Monday Morning Quarterback: Bears-Patriots (12.12.10)

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I wasn’t sure which way I would take this column today considering the mixed emotions I’ve felt in the past 24 hours. On the one hand, the Bears put forth a lackluster effort and were embarrassed on their home field in front of a national audience. On the other hand, their opponent was and is, by far, the best team in the NFL.

As CBS broadcasters Jim Nantz and Phil Simms — who might as well be publicists for the New England Patriots and Tom Brady — had mentioned several times during the Patriots’ 36-7 rout of the Bears on Sunday, the Patriots hadn’t given up a touchdown since the third quarter of their Thanksgiving game against the Lions until Chester Taylor scored the Bears only points on a touchdown in the second half.

The Patriots are having their second-best scoring season in franchise history, behind only their undefeated regular season in 2007. At one point during the broadcast, CBS aired a graphic that showed just how dominant the Patriots have been against the top scoring defenses in the NFL this season. The Patriots scored 39 points against the Steelers (currently ranked No. 2 in scoring defense), 23 points against the Ravens (No. 3), 36 against the Bears (No. 4), 45 against the Jets (No. 6), and 41 against the Dolphins (No. 8). The Patriots will play the league’s No. 1 scoring defense in Green Bay next week, and something tells me the Packers will no longer be ranked No. 1 by the end of the game.

In short, this game was a measuring stick not to see where the Bears stack up among the top teams in the league, but instead to see how they compare with the absolute best in the league. And they’re currently far behind. But guess what? The Super Bowl is eight weeks away, which would be the only time the Bears would have to face the Patriots again. And that game will be played in Dallas in controlled weather on a faster playing surface, something that aids a Bears defense that needs good footing to be effective.

It’s not panic time for the Bears and they are not “back to square one” as I read in one newspaper headline. I prefer to look at this situation as a learning experience. The Bears now know how much more work they need to put in before they can become a great team.

I think Olin Kreutz said it best after the game.

“Every once in a while, in anything you do, when you try to get to the top, you get up there and someone usually kicks you back down and shows you what it takes to get there,” Kreutz said. “If we can take the good out of this, it’s that our level isn’t high enough yet to be the world champs that we want to be. They showed us what the difference is between good and great. If we want to be great, we’ve got to learn from this.”

The Bears need to learn from this and use this as motivation to fuel their hunger to become a better football team. I wanted to talk about the bigger picture before I recapped the game because, frankly, I don’t think it’s in anyone’s best interest to dwell on the outcome of this game.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s recap:

The Bears won the coin toss and elected to defer to send their defense out there first. I’ll admit I was a little disappointed by the call because I truly felt the Patriots would take the ball down the field on the opening drive and score and force the Bears to be playing catchup all game.

To my surprise, the Bears forced a three and out — including a sack by Brian Urlacher on third down — and took over with great field position on their own 46-yard line following a 17-yard punt return by Devin Hester. Things were looking up at that point, but sadly it was all down after that.

The Bears offense went three and out on its first possession and the Patriots scored on two long touchdown drives on their next two series. With a 14-0 lead, Johnny Knox caught a 1-yard pass and had the ball stripped from him. The ball was recovered by Gary Guyton and returned for a touchdown and a 21-0 lead.

Just before halftime, as the Bears defense was most likely expecting the Patriots to run out the clock and take their comfortable lead into intermission, rookie safety Major Wright blew his coverage responsibility and Charles Tillman passed off receiver Deion Branch to nobody but open white field down the sideline. Brady connected with him for a 59-yard touchdown that gave the Patriots a 33-0 lead, the largest halftime deficit in Bears history.

The Bears played a little better in the second half, but by that time it was way too late. The Patriots scored just three points, but they were obviously just killing clock by that point. Taylor scored on a 1-yard touchdown run on the Bears’ second possession of the second half for the team’s only score of the game.

Tom Brady played like he was in sunny Florida. He completed 27 of 40 passes for 369 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. Branch and Wes Welker each caught eight passes with Branch recording 151 yards and Welker netting 115. Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed 21 times for 87 yards.

Jay Cutler completed just 12 passes for 152 yards and no touchdowns. He threw two interceptions which I’m not going to be overly critical about considering the Bears were so far behind and he was just trying to make plays that just weren’t there for the offense. The Bears weren’t afforded the opportunity to run the ball much since they were so far behind. Matt Forte rushed nine times for 25 yards and Taylor added three carries for just one yard. Earl Bennett caught three passes for 53 yards to lead the team. Forte, Hester, Knox, and Greg Olsen all contributed with catches. Even Devin Aromashodu added a 16-yard reception.

The Patriots racked up 475 yards of offense, and I’m honestly not all that surprised. In my breakdown of the game, and in my Four Downs entry, I mentioned how it was to be expected that Brady would pick apart the Bears all over the field because they run zone coverage and the Patriots like to operate a quick-passing attack. Plus, Brady is one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the league and is adept at finding the soft spots in zone coverage. So, I can’t say I was disappointed about how the Patriots moved the ball. I was, however, upset that the Bears didn’t make more big plays — Urlacher and Chris Harris both dropped potential interceptions — and that the Bears defense allowed three touchdowns.

It was a bump in the road, simply stated. Thanks to the Lions’ victory over the Packers, the Bears are still in sole possession of first place in the NFC North and lead by a game (plus the tiebreaker from their Week 3 victory over Green Bay). What’s even more impressive and intriguing is that we may not have to wait until that final week of the season when the Bears visit Lambeau Field to determine the champion of the division. This week, if the Bears defeat the Vikings in Minnesota — or wherever the game is played due to the collapse of the Metrodome roof yesterday — and the Packers, perhaps without the concussed Aaron Rodgers, lose on the road to these same dominant Patriots, then the Bears will clinch the division and their first playoff spot in four years.

I feel I could guarantee a Patriots victory next week. They’re tough to beat at home and the only shot the Packers have — and it’s a slim one at best — is if Rodgers plays. The Bears have struggled in Minnesota for the last decade, so nothing is guaranteed there, but I feel confident they’ll rebound from this setback and go out and win the division next Monday night.

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