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

First impressions: Mitchell sees season-high in targets with Gronkowski out

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First impressions: Mitchell sees season-high in targets with Gronkowski out

FOXBORO -- Here are some quick-hit impressions from Sunday's matchup between the Patriots and Rams . . . 

* How will the Patriots offense look without Rob Gronkowski? With a week to prepare for life post-Gronk, the Patriots leaned heavily on their three-receiver sets. That meant plenty of work for rookie receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who saw a season-high in targets with 10. Tom Brady seemed more than happy to throw to Mitchell at the line of scrimmage with the Rams playing off-coverage, leading to relatively short-but-productive gains. 

* Brady seemed to take exception with something he saw from Mitchell during a drive mid-way through the fourth quarter. On the sideline, Brady looked heated while looking over pictures of the drive with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Brady was later caught on the Fox broadcast speaking to Mitchell on the bench. As well as Brady's young lockermate has performed, it was a moment that indicated he isn't doing everything perfectly just yet. 

* McDaniels got creative early with Gronkowski gone. He used the two-back pony set to start the game and handed off to Dion Lewis for four yards. He also found success with LeGarrette Blount and the Patriots running game, using four running plays on the first five snaps of the game. McDaniels then had his offense go five-wide and he sent Julian Edelman in motion. On the subsequent drive, McDaniels turned to the screen game to try to catch Los Angeles' aggressive front off-guard. 

* The Patriots offense stalled at points thanks in part to the Rams' front: Aaron Donald blew up a run play in the second quarter and on the same drive Brady was pressured on back-to-back snaps, leading to a punt. It wasn't an immaculate day from the Patriots offense, but against a talented defensive line, and without their most dynamic offensive player, they'll take it. 

* The Patriots locked things down defensively in what was an all-around dominant performance. Malcolm Butler bounced back after a difficult game versus the Jets, allowing just two catches for 12 yards on five targets until allowing a 66-yarder to Kenny Britt. He broke up two passes and picked off a gift when tight end Lance Kendricks let a pass bounce off of his hands and into the air. Devin McCourty was sound in coverage, breaking up two passes to Britt, a fellow Rutgers product. Britt later got him back for a one-yard garbage-time touchdown. Eric Rowe appeared to play well until suffering a hamstring injury that knocked him from the game. 

* Up front, Alan Branch played with abandon fresh off of finding out that he will not be suspended four games this weekend. He had three hurries, a quarterback hit and a stuffed run to continue his strong season. Rob Ninkovich (two hurries, a hit and a sack), Trey Flowers (four hurries and a hit) and Chris Long (one hurry, three hits and a sack) were pains for rookie quarterback Jared Goff. 

* Stephen Gostkowski was a perfect four-for-four on his field goals, knocking down a 48-yarder and a 45-yarder from the right hash mark and a 45-yarder from the left hash on consecutive drives. He also made both of his extra-point attempts. 

* Some special teams notes . . . Cyrus Jones muffed a punt from "weapon," as Bill Belichick called him this week, Johnny Hekker. The punt-return job was Danny Amendola's until Amendola suffered an ankle injury that knocked him from the game. That could be a critical injury to the Patriots in the kicking game. Amendola has also been a key part of the offense on third downs and in red-zone situations. Jonathan Jones was flagged twice on special teams.