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.

It's official: Patriots nab third-round compensatory pick in Collins trade

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It's official: Patriots nab third-round compensatory pick in Collins trade

The Patriots received a conditional fourth-round pick in 2018 from the Browns in return for Jamie Collins. That's how the trade was described on the league's transaction wire. 

The "condition" of that fourth-rounder? Well, if the Browns received a third-round compensatory pick in 2017, the Patriots would nab that pick instead. 

On Friday, the NFL announced that the Browns had in fact been awarded a third-round compensatory pick, which meant that almost three full weeks after Super Bowl LI, everything was still coming up Patriots.

In actuality, the odds were pretty good all along that the Patriots would get what they got

Cleveland lost Pro Bowl center Alex Mack in free agency last offseason when he opted to sign with the Falcons. Because compensatory picks are based on free agents lost and free agents acquired, and because the Browns did not sign any similarly-impactful free agents, there was a good chance Mack's departure would render a third-round comp pick that would be shipped to New England.

Had Mack suffered a significant injury that forced his play to drop off or limited his time on the field, a third-rounder may have been out of the question, but he played well (named a Pro Bowler and a Second Team All-Pro) and stayed healthy -- lucky for the Patriots -- missing just 17 total snaps in the regular season. 

The Browns comp pick that will be sent to New England is No. 103 overall. The Patriots were also awarded a fifth-round comp pick, No. 185 overall. That was a result of the league weighing the departures of Akiem Hicks and Tavon Wilson against the arrival of Shea McClellin.

The Patriots now have nine selections in this year's draft: One first-rounder; one second-rounder; two third-rounders; one fourth-rounder*; two fifth-rounders; two seventh-rounders.

The third-round compensatory pick acquired by the Patriots carries additional value this year in that it is the first year in which compensatory picks can be traded. A near top-100 overall selection may allow the Patriots to move up the draft board or build assets in the middle rounds should they be inclined to deal. And we know they oftentimes are. 

* The Patriots forfeited their highest fourth-round selection in this year's draft as part of their Deflategate punishment. They acquired a fourth-round pick from the Seahawks last year. Because that would have been the higher of their two selections, that's the one they'll lose. They will make their own fourth-round pick at No. 137 overall.

Gronkowski says he has 'no doubt' he'll be ready for start of next season

Gronkowski says he has 'no doubt' he'll be ready for start of next season

When it comes to projecting Rob Gronkowski's health, it's been best to steer clear of absolutes. There have been too many injuries, too many surgeries, to predict exactly how he'll feel months in advance. 

Still, in speaking with ESPN's Cari Champion recently, he said he had "no doubt" he'll be ready for Week 1 of the 2017 regular season. 

"Yes, for sure," he replied when asked if he expected to be good to go. 

Gronkowski also fielded a question about his long-term future in the sit-down. Lately it's been his coach Bill Belichick and his quarterback Tom  Brady who receiver all the life-after-football queries, but Gronkowski, 27, was asked how much longer he'd like to play. 

"I’m not really sure," he said. "I mean, I still love playing the game, and as of right now, I want to play as long as I possibly could play. My mindset is to keep on going."

Gronkowski landed on season-ending injured reserve in December after undergoing a procedure on his back -- his third back surgery since 2009. He's had nine reported surgeries -- including procedures on his knee, forearm and ankle -- since his final year at the University of Arizona.