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.

Belichick on Long's sack: One of the best defensive plays of the year

Belichick on Long's sack: One of the best defensive plays of the year

It came against a rookie quarterback. It came against an offense that averages a league-worst 15.0 points per game. It came against an offense that has fewer yards than any other. 

Still there are signs that Bill Belichick is pretty pleased with where his defense is after beating the Rams 26-10 on Sunday. One came on Wednesday when Patriots.com published its "Belichick Breakdown" for a closer look at a handful of plays from the team's most recent win.

Belichick called his team's third-and-eight stop with about 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter "probably one of the best good, team defensive plays we've had all year."

The Patriots show a five-man front, but linebacker Kyle Van Noy feigns a rush only to drop into coverage.

"Van Noy in here does a good job on the rush," Belichick said, "and also on the coverage on the back. Just good team defense. Good pass coverage down the field. The quarterback really doesn't end up having a lot of time, but there's no one to throw it to right away."

Belichick noted that all four rushers -- Chris Long, Trey Flowers, Dont'a Hightower and Rob Ninkovich -- all are able to pressure Jared Goff on the play. Combined with strong coverage in the secondary, the Rams nver really had a chance.

Belichick said it looked like a "tidal wave" of defenders bearing down on the quarterback.

"Long wins here . . . on the inside spin," Belichick said, "and Trey Flowers and Hightower both win on the little twist game inside. Then that's Rob with good speed-to-power on [Rams tackle Rob] Havenstein on the outside. Four good rushers. Plus a fifth guy...Van Noy getting that two-for-one on the guard and the back.

"Good team defense. That's great to see. A lot of hard work an execution on the practice field to make that happen."

Harbaugh on Belichick: 'I feel like we have a good relationship'

Harbaugh on Belichick: 'I feel like we have a good relationship'

FOXBORO -- They sounded like a couple of old pals. 

First it was Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who spoke of Ravens coach John Harbaugh during a conference call like one of his favorite fellow lacrosse dads.

"John and I saw a game a couple of years ago, a [Johns] Hopkins vs. Maryland game," Belichick said, adding that Harbaugh's love for the sport is just starting to blossom. "Yeah, I think John is seeing the light."

Belichick added that the two might be closer if they weren't competing so often, both in-season on the field and for free agents in the offseason. 

"As you know, we get into a situation like we’re in now where they have a good team, we have a good team, we’re playing a big game on Monday night," Belichick said. "Both teams are going to do everything they can to compete as hard as they can on Monday night. That’s what it is and that’s what we all signed up for. We all know that’s a part of it.

"When we’re not going head-to-head, which isn’t very often because we compete against each other in the offseason, we compete against each other to build our team and so forth, it just puts things in a little bit of a different situation."

During his press conference with reporters on Wednesday, Harbaugh echoed Belichick's sentiments. Belichick was famously one of Harbaugh's biggest supporters earlier in his career, calling the Ravens on Harbaugh's behalf when the franchise was looking for a new head coach. And if only they weren't so frequently competing against each other, they might be even closer, Harbaugh indicated. 

"I feel like we have a good relationship," Harbaugh said. "Like you said, we're probably not socializing that much, but I don't know how many coaches really do. We're all so busy. I'll see him or any coach at the Combine or at the owner's meetings, and we have a chance to talk. It's always good. I have a ton of respect for him. I really like him as a person. I think he's a great coach -- greatest coach of this generation. He's earned that title.

"And I study him. I've always studied him. I've always studied coach Belichick from when I first met him when I was an assistant at the University of Cincinnati, and he came in and just was great to be around.  [We have a] similar background with the special teams and that sort of thing. All of that kind of goes out the window when you compete against one another. It's like anything else, you want to win. I'm sure he feels the same way."

The recent history between their respective franchises is rife with emotion: There was Baltimore's irate reaction to Belichick's unusual formations in the AFC Divisional Round two seasons ago; there was the Ravens' supposed involvement in sparking Deflategate; and there was Harbaugh's subsequent denial. But Belichick and Harbaugh made it sound on Wednesday as if all's good between them.