Brady continues to thrive in foul weather

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Brady continues to thrive in foul weather

By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com

They are the Greatest Show on Snow.

Sunday's 36-7 mauling of the Chicago Bears improved the Patriots' record to 10-0 in the snow during the Bill Belichick Era. And make no mistake, they did it behind offensive plow Tom Brady. The New England quarterback was stellar in the win. As expected.

Brady's personal mark is now 19-2 in games played in snow, ice or below-freezing temperatures. He's the best cold-weather quarterback in NFL history since 1960.

Remember last season's whiteout? Patriots fans, covered up on all but their eyeballs, hung tough during a 59-0 home-field mauling of the Titans. Despite a suffocating 45-0 halftime lead, they never retreated for warmer quarters because they wanted to be there for Brady. They wanted to witness him set an NFL record with five touchdown passes in a single quarter and six total.

"This is football,'' he said after 2009's winter weather win. "This is how it should be.''

More records were approached, reached and broken by Brady's arm this Sunday:

The Patriots scored the second-most first-half points in franchise history against the Bears in Chicago.

Brady now has six straight games with at least two TDs and zero picks, tying Don Meredith's record.

He has thrown 268 straight passes without an interception, 40 short of record-holder Bernie Kosar.

Deion Branch caught eight balls from Brady for a new career-high 151 yards.

Brady connected with Rob Gronkowski for the tight end's seventh touchdown reception of his first season. Gronkowski's now tied for third in NFL history among rookie TEs.

The scoring was impressive early. New England's first two touchdowns came from 12- and 11-play drives under the blustery, unclear skies. And Brady just kept going.

Against one of the NFL's toughest defenses -- against Brian Urlacher and Julius Peppers -- Brady completed 13 of 21 passes for 195 yards in the first half. The Patriots posted 273 total yards and 12 first downs.

The second of his two touchdowns caught the Bears completely off guard. With four plays the Pats moved the ball from their own 20 to the 41 in 1 minute and 33 seconds. Only five seconds remained before the half and New England was up 27-0. One 59-yard bomb to Deion Branch later, the score was 33-0.

"I think at one point the coach was telling us to take a knee,'' Branch said with a laugh. "I'm looking at Tom like, 'Take a knee.' And he looked at me like, 'No.' He called a route and I was like, 'All right, good. That's a good route.' So, I'm thankful it happened. We took a shot at it -- it worked."

Nothing was working for Jay Cutler. His first half (against one of the league's worst-ranked defenses) amounted to just four completions on eight throws for 21 yards. The quarterback's Bears managed just 33 total yards and moved the chains twice in the game's first 30 minutes. Insult-to-injury? He got sacked twice.

And don't forget the context. This was the new-and-improved Jay Cutler. Chicago's QB entered Week 14 riding a five-game win streak where he was fantastic in that stretch. Yet Cutler couldn't get anything started on Sunday. He looked inept.

It was not easy to score at Soldier Field this weekend.

Not unless you were Tom Brady.

"I don't think it really bothers him what the weather is,'' Belichick said in the postgame. "Whatever it is, he does the best he can and tries to make it work."

The QB's final tallies were 27 of 40 passes completed for 369 yards. He had recorded his fourth 300-yard game of the year and third in a row with 15 minutes left to play. Same old, same old excellence.

The story would almost be more interesting if he hadn't played well. Can you imagine Brady throwing into triple coverage all night the way Cutler did? That'd be new and surprising. There's just no way it was going to happen Sunday, though. While it's true that Brady thrived again in bad weather, he was playing like the NFL's MVP coming into this game.

"It was a fun day," he smiled. "We'll remember that one."

The Bears will have a hard time forgetting it too, unfortunately. Images of Brady seem burned into their brains. "Check the stats, man,'' said matter-of-fact Chicago cornerback Tim Jennings. "He's very good, man. He threw it to every receiver he had."

They were contented receivers on Sunday night. Wes Welker took the podium postgame, his stat column brimming with 8 catches and 115 yards, and he joined Branch in the Tom Terrific love-in.

Good move by Welker. The last time two wideouts had 100-plus yards in a game was that Oct. 18, 2009 whitewashing of Tennessee.

"He's definitely playing well. I mean, I think it's pretty evident,'' the receiver said. "He's confident in the guys around him and confident in himself to spread it around and everybody doing the right thing and making plays and staying on top of everything. But he's definitely playing really well for us, which we need him to."

The coming weeks are especially important. With the win over Chicago, New England clinched a berth to the 2010 playoffs. And despite owning the NFL's best record, the Patriots still have work to do. Who better to believe than Brady?

"There's a long way to go,'' he said. "I don't think anything's really been accomplished yet. We're working hard to make improvements. I don't think we've got every problem solved. There's plenty of defenses that have kicked us around a bit this year, so we don't sit here and think we've got it all figured out.''

There's at least one thing for sure. Despite all other variables, it's a fact that Brady will be relied upon for stability as the Patriots continue their run. And he'll probably deliver, no matter who the opponent, where the arena, or what the weather.

Mary Paoletti can be reached at mpaoletti@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Mary on Twitter at http:twitter.comMary_Paoletti

Mitchell, Hogan reportedly good to go for AFC title game

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Mitchell, Hogan reportedly good to go for AFC title game

FOXBORO -- The Patriots haven't had all of their receivers simultaneously healthy and in uniform since they acquired Michael Floyd on waivers last month. That appears as though it could change Sunday. 

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, wideouts Malcolm Mitchell (knee) and Chris Hogan (thigh) are expected to play in the AFC title game. Tight end Martellus Bennett (knee) is also expected to play, per Schefter. All three were listed as questionable on the team's injury report. 

Mitchell has not seen game action since injuring his knee mid-way through the third quarter against the Jets in Week 16. Hogan suffered a thigh injury against the Texans last week, left the game in the third quarter and did not return. 

Patriots receiver Danny Amendola was also listed on this week's injury report with an ankle issue. Last week, he played in his first game since Week 13.

If Mitchell, Hogan and Amendola are all healthy enough to play, the Patriots will have their choice of five wideouts against the Steelers since Julian Edelman and Floyd are also physically able to suit up. 

Will they all be in uniform? That remains to be seen. The Patriots haven't taken five receivers on their 46-man game-day roster yet this season. However, because all five bring something different to the Patriots offense, perhaps Bill Belichick and his staff will find it valuable enough to activate all five.

If the Patriots opt to take the receiver-heavy route, they'll have to go lighter elsewhere -- perhaps de-activating a core special teamer -- in order to make room.

Bell's style, and unique talents, present challenges to Patriots defense

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Bell's style, and unique talents, present challenges to Patriots defense

FOXBORO -- There are plenty of damn good running backs in the NFL but there is only one Le’Veon Bell. The Steelers star shuffles, darts and then dashes, often with bodies crashing all around him, many of them intent on doing serious bodily harm . . . but often failing.

“He’s very unique,” said linebacker Shea McClellin. “I don’t think anyone else runs quite like he does, but it’s efficient and it works.”

Defensive end Chris Long concurred: “His style is so unique, his patience, what he’s able to do with his vision. And as far as breaking tackles, being a complete player, catching the ball, he can do all that stuff.”

Now don’t get it twisted. The Pats respect the hell out of Bell, but they’d prefer they weren’t in charge of corralling him Sunday because everyone has failed during Pittsburgh’s nine-game winning streak. Bell, who played in eight of those games, has piled up over 1,500 yards from the line of scrimmage during that stretch -- 1,172 yards rushing, 336 yards receiving -- while scoring 9 touchdowns. 

“He’s really fun to watch unless you’re getting ready to play him,” said Long.

The respect Bell commands in Foxboro is evident when talking to the Pats running backs, who spoke glowingly about the former first-rounder and in LeGarrette Blount’s case, former teammate.

“No one can do what he does,” Blount told me. “They can try, but it won’t work.”

“That’s his style,” added Dion Lewis, himself a shifty fella. “You can’t try to do that. I’m pretty sure he’s the only guy that can do that.”

So how do the Pats accomplish something no one has been able to do over the last two-plus months? How do they slow Bell down, as they did back in Week 7, limiting him to 81 yards rushing (only 3.9 yards per carry)? 

“I think defensively he really forces you to be disciplined,” said Pats coach Bill Belichick. “You jump out of there too quickly then you open up gaps and open up space. Le’Veon has a great burst through the hole. He doesn’t really need long to get through there, runs with good pad level. He’s hard to tackle so if you don’t get a full body on him then he’ll run right through those arm tackles. [He] really forces everybody to be sound in their gaps.”

“If there’s space or if there’s a gap in the defense or if there’s an edge in the defense, he’s quick to take advantage of that,” defensive coordinator Matt Patricia told us during a conference call earlier this week. “He’s going to be able to get into that open space pretty quickly so you can’t really -- I don’t think you want to sit there and guess.”

If the Pats defenders, especially at the linebacker level, do that -- guess and attack a gap aggressively in attempt to make a splash play -- they may fill one gap but open two others. And that’s where a four-yard gain can turn into 40.

“Everyone on the field, it’s their job to get to him, gang tackle and be aggressive,” said Rob Ninkovich. “It can’t be just one time but every time you’re on the field.”

“There’s no one guy that can stop him,” added Belichick. “You’re going to have to have everybody doing a good job in a number of different areas all the way across the front and then do a good job of tackling.”

The Pats are a terrific tackling team, and haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher this season (actually, not since November of 2015), but the red-hot Bell will put recent history to the test.