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Patriots-Bears postgame notes

12.12.10 at 9:07 pm ET
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PATRIOTS CLINCH PLAYOFF SPOT FOR 12TH TIME IN KRAFT’€™S 17 YEARS OF OWNERSHIP
New England has now qualified for the playoffs 18 times in its 51-year history. The Patriots have earned 12 playoff berths in the 17 seasons since Robert Kraft purchased the team in 1994, a dramatic contrast to the six total playoff berths that the team earned in its first 34 years of existence. New England has won 12 division crowns and has qualified as a wild card team on four occasions (1998, 1994, 1985 and 1976). The Patriots also qualified for the playoffs in 1982 as part of a 16-team tournament following a players’€™ strike.

THE PATRIOTS ARE GOOD IN THE SNOW
The Patriots played the Bears under snowy conditions and improved to a 10-0 record under head coach Bill Belichick when playing in the snow. In the last three games played in the snow, the Patriots have outscored their opponents 142-14.

GRONKOWSKI SCORES SEVENTH TOUCHDOWN OF THE SEASON
Patriots rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski caught his seventh touchdown reception of the season on a 7-yard pass from QB Tom Brady in the first quarter. Gronkowski is chasing down WR Jim Colclough and WR Randy Vataha for the Patriots rookie receiving touchdown record of nine touchdowns. Gronkowski ranks in the top five for total touchdowns among all Patriots rookies. He ranks third in NFL history for touchdowns by a rookie tight end.

PATRIOTS EXTEND STREAK TO FIVE GAMES WITH 30 POINTS AND NO TURNOVERS
The Patriots have scored at least 30 points without committing a turnover in each of their past five games to extend their NFL record. Last week they became the first team to have at least 30 points without committing a turnover in four straight games.
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Tom Brady goes for the jugular

12.12.10 at 8:33 pm ET
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Last week, during a 45-3 win over the Jets, people wondered why Tom Brady was in the game during the fourth quarter of a romp. He explained that he wanted to play a ‘complete’ 60-minute game. On Sunday, with a 27-0 lead as time was winding down in the first half, it appeared the Patriots would be happy to take that four-touchdown lead to the locker room. Most quarterbacks would. But not Tom Brady.

And thanks to Brady, the play that put the final nail in the Bears’ coffin was pulled off perfectly. But it nearly didn’t happened.

Deion Branch caught a 59-yard ‘hitch and go’ route from Brady down the left sideline as time expired in the first half. But Branch said there was “a lot of yelling” on the Patriots sideline with one coach yelling out for Brady to take a knee with a 27-0 lead.

“At one point, the coach was telling us to take a knee [laughter] and I’m looking at Tom like, ‘take a knee,’ and he was like, ”No.’ He called a route and I was like, ‘Alright, good. That’s a good route.’ I’m thankful to have him,” said Branch, who felt the TD made up for the 71-yard punt return for a TD by Julian Edelman that was called back because of holding by rookie Dane Fletcher.

“But if you think about it they took the punt return away from Julian, which was a big minus,” Branch added. “That guy’s been working real hard. But I think we capitalized on what they were giving us on defense. We took a shot at it and it worked. I wasn’t looking at the defender in the back half but my job was to get past Charles Tillman and let Tom and the front line do the rest and they did it.”

So the next time anyone wants to accuse Bill Belichick of running up the score, they may want to ask Tom Brady first.

Belichick, as it turned out, had seen enough when Brady got sacked late in the fourth quarter. He completed a first-down pass of 28 yards to Brandon Tate and it was Brian Hoyer time.

Read More: Bill Belichick, Brian Hoyer, Chicago Bears, Deion Branch

Snap Judgments: Patriots 36, Bears 7

12.12.10 at 7:08 pm ET
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The Patriots moved to an NFL-best 11-2 on the 2010 season with a 36-7 (and it wasn’t even that close) annihilation of the Bears at Soldier Field on Sunday. The lousy conditions did nothing to slow down an offense that is in 2007 mode (or better?) right now, and the defense limited the Bears to just 185 yards of offense and picked off Jay Cutler two times. Here’s a look at what went right (and wrong) for the Pats in their fifth straight win:

WHAT WENT RIGHT:

Tom Brady: Considering the conditions and the reputation of the Chicago defense, how good were these first-half (really the only part of the game that mattered) numbers: 13-21, 195 yards, two TDs and a 124.1 passer rating. That’s the kind of stuff you’d expect in a September home game vs. the Cardinals. It’s just too easy right now for Brady, who led the Patriots on three scoring drives of at least 80 yards in the first half and finished the game with 369 yards passing. Since the Steelers game Brady has 15 touchdown passes and zero interceptions and hasn’t had a passer rating lower than  117.4.

Deion Branch: A remarkable story continues, as Branch sets a career high with 151 receiving yards. Would you call this a decent return on for a fourth-round pick? As Cris Carter continues on his inevitable (and speedy) slide to irrelevance (and Randy Moss weeps in a Nashville hotel room), Branch keeps on making plays for the Patriots. He put the finishing touches on a nearly perfect first half, abusing Major Wright (playing the role of Alphonso Smith) and hauling in a 59-yard TD pass from Brady to give the Pats a 33-0 lead. A huge day for the starting wideouts as Wes Welker was a force in the first half, catching six passes for 85 yards (finishing with eight for 115), including a pair of third-down conversions on the opening drive.

Devin McCourty: Is there any question that McCourty is having a Pro Bowl season? The rookie made plays on third down to stop the Bears on each of the first two drives — first blowing past Greg Olsen to tackle Matt Forte on a third-and-one for a two yard loss and then breaking up a pass for Earl Bennett on third-and-seven.  Then he forced the fumble on Johnny Knox that Gary Guyton returned for a touchdown. Phil Simms pointed it out and we’ve said it time and again this season — where would this secondary be without McCourty?

Offensive Line: Whether it was Logan Mankins running over Brian Urlacher to open a huge hole for BenJarvus Green-Ellis on the Patriots first TD drive, or Matt Light getting out for a block on a Welker catch in the first quarter, or Sebastian Vollmer (on the very next play) pancaking a Bears defender for Green-Ellis or Dan Connolly leading the way for Danny Woodhead’s TD rush, the offensive line was flat-out dominant on Sunday. Brady was sacked once but rarely pressured as he had plenty of time (particularly on the third-and-long conversions) to make plays.

Gary Guyton: A fumble recovery, TD and an interception for Guyton on Sunday. That’s right, Guyton has more TDs over the last two weeks than the New York Jets.

WHAT WENT WRONG:

McCourty Injury: McCourty did not play in the second half as he was sidelined with a rib injury. Obviously no idea as to the extent of the injury — maybe he plays if the game isn’t a rout – but if this turns out to be something serious it could be a killer injury for a thin secondary.

Dane Fletcher: Thanks to Brady and Branch it turned out to not cost the Patriots points, but a Fletcher holding penalty negated a 71-yard punt return TD from Julian Edelman (who had a terrific game returning punts, easily the biggest impact he’s made all season) at the end of the second quarter.

Shayne Graham: Actually he did a nice job on Sunday, making all three field-goal attempts, but he did miss an extra point. That’s his second missed extra-point since joining the Pats.

Halftime analysis: Patriots 33, Bears 0

12.12.10 at 5:42 pm ET
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There are two quarters in the books at Soldier Field, and the Patriots are absolutely dominating the Bears, 33-0.

‘€¢ Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has always done well against Tampa-2 defenses, and today is no exception. The quarterback is absolutely shredding the Chicago pass defense, using the empty spaces in the secondary ‘€” particularly in his connections with Welker ‘€” to eat up big chunks of yardage. In absolutely awful conditions, he’€™s 13-for-21 for 195 yards and two touchdowns. Deion Branch has four catches for 102 yards and a touchdown, while BenJarvus Green-Ellis has 11 carries for 61 yards.

‘€¢ After a pair of punts, New England made it 7-0 after a 12-play, 85-yard drive that included a 24-yard pass to Wes Welker and ended with a seven-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Rob Gronkowski. (It was the seventh TD reception of the year for Gronkowski, which ties him for third in NFL history among rookie tight ends. In addition, with the touchdown pass, Brady extended his steak of consecutive games with a TD pass to 13.) On the second drive, it was 11 plays and 87 yards, and included a 19-yard pass play on a screen to Welker and ended with a three-yard dive into the end zone by Danny Woodhead. The killer was a 59-yard pass play down the Chicago sideline from Brady to Branch on the final play from scrimmage of the first half that made it 33-0.

‘€¢ For what it’€™s worth, Brady’€™s turnover-free streak was almost halted three times in the first half when the Bears tipped two balls and Brian Urlacher dropped another one.

‘€¢ Meanwhile, the Bears were unable to get much of anything going against a New England defense that held them to only four plays from scrimmage in Patriots’€™ territory. The low point for Chicago came midway through the second when the Bears, already trailing 14-0, fumbled the football ‘€” Devin McCourty forced the ball from Johnny Knox and Gary Guyton returned it 35 yards for the touchdown, giving New England a 21-0 lead 9:56 left in the first half. The Patriots picked up another turnover late in the second quarter when newcomer Eric Moore (who also had a tackle for loss) made his presence known, strip sacking Jay Cutler and allowing Jerod Mayo to recover the ball. McCourty is the unquestioned defensive star for the Patriots ‘€” through two quarters, he has a tackle for loss on third down, pass defensed on third down and a forced fumble.

‘€¢ It’€™s even been good for the Patriots on special teams ‘€” while the Chicago kick return unit has come up with a couple of good returns, New England has a career-high 42-yard punt return (which would have gone for a touchdown if he hadn’€™t turned the wrong way) and field goals of 30 and 25 yards from Shayne Graham into the teeth of the wind. And Dane Fletcher had a great tackle of returner Devin Hester late in the second quarter. (Late in the first half, Fletcher had a holding penalty that negated a 71-yard punt return for touchdown for Edelman.)

Read More: Bears, halftime analysis, Patriots,

Analysis of Patriots Inactives

12.12.10 at 3:03 pm ET
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The following players were ruled inactive by the Patriots for Sunday’s Patriots-Bears game: cornerback Jonathan Wilhite; defensive linemen Myron Pryor and Mike Wright; wide receiver Taylor Price; running back Thomas Clayton; defensive back Chevis Jackson; and offensive linemen Rich Ohrnberger and Mark LeVoir.

When it comes to analysis, we’ll start with the least surprising: Wilhite (hip), Pryor (back) and Wright (concussion) have all been battling injuries the last few weeks, and all three were all ruled out on Saturday night. In addition, Price, Ohrnberger and LeVoir have all been inactive more than active this season, so those three are hardly shocking from a personnel standpoint.

As for the last two, Jackson, who signed with New England earlier this week, is probably another week or so away from being game ready. And finally, Clayton is simply the victim of a numbers game, as the Patriots are extremely deep at running back.

One notable player who is active is defensive end/outside linebacker Eric Moore, who will be suiting up for the first time in his Patriots career Sunday afternoon. Known as a pass rusher, Moore, a 6-foot-4, 268-pounder out of Florida State, was signed by New England as a free agent earlier this month.

Read More: Chevis Jackson, Eric Moore, Jonathan Wilhite, mark levoir

Pats-Bears inactives: Chevis Jackson joins Mike Wright, Myron Pryor, Jonathan Wilhite

12.12.10 at 3:01 pm ET
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Five others have joined the injured trio of Jonathan Wilhite, Mike Wright and Myron Pryor as Patriots inactive players for today’s game in Chicago.

Newcomer Chevis Jackson, a cornerback signed on Friday, is inactive as are WR Taylor Price, RB Thomas Clayton, offensive linemen Rich Ohrnberger and Mark LeVoir.

Wright (concussion), Pryor (back) and Wilhite (hip) were all ruled out Saturday night.

For the Bears they have deactivated CB Josh Moore, RB Kahlil Bell, LB Pisa Tinoisamoa, OL Herman Johnson, OL Edwin Williams, TE Desmond Clark and DT Marcus Harrison while Caleb Hanie is the third quarterback.

Read More: Chevis Jackson, Chicago Bears, Mike Wright, New England Patriots

Pats-Bears in the Windy (and cold and snowy) City

12.12.10 at 1:56 pm ET
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Well, it could be a whole lot worse for the Patriots.

They could be the New York Giants waiting over 24 hours in Kansas City to play a game in a building that had its roof collapse at 5 o’clock this morning and get on a plane to head back halfway from where they came to play a critical game on the road.

Instead the Patriots DID make it to Chicago Saturday afternoon and the field – while nasty – will be playable since the only thing falling from above will be snow and not inflatable canvas.

Wind gusts of up to 50 miles an hour are expected for the 4:15 p.m. ET kick-off between the Patriots and Bears at Soldier Field. Snow began at about 5 a.m. local time in Chicago, forcing the grounds crew to clear the tarp five hours later.

Winds out of the north-northwest are expected to make the mid-20 temperatures feel like 11 above, better than the forecast that was calling for far more frigid conditions. Those conditions are expected on Monday, with temperatures hovering around zero and wind chills of 20 below. Not helping matters is the fact that the blue tarp has been on the newly sodded field since Thursday, not allowing the field to breath or get any sun. The field was re-sodded two weeks ago.

Recent history shows the Patriots do not mind the snow. They are 9-0 in snow games under coach Bill Belichick.

Other snowball treats to consider before kickoff:

- As is the case with most series with the Patriots under Bill Belichick, they have dominated the recent series with the Bears. The Patriots have won the last two, in Champaign, IL in 2002 and 17-13 at Gillette in 2006 on the newly-installed Field Turf at Gillette, one week after they played in the muck against the Jets.

- The Patriots have actually won five of the last six between the two teams and lead the all-time series, 7-3. That does not include one very forgettable Super Bowl in Jan. 1986 – at least if you’re the Patriots.

- Tom Brady is 29-6 against the NFC in the regular season, including 14-4 against the NFC on the road. They are 2-0 this year against the NFC and haven’t lost since being beaten up by New Orleans last year in the Monday night game in late Nov. 2009.

- The Patriots are leading the NFL in points per game at 31.6 while the Bears are allowing just 16, which is third-best in the NFL.

Read More: Chicago Bears, cold, ice, New England Patriots
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