By Art Martone
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.