Patriots beat the elements in 36-7 rout of Bears

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Patriots beat the elements in 36-7 rout of Bears

By Art Martone
CSNNE.com

The defense they were facing? The fourth-best in the league when it comes to yards allowed. Upgrade that to third-best when it comes to points allowed.

Then throw in snow, winds of 25-35 mph (with higher gusts) and wind-chill factors in the single digits.

You'd think that, faced with such obstacles, even the best offenses would sputter and stall.

You'd think.

The Patriots, however, made everyone rethink those assumptions Sunday with a sky-is-blue-and-turf-is-fast dismantling of the Bears. They ran up 475 total yards, (including 351 through the air), put together scoring drives of 85, 87 and 81 yards under brutal conditions and built a 33-0 halftime lead before calling off the dogs (at least a little) in the second half. The result was a 36-7 romp that -- coming as it did a) on the road, b) against a first-place team with c) a strong defense -- has people wondering if anyone, anywhere, can stop them.

"The Pats are the best team in the AFC," said Bears linebacker BrianUhrlacher. "They came in here, our field, our weather, and pounded us."

The win put them in the playoffs and it's looking more and more like "anywhere" in the postseason will be One Patriot Place, Foxboro. The Pats are now 11-2 and, thanks to the Jets' loss to Miami, have a two-game lead in the AFC East with three games to play. Thanks to their win in Pittsburgh on Nov. 14, they also have, in essense, a two-game lead over the 10-3 Steelers in the battle for No. 1 seed in the conference. If they simply hold serve the rest of the way -- and what's happened in the last few weeks to make anyone think they won't? -- the road to the Super Bowl in the AFC will run through Gillette Stadium.

If they play as well at Gillette as they did Sunday in the snow and wind of Chicago, odds are they'll be pretty satisfied. Because they'll certainly be successful.

After a three-and-out on the game's first possession, the Patriots began their offensive onslaught the next time they had the ball. They converted a third-and-10 (17-yard pass from Tom Brady to Wes Welker) and a third-and-12 (16-yard pass from Brady to Deion Branch) during their 12-play, 85-yard drive that culminated with a seven-yard TD pass from Brady to Rob Gronkowski.

Next time they touched the ball, they went 87 yards in 11 plays. They only needed to make one third-down play along the way -- a one-yard run by BenJarvus Green-Ellis -- and eventually scored when Danny Woodhead ran it from the 3.

A good start began turning into a rout on Chicago's next play, as Johnny Knox fumbled after catching a pass from Jay Cutler. The ball was scooped up by Gary Guyton -- subbing for the suspended Brandon Spikes -- and he went 40 yards for a TD that made it 21-0.

Shayne Graham increased the lead to 27-0 with a pair of field goals, of 30 and 25 yards, before the Pats put an exclamation point on the first half with an 81-yard drive, capped by a 59-yard pass from Brady to Branch for a touchdown that, after Graham shanked the extra point, made it 33-0.

The first-half stats told a story of total dominance. Fifteen New England first downs to two for Chicago. A total of 277 yards to 33. Control of the ball for more than 18 minutes.

It led to a second half of garbage time -- the Pats got one field goal, the Bears (who wound up committing four turnovers) a touchdown -- and New England was able to get some playing time for such previously lost souls as backup quarterback Brian Hoyer and long-injured running back Fred Taylor.

But the glide to the finish line couldn't erase memories of the explosion out of the gate, and now -- with a playoff berth in hand and the top seed in reach -- thoughts can't help but turn to the postseason.

If nothing else, the Pats proved Sunday that their offense can function in January. And beyond.

Art Martone can be reached at amartone@comcastsportsnet.com.

Mike Giardi: Don’t think Patriots will use franchise tag on Dont'a Hightower

Mike Giardi: Don’t think Patriots will use franchise tag on Dont'a Hightower

Mike Giardi discusses the odds that the New England Patriots franchise tag Dont'a Hightower and what he expects the Pats to get if they were to trade Jimmy Garoppolo.

Arizona Cardinals place franchise tag on Chandler Jones

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Arizona Cardinals place franchise tag on Chandler Jones

PHOENIX - The Arizona Cardinals, in an anticipated move, have placed a non-exclusive franchise tag on outside linebacker Chandler Jones after failing to reach a long-term deal with the player.

The non-exclusive tag allows the Cardinals to continue negotiating with Jones through July 15. If another team makes him an offer, Arizona can either match it or receive two first-round draft picks.

It's unlikely that any team would express interest in Jones, however, given what it would cost.

Under the franchise tag, Jones would receive about $15 million for the coming season.

Acquired in a trade with New England a year ago, Jones had 11 sacks, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and 15 tackles for loss last season

Jones has 25 1-2 sacks over the past two seasons, third-most in the NFL over that span.

The Cardinals' move came two days before the NFL deadline for making franchise designations.

It also came on Jones' 27th birthday, prompting teammate David Johnson to tweet "Happy BDay to `The Man,' `Mr. Franchise' himself.....The one and only."

The franchise tag move came as no surprise.

Club President Michael Bidwill has stated all along that Jones would not be going anywhere, that the team didn't make the trade - sending guard Jonathan Cooper and a second-round draft pick to New England - to keep him just for one season.

"We're not going to mess around with that," Bidwill said in a recent interview on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. "He's a great pass rusher, but if we can't agree to terms that work for us, we're just going to franchise him, and his people know that."

Jones immediately upgraded what had been an average Cardinals pass rush at best. His fellow outside linebacker Markus Golden had 12 1-2 sacks and seven tackles for loss. Together they form one of the better outside pass rush combinations in the NFL.

By all accounts, the contract talks with Jones have been cordial and Jones has said he wants to stay in Arizona.

"I love it here," he said near the end of last season. "I love the vibe that the people give off and I can see myself being here for a long time."

Chandler heads a long list of free agents that the Cardinals must either re-sign or let go. That group includes starters defensive tackle Calais Campbell, safety Tony Jefferson and inside linebacker Kevin Minter.