By Mary Paoletti
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.