to get the 1st down. After Evans got 6, and Maroney got 2, Brady snuck up the middle on 3rd and 2 and got 3 yards. On 1st and goal, Maroney got to the 2, then on play action, Brady hit a wide open Ben Watson for the touchdown. The drive took 6 and a half minutes off the clock.
The Bears drove into our red zone, but the defense stopped them and limited them to a field goal. The game was still in doubt with 3:36 on the clock and only a 4 point lead.
Surprisingly, the Patriots passed a lot on their ensuing drive. And it worked. They moved all the way to the 22 yard line. They appeared to be on the verge of kicking a nice insurance field goal when Dillon put the ball on the ground and the Bears recovered. Chicago would have 1:52 to move the ball 78 yards and win the game.
They only had the ball for a few seconds. Samuel picked off Grossman for the 3rd time, tying a Patriot record that was last attained in 1983 (in the regular season that is, we all remember Ty Law's 3 INT performance against Indianapolis a few years ago in the playoffs)
Victory formation. Kneel, kneel, kneel.
Nice win by the Patriots, but we gave Chicago every opportunity in the world to take this one from us. All our turnovers could have come back to haunt us, but only one did. Had Chicago played better, we probably lose.
We improve to 8-3 and maintain a 2 game lead over the Jets in the AFC East. The season gets much easier for us in the remaining weeks ahead. We're host 2-9 Detroit, then we go to 5-6 Miami (who have actually improved recently), then we host 3-8 Houston, and go on the road to play 6-5 Jacksonville (who may or may not be in the playoff race by then), and 4-7 Tennessee. Our remaining opponents have a combined record of 20-35. We should be able to win all of those. Jacksonville and Miami might be trouble, especially if we can't stop fumbling, but we should end the season with a record of 13-3 or 12-4. This will be good enough for a home game in the 1st round, with an outside shot at a 1st round bye.